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Give Eagles an assist for bringing in Real Madrid

For the second year in a row an international soccer power has decided to showcase its skills against the Union in Philadelphia while making a limited U.S. tour.

The Union have lined up many world soccer powers since taking on Manchester United last year. (Matt Slocum/AP)
The Union have lined up many world soccer powers since taking on Manchester United last year. (Matt Slocum/AP)Read more

For the second year in a row an international soccer power has decided to showcase its skills against the Union in Philadelphia while making a limited U.S. tour.

A year ago, England's Manchester United played the Union at Lincoln Financial Field. And now, as announced two weeks ago, Spain's Real Madrid will be coming to the Linc on July 23 to play a friendly against the Union.

Philadelphia was among four stops for Manchester United last year in its North American tour. Real Madrid will end a three-game U.S. trip in Philadelphia after playing in Los Angeles on July 7 and San Diego on July 20.

So why is Philadelphia such a desirable stop?

One reason has been the partnership of the Eagles and Union, who have combined resources to attract these soccer matches.

Also this summer, the Union will host another topflight English club, Everton, featuring U.S. national team goalkeeper Tim Howard, on July 20 at PPL Park in Chester.

According to Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz, if a friendly is held at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles are the ones who assume the financial risk. If it's at PPL Park, then the Union does.

The American football team and the one that plays the game most of the rest of the world calls "football" have formed a strong bond.

"It's a great partnership with the Eagles," Sakiewicz said. "We work well together, we have the assets, the stadiums, the training facilities."

The Union and Eagles have also fostered strong relationships with CAA Sports, a division of Creative Artists Agency, the world's leading entertainment and sports agency.

The game with Real Madrid is part of the 2011 World Football Challenge, which brings clubs from other countries to the United States for a series of friendlies from July 13 to Aug. 6. CAA created the Football Challenge in 2009 and is the organizer this year, partnering with Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing.

Last year, CAA was copromoter along with MLS and Soccer United Marketing, of Manchester United's North American tour.

"We have a great relationship with [Eagles president] Joe Banner, [owner] Jeff Lurie and the Eagles and Nick Sakiewicz," said CAA executive Charlie Stillitano. "A major advantage is using the NovaCare Complex for the teams to train, which is second to none in the country. All the teams love to train here."

He also had lavish praise for Lincoln Financial Field.

"As far as the field, I would say unquestionably this is the best field we play on in all of North America," Stillitano said.

Philadelphia also received high grades.

"The fans are a great attraction, and to have the hotel, the training facility within four miles, that is a tremendous benefit," Stillitano said.

There might be a perception that the Eagles got involved in bringing in Real Madrid because of the current NFL lockout, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Since Lincoln Financial Field opened in 2003, this will be the 10th soccer match it has hosted, according to Banner.

"We have tried to market the building as a place that attracts major events," he said.

And bringing in Real Madrid is the latest major event with much at stake. A source said that Real Madrid will receive a $2.3 million guarantee. The Eagles are the ones responsible for the guarantee.

While Banner wouldn't confirm or deny this figure, he conceded that a lot of tickets would have to be sold in order to break even.

One major selling point is that Real Madrid will be bringing its A-team, including superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

How popular is Real Madrid?

Banner used a football analogy.

"Real Madrid has 15 million followers on Facebook," Banner said. "The Dallas Cowboys - the highest in the NFL - have three million. That is the scale of popularity we are talking about."

Last year's game in which Manchester United defeated the Union, 1-0, drew 44,213 to the Linc on July 21. Unlike Real Madrid, which will have its entire team, Manchester United didn't bring its full contingent, including headliner Wayne Rooney.

In the other games on the tour, Manchester United drew 39,139 for a 3-1 win over Celtic at Toronto's Rogers Centre; 52,424 at Arrowhead Stadium in a 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Wizards; and 70,728 in beating the MLS all-stars, 5-2, at Houston's Reliant Stadium.

Both Sakiewicz and Banner said they weren't disappointed at the attendance last year, which, according to a source, made a small profit.

With Real Madrid bringing its headliners, both Sakiewicz and Banner expect much higher attendance.

"We will hopefully have 60,000 for Real Madrid - with 25,000 being Union fans and the rest Real Madrid fans," Sakiewicz said.

Banner says each time Philadelphia lands a high-profile event, it only adds to the area's reputation for hosting soccer.

"This is a great Philadelphia story," Banner said. "It says we have a great opportunity for soccer, and it's a great compliment to the city that we have had really good success with hosting international soccer."