Los Angeles (AFP) – Barcelona and Real Madrid will play the fourth Clasico ever held outside of Spain on Saturday as powerhouse European football clubs return to the United States aiming to fan the flames of US fandom.
The match at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, highlights the five-club, five-fixture Soccer Champions Tour organized by sports and entertainment giant AEG — which also owns Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy.
The inaugural edition of the event features just some of the pre-season matches European clubs have scheduled Stateside after a pandemic-induced hiatus.
Real Madrid, coming off Champions League and LaLiga titles, and Barcelona are joined in the series by Italy’s Juventus and Mexican clubs America and Chivas Guadalajara.
Meanwhile, English Premier League champions Manchester City and Premiership rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton and Germany’s Bayern Munich are touring the United States simultaneously, all eager to rekindle the ardor of their US fans and strengthen and expand ties with North American corporate partners.
“Right now I think largely a lot of people are really excited to see some of the teams that they typically see in the summer,” said Tom Braun, AEG Senior Vice President of Soccer and Business Operations and Business Development.
“It’s been such a long time since they’ve seen them that the absence has got people excited to come back and see the teams perform and see the players.”
Tickets for the Barca-Real Madrid match have nearly sold out, Ticketmaster showing prices ranging from around $250 to $900 for seats at pitch level.
The only prior Clasico played in the United States was in 2017 before a sellout crowd at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Barcelona winning 3-2.
“It’s still very new to the US, seeing these two teams play each other, so I don’t think in any way it’s getting diluted, I think it’s just encouraging the interest not only in the clubs but in the sport,” Braun said. “There’s a lot of very strong followers of both teams in the US.”
With the European clubs in the build-up to their seasons, US fans won’t necessarily see all the top players.
Real Madrid star Karim Benzema will likely miss Saturday’s match against Barcelona. The France international was due to join his teammates on Tuesday.
– ‘Prime target’ –
But the exhibition games can also feature tantalizing glimpses of new acquisitions.
Erling Haaland, the 21-year-old goalscoring phenomenon recently obtained by Manchester City, could feature for his new club, who face America in Houston on Wednesday before playing Bayern Munich at the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field on Saturday.
Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling has joined his new teammates, while Barcelona could unveil Polish superstar Robert Lewandowski while Stateside.
While managers have long found it problematic to integrate new players and otherwise prepare for a new season while away from home, there’s a crucial commercial aspect to the tours.
Barcelona, beset by financial problems, noted on their website that their touring party includes president Joan Laporta and other board members “who have a long agenda of social and commercial events” as they eye “one of the prime targets for expanding the Barca name globally”.
“There’s a lot of ambitions of engaging with corporate partners in a different way,” Braun said. “I think it’s bigger than simply making money.”
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