February 11, 2011
By Michael Lewis
Barcelona should be MLS all-stars' foes
The more I think of it, having Barcelona taking on the MLS all-stars in the league's annual all-star game at Red Bulls Arena certainly makes a lot of sense, even if it doesn't mean a lot of cents and dollars for the perennial Spanish powerhouse.
After all, what better way to showcase RBA -- the MLS stadium with the best ambiance and atmosphere -- with arguably (you will get no argument from yours truly) the best soccer club team in the world.
And it just so happens the Red Bulls have not one, but two former Barcelona players on their roster -- former French international striker Thierry Henry and Mexican midfielder Rafa Marquez -- who are expected to play vital roles in the teams' march to the MLS Cup this season.
That certainly would add some spice to the game, pitting two former Barcelona players who call RBA home against Barca.
Of course, some people might say that I am putting the cart in front of the horse because MLS has not made an official announcement as to the all-stars' opponent in Harrison, N.J. on July 27.
According to one reliable source, the deal has been completed. League officials, however, said Wednesday that nothing has been finalized with anyone.
"No agreement for the all-star game is in place now," a league spokesman said.
Regardless of the situation, Barca would have to be on the league's negotiating list for so many obvious reasons.
If you're holding an all-star game in New York (or just outside of the city), you have to think big, really big. With all due respect with some of the other international teams that have played against MLS (discounting Manchester United and Chelsea), you would need a giant club to play here.
Who better than Barcelona and one Lionel Messi and company?
The downside for Barcelona would be the 25,000-seat capacity of RBA as opposed to playing at the nearby New Meadowlands Stadium, which seats 80K. That would mean less revenue (but a different and less intimate fan -- and media experience).
But knowing MLS and Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of the league, the lack of a bigger gate would be made up in other ways just by playing in the metropolitan area, and with Barcelona friendlies in other markets, MLS and non-MLS.
During a conference call last week to announce the all-star game, MLS commissioner Don Garber said he would be prepared to give up a big payday at the East Rutherford, N.J. for RBA to host the game.
"Every situation is different," he said. "Clearly this event is going to be about providing an enormous profile to Red Bull Arena, which we will is one of the great stadiums of it size anywhere in the world. While the economics of a game like this get a bit more challenging, similar to what we did to provide a profile to Toyota Park with Chelsea, West Ham to BMO, it is an objective of ours to give our fans an opportunity to see major international competition, the best of our league and the best of international players in our buildings. Sometimes that requires walking away from what could be a bit more money."
As in getting a ton of exposure -- some of us would call it free advertising for the league. SUM and league officials certainly know that you have to spend money to make some.
As for Barcelona being involved, Garber was asked last week if the league was in negotiations with the club.
"I don't know if its fair to comment on any specific club," he said. "But I will say that we have been in contact with the new management at FC Barcelona, not necessarily about this game but more generally about continuing our relationship. Soccer United Marketing still represents Barcelona in the United States. We will hope to work with them to bring them to the U.S. some point soon, whether it is this game or other type of format."
Barcelona in the all-star game would make a lot of sense. And to Barca and to MLS it could make a lot of cents as well -- in the long run.