One of the biggest sporting coups of Stephen Ross’ career was one he could barely celebrate.
Ross, the Dolphins’ owner, confirmed Friday that Barcelona will play Real Madrid at Hard Rock Stadium on July 29 as part of the International Champions Cup preseason tournament.
“This is like winning a Super Bowl bid,” said Ross, who hopes this won’t be the only time Barcelona and Real Madrid meet in Miami.
Stressing that the match will be accompanied by a week of parties and special events, Ross made the announcement at a splashy news conference at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Attendees included Ndamukong Suh (a soccer fan), Dan Marino, rapper Flo Rida and former El Clasico legends Hristo Stoichkov, Emilio Butragueno and Roberto Carlos.
This will mark only the second meeting outside of Spain for Barcelona vs. Real Madrid — known “El Clasico” (The Classic) and widely recognized as the fiercest sporting rivalry in the world. It’s expected that the world’s two best players — Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo — will appear.
Getting a commitment from the sides to bring the rivalry to the United States took three days of negotiations in early December. Ross and his associates first received a tentative blessing from Real Madrid, then flew to Barcelona, but there was one catch: Both teams told Ross “we’ll let you know” after their Dec. 3 clash in Barcelona.
Ross took that to mean if either team suffered a demoralizing defeat, the deal was off. Ross was rescued when Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos scored in the 90th minute to secure a 1-1 draw.
“It was like an intervention had occurred,” Ross said.
Only problem: Ross and Dolphins President/CEO Tom Garfinkel were the only ones in Camp Nou — outside of a pocket of Real Madrid fans — who weren’t crushed by the last-second goal. Celebrating at that moment would have been hazardous to one’s health.
“We might have done a low-five,” Garfinkel said.
Ross went over to console the Barcelona president even though he was bubbling inside.
“It was kind of funny,” Ross said.
The teams’ only previous meeting outside of Spain was in Venezuela in 1982. Real Madrid has 93 wins in the rivalry to Barcelona’s 90.
Because the preseason match won’t count in Spain’s La Liga standings, Ross and his associates sought an assurance the teams would field representative sides — namely Ronaldo and Messi.
“When asked that question, they could answer one thing: ‘We don’t want to lose,’ ” Ross said.
Ross even stopped short of using the word “friendly,” which usually pertains to soccer exhibitions.
“When they come to play a game, there’s nothing friendly about it,” he said. “It’s like a war.”
Real Madrid won the ICC in 2013 and was co-champ in 2015.
El Clasico will be carried on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 7:30 p.m. July 29.
The ticket presale begins March 17, with the general sale on March 20 at internationalchampscup.com. Ticket prices have not been announced.
Brazil and Colombia set a state record with a crowd of 73,429 in 2014, and while El Clasico a virtual lock to sell out, the capacity at the renovated stadium is now 65,326.
Hard Rock will host another match in the ICC, with teams TBA, on July 26.
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