By: Will Burchfield
In deciding where to stage the opening match of the 2017 International Champions Cup, Relevant Sports, which organizes the event, fixated on Detroit.
It was announced on Tuesday that AS Roma and Paris Saint-Germain will face off in the first ever professional soccer match at Comerica Park on July 19.
“We have a lot of big games this summer and it was very important for us to bring this particular game to a very special place,” said Charlie Stillitano, Chairman of Relevent Sports. “It really means a lot to us to open up this stadium here in Detroit. We’ve opened up matches in Toronto for the first time, Seattle and St. Louis, Yankee Stadium and now here at Comerica Park. We’re very proud of that fact. But this particular game we wanted to bring to a community that we believe would embrace it.”
So, why Detroit?
“Two things,” said Stillitano. “One is my boss, Stephen Ross. He was born in Detroit, loves the Tigers and always wants to be in Detroit. If there’s something he can give back to the city he wants to do it.”
Number two, Stillitano explained, is his personal affinity for the city.
“I said this and I mean this with all sincerity: I feel a kinship with Detroit. I come from Elizabeth, New Jersey, which was really a rich, vibrant city — not as big as Detroit but had its own huge manufacturing base. Over the years I lived through everything from the demise of the manufacturing to some of the bigger industries closing down and then race riots in Newark, and now you see it coming back. So when I see a place like Detroit, it just inspires me.”
Stillitano is eager to connect three of the world’s most influential cities.
“It’s great for these teams to come here and see this city, because you’re talking about three of the most famous cities in the world that have done things for so much of our western civilization, Rome, Paris and Detroit. You really can put them in the same sentence of what they’ve given our society. It’s just great to be back here and see Detroit back on its feet again, if you will. Honestly it gives me goosebumps. It really became a no-brainer for us,” Stillitano said.
The ICC held matches at the Big House in both 2014 and 2016, featuring Real Madrid and drawing well over 100,000 fans on both occasions. Given this year’s matchup between AS Roma and PSG, Relevent Sports felt that Comerica Park was a better venue.
“The reality is these are two teams that may not have a rich history like Real Madrid, but have their own rich history. So you have to pick and choose the venues that are really appropriate for the teams. In this case here, we have two really young, exciting teams, and so this is something that we thought being part of this redevelopment actually seemed to make sense for us.”
Tickets for the game will start at $25 and can be purchased on InternationalChampionsCup.com.
“We expect to sell out, this is going to be really a family oriented game,” Stillitano said.
Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch said the decision to stage the match in Detroit is a reflection of the growth of soccer in Michigan, particularly at the youth level.
“It speaks to the incredible popularity of soccer throughout the world and right here in our city, in our region, throughout our state. In Michigan alone there are more than 100,000 kids playing youth soccer,” said Ilitch. “The variety of opportunities for fans and players of all ages in Michigan is impressive. From youth soccer to Detroit City FC to the Michigan Bucks to the talk of building an MLS stadium downtown, soccer is bigger here than ever.”
Ilitch felt that Detroit was a “natural fit” to host a world-class international soccer match.
“Detroit’s cultural diversity, its love of soccer, its global business presence, led of course by the automotive industry and our own Little Caesars Pizza, make this a natural fit for this type of international match. Really before our eyes, right now, Detroit is becoming the greatest sports and entertainment town in America — and we’re so much more. A city and a region that is undoubtedly on the rise, writing the world’s greatest comeback story, it’s really the ideal place to make history with this event,” said Ilitch.
He is eager to open the Comerica Park gates to a new sport and its worldwide fan base.
“It’s very fitting, we feel, because our ballpark is truly a community gathering place and a place where memories are made and special events happen. It’s why Comerica Park was constructed right here in the center of our city. It’s the perfect location for a match of this scale,” Ilitch said.
Stillitano confirmed that both teams will bring their full rosters and the “big stars” will all play at least 60 minutes.
“This is their preseason preparation. Teams come here and take it very, very seriously, and that’s why you’ve seen the success of the ICC,” Stillitano said. “They have six games to get ready for the season and they usually do two or three games (in Europe) and then they come into the ICC. So this is the full squads getting ready to play.”
Said Ilitch, “It is with great anticipation that we welcome fans from around the region and the world who will join us here, on July 19, to come out and be amazed at the incredible skill of these two world-class soccer clubs.”