South Florida soccer fans (and the soccer media) woke up Sunday morning with an El Clasico Hangover after spending the past three days in the epicenter of the soccer universe, caught up in the craze surrounding Saturday night’s sold-out match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Hard Rock Stadium.
The archrivals – combined worth $7.2 billion -- have faced each other 235 times, and only once before had they played away from Spain. Combined, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez have 260 million Instagram followers. A regular-season El Clasico draws a T.V. audience of 400 million.
So, yes, this really was a big deal.
Was it worth $240 to $4,500 per ticket (plus $45 to $60 parking) to watch players shake off their summer cobwebs in a glorified exhibition match? Depends whom you ask. Barca fans certainly seemed thrilled to see Messi score in the opening minutes en route to a 3-2 victory.
Ronaldo fans justifiably felt duped after seeing his face on promotional material for months, and hearing organizers say they were “hopeful” he’d show up, only to learn on the eve of the match that he officially declined the invitation.
But judging by the electric mood of the 66,014 fans at the stadium Saturday, the fun seemed to outweigh the Ronaldo drama and inflated prices, which organizers explained were the result of having to pay huge appearance fees to both teams. And by huge, we mean well into seven figures per team.
Looking back on the week, here are some winners and losers...
Winner: Paris Saint-Germain. Although the French club lost 3-2 to Juventus on a last-minute penalty kick on Wednesday in the less-hyped of the week’s two matches, it won over new fans by going out of its way to make players accessible. PSG, which was based in Miami for nine days, held two free open practices, opened a pop-up store/hospitality space in Wynwood, had players available for autographs at the Nike store on Lincoln Rd., at various youth soccer events, and invited fans to the team hotel for a two-hour meet-and-greet with four of the team’s biggest stars. The team was equally accommodating with the media.
Loser: Every fan who was priced out of El Clasico tickets. Rising ticket prices is a major problem in professional sports, but usually, there are some cheap seats available. Not with this event. Tickets started at over $200, which automatically turned away a large segment of South Florida’s most soccer-passionate population. Sure, the $20 tickets for Friday night practice were a nice consolation, and 35,700 fans took advantage of that. But it would have been even nicer to have reserved some segment of the stadium for fans who required lower-end prices.
Winner: Barry University. The U.S. national team has made Barry its training ground of choice in recent years, and FC Barcelona and PSG also chose to practice on the Bucs’ nicely-manicured fields in Miami Shores. It is easy to get to from downtown hotels (especially when you have a police escort!) and offers privacy (although diehard fans climbed trees and car tops to peek over the fences at the closed-to-public Barca practice).
Loser: Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s hard to believe he didn’t know until Friday that he wouldn’t attend the Saturday Clasico. Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane had said Ronaldo wouldn’t rejoin the team until Aug. 5, but, according to El Clasico organizers, Ronaldo himself left open the possibility that he’d swoop in for the event, as he did when he flew to China and Singapore the previous weekend for sponsor events. Rather than string everyone along, Ronaldo should have been honest from the start.
Winner: The soccer community of South Florida. A crowd of 44,400 for the PSG-Juve match, 35,700 for El Clasico practice, and sellout for the Clasico – despite the prices – were further proof that this is one of the most soccer-crazed markets in America. Add them together, and 146,158 tickets were sold for three soccer events over four days.
And people say Miami’s a bad sports town.
The question now is will some of the excitement for these high-profile European clubs spill over onto Miami FC, a second-division team that hosts a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night at FIU? Miami FC beat two Major League Soccer teams to advance to the quarterfinal. It won the Spring Championship of the North American Soccer League. And, it is coached by Alessandro Nesta, the legendary Italian defender who is revered by many of the players on Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and PSG.
Will the local Madridistas and Barcelonistas show up and support our local team? Or are they soccer elitists? That is a question David Beckham will also run into if he ever gets an MLS team through the complex web of Miami politics. Only time will tell.