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Madrid eye North America return after tour's "emphatic success"

Charlie Stillitano, the organiser of the International Champions Cup, says Real Madrid's tour of North America has been an "emphatic success" and reveals the club want to return in 2017

Madrid eye North America return after tour's "emphatic success"
PEPE ANDRES DIARIO AS

Charlie Stillitano is the man who brings Real Madrid to the International Champions Cup every year. The son of an Italian player and referee who emigrated to New Jersey, he is the owner of Relevent Sports, the tournament organiser that has monopolised pre-season tours of the US, Asia and Australia.

What’s your assessment as the man behind the International Champions Cup of Real Madrid’s participation in the US again this year?

It has been an emphatic success. I’ll give you a statistic: Madrid’s games have drawn in an average of 90,000 spectators. That’s a record for any side on a three-match tour of the United States. And naturally we are extremely proud of that. Madrid have been a very professional club and we’re grateful to them. We hope we’ll be able to do something similar together again next year.

You mentioned record attendances and Madrid pulled them in without two of their biggest stars in Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Toni Kroos and Pepe were also missing after starring at the European Championship…

Fans in the US are becoming more sophisticated. They understand football better. They know that players are not machines and that they have to rest when there is a European Championship, a Copa América or a World Cup. But the main thing is that the Real Madrid brand is very strong and it keeps growing and growing here with every year. On our part, we try to help out so that is more awareness of the game. The fans can see that we aim to put on football matches, not just a show…

Bayern Munchen and Real Madrid line up before the International Champions Cup match between FC Bayern Munchen and Real Madrid CF at MetLife Stadium on August 3, 2016 in East Rutherford, United States.

What plans are in place for pre-season next year? Will Madrid be returning to the West Coast?

I think that all of the players want to go to Los Angeles [laughs]. And to Miami. I spoke to [Madrid president] Florentino [Pérez] and he said the club would like to come back to the United States. We’ll have to have another chat when this year’s edition is over, although there are still some games left involving other teams. But Madrid’s intention is to train in Los Angeles next pre-season.

What seems off the table is to return to China and Australia. The players complained last year about having to travel so much and the sharp changes in temperature.

It is a challenge to go to Australia and China, that’s for sure. In Australia they have some fantastic facilities, in fact Atlético told us that this summer. The problem is that the flight there is so long. In China the facilities available aren’t quite so good but getting there is still just as difficult. And we have had some problems with the pitches. When a club goes to China it is a question of marketing, teams don’t like to be there for too long. They want to play the games and get back to Europe as quickly as possible. North America is completely different. It’s easy to fly the players to LA or Miami or New York but there are other destinations that are a bit more complicated… it’s a challenge and we recognise that.

Are you looking into the possibility of taking Real Madrid to Latin America? The club has a huge presence in the market there…

At the end of the day the teams are our clients and we try to give them what they want. We have created a very good atmosphere in the US and Europe but there are teams that have expressed a serious interest in going to Latin America. I don’t know if Madrid will go there. But we are already working to take the tournament into that region, probably in Brazil.

If you went to Colombia with James Rodríguez the stadiums would be full for sure.

That would be great! They’d be full just with his fans [laughs]! But seriously, I have to say that our main area of interest at the moment is Brazil. We want to start there. And I can reveal that there are games planned in Singapore for the 2017 tournament.

Are you planning on bringing in more Spanish teams as well as Madrid, Barça and Atlético?

We have had Valencia in the tournament before. We don’t want to sideline anybody but the truth is that the International Champions Cup has the advantage of being able to choose. No other competition can say “let’s put on a game between Milan and Chelsea, or Madrid and Bayern Munich” and then choose where and how to do it. That’s only possible through a Champions League draw, for example. But we plan to go to new places and there’ll be plenty of room for other teams to join the tournament.