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April 4, 2014

Michigan Stadium to host International Cup soccer

For one Saturday in August, The Big House will transform into a soccer stadium before returning to regular-scheduled programming after Michigan and RelEvent Sports announced Ann Arbor will play host to a match between Real Madrid and Manchester United Aug. 2.

The match is part of the 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup, which will pit eight of Europe's most famous clubs against each other in a round-robin format that culminates with a championship game Aug. 4 in Miami.

On Friday, welcoming the major players involved in this deal, U-M Athletics Director David Brandon admitted he had to be sold a little bit on the value of this event, but quickly became convinced that, like the NHL's Winter Classic played Jan. 1, this soccer match would pay tremendous dividends for the athletic department and the city of Ann Arbor.

"To me it wasn't a no-brainer because I'm not a soccer guy," Brandon said. "We have two great soccer programs we're very proud of and we get good participation from the student body and the community but we had never really contemplated how many people we could put in The Big House for a soccer game.

"We had to do a lot of research. I learned a lot about these two organizations and this tournament. We had a lot of smart people give us a lot of good advice, and we became convinced that we do really have a shot of making this the biggest crowd ever to watch a soccer game and wouldn't that be fun.

"Anything that approaches 100,000 or more would be a huge success for an event like this. That would be a record-setting crowd."

The United States record for soccer attendance took place in 1984, when 101,799 people watched France defeat Brazil in the gold-medal match of the Summer Olympic Games.

Michigan Stadium owns the record for American football attendance with 115,109 taking in the U-M-Notre Dame game in 2013. Michigan Stadium also set NHL attendance record with 105,491 patrons at this year's Winter Classic despite frigidly-cold temperatures.

Like the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, which met in the Winter Classic, Real Madrid and Manchester United are sure to bring legions of fans from across Michigan and the country that are expected to pack The Big House.

"These brands, if you're not familiar, go online and look at the magnitude of these two brands, these two business. It's really quite remarkable," Brandon said. "You could argue they are two of the largest brands in sports in the world when you consider the amount of revenue they generate and their global recognition. And it's the first time they've matched up in the United States.

"Someone asked how many tickets we'll see, and I'll tell you in a few months, but we feel there will be a really high-level of interest, and we think there will be a lot of people traveling in from outside of town."

Brandon said earlier during the press conference that an economic study of a few years ago estimated that a home football game created $14 million in revenue for the surrounding area, and those numbers will likely rise due to inflation alone, but also because a great number of soccer fans will likely be making the trip from outside driving distance.

The operations center of RelEvent Sports will handle most of the logistics - Michigan will staff and run concessions and parking at The Big House for an up-front fee - including the installation of natural grass. The process needs only 48 hours to provide a playing surface worthy of the two teams participating.

"The first iteration was bringing in and building a false field that would actually go into the first six or seven rows of the bleachers," Brandon said. "They were going to float a field and cover it with regular turf. That scared the hell out of me because that sounded like a major undertaking that would have huge setup and takedown, and potentially damage the field.

"Where we migrated to is there is a protective covering put over our FieldTurf, and then they bring in trays of sod that are laid like carpeting all linked together. It's natural sod and these guys play on this all the time. It's high quality and when the competition is over, you haul it out.

"And I just heard we become the proud owner of this sod. I'm sure there is someplace on the athletic campus … the soccer coaches will probably fight over it."

Brandon did not discuss how much the contract is worth to rent The Big House but it's enough for U-M to make a down payment on a new facility for the men's and women's soccer programs.

"We hope to be going to the Regents relatively soon with a plan for that part of campus," he said. "We've had the footprint identified for the last couple of years, and what we hope to do is get that moving relatively quickly.

"I'd love to get that facility ready for those two terrific programs. Both our soccer programs are highly competitive in the conference, have done well nationally, and we want to give them all of the same infrastructural support that we give many of our other sports."

Brandon also said today that Michigan is moving closer to making an announcement on its night football game this fall, with Penn State the very likely opponent as he playfully dodged that question.

"It could be [Penn State]. It would be a good idea, wouldn't it," he asked, rhetorically. "We'll see. I'll check that out.

"We want to have a night game this year and we're working with the networks and conference to get that taken care of. We should have something to say about that relatively quickly."


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