Of Karl Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (April 28, 2022) US Soccer Players – One of the spiritual homes of auto racing is the site for what the marketing materials humbly proclaim as “the greatest soccer event of all time.” That would be Daytona Soccer Fest, scheduled for the weekend of July 4th at Daytona International Speedway. It’s no surprise that this is the venue’s premier football-centric event, packed with enough attractions to seem to appeal to just about everyone in Florida and beyond.
Day 1 features a match between current Colombian champions Deportivo Cali and their crosstown rivals America de Cali, a concert by reggaeton artist Rauw Alejandro and a World Freestyle Football Association open tournament. Day 2 features a “Legends Match” featuring retired greats such as David Trezeguet, Javier Mascherano, Juan Sebastian Veron and Claudio Pizarro, followed by a performance by Chance the Rapper and an NWSL league match between Racing Louisville and local club Orlando Pride.
The organizers will build a temporary grass pitch in the infield which they promise will be of international quality. It will be right next to the finish line, in front of the center of Daytona’s huge grandstand, which has a total capacity of well over 100,000 spectators. There will be additional seating and a kaleidoscope of other activities around the pitch. From amusement rides to food trucks and fireworks to a fishing tournament at Lake Lloyd, the 65-acre, fish-filled lake in the infield of the massive 2.5-mile Daytona Race Track, the list is impressive.
“Sometimes doing things outside the box is a bit risky, and of course we have a soccer field that needs to be sanctioned by US Soccer,” said John Reynal, CEO of OnSide Entertainment, one of Soccer Fest’s co-promoters, in a press conference held at the track this week. “This gets built five days, seven days before the event and we get sanctioned. But we have the best builders in the country, maybe the world, who are building the soccer field and they are 100% sure that it will be perfect and fantastic. The backdrop and backdrop, it will be seen in over 150 countries and will make Daytona International Speedway the world center of football.”
Having the National Women’s Soccer League play a regular season game instead of an exhibition game adds authenticity. The organizers made that clear.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time in history, the history of football, that a professional league game — for points — will be played in a non-traditional venue following the lead that the NHL had with the NHL many years ago (Winter) Classic and Major League Baseball with the Field of Dreams. Now football has its magic field,” said Reynal. He added that the concept, originally slated for last year but postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, was years in the making.
The presence of Pride and Orlando City owner and chairman Mark Wilf at the press conference underscored the clubs’ commitment. Like most other football leagues on these shores, the NWSL can use all the attention it can get. Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell revealed that the sheer scale and uniqueness of the event has piqued her team’s interest.
“I went to the (Daytona) 500 once and it was a great race. It’s hard to explain, just the sounds, the sights, the excitement, so it’s amazing to have a football game here on the pitch and look at the drawings and schematics of the pitch and stands with the iconic circuit,” he said. “I know the players are really looking forward to the match, but so is Chance the Rapper. They’re already asking, ‘Can we see anything from this concert?’”
While race venue concerts are nothing out of the ordinary, they extend the reach for venues that may only host a few major races per year. In 2016, a college football game at Bristol Motor Speedway drew over 150,000. It is a reminder that the biggest sports venues in this country are racetracks. Daytona, which underwent a $400 million renovation a few years ago, is a grand stage for any sport.
“In addition to cars that drive around the track here with the Rolex [24 At Daytona] and with the NASCAR regular season finale here in August, this place is busy more than 300 days a year,” said Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher. “We are preparing for a four-day music festival. We have a Vietnam Veterans Festival coming up on Memorial Day weekend. So we have a wide range of fans who come to this property from all over the world.”
The involvement of OnSite and Torneos, Soccer Fest’s other well-connected promoter, shows that there are many international companies eager to market to US fans. “It is part of our regional expansion strategy. The US market is a very big market, a very important market,” said Ignacio Galarza, CEO of Torneos. “Football is a sport that is developing very well.”
Should this event prove successful, it will be an additional model that other parts of the country will not ignore. That could dramatically expand the possibilities for football as a headline event in new areas of the United States. Given the growth we’ve already seen, “why not?” maybe it’s just worth asking.
Charles Boehm is a Washington, DC-based author and editor of The soccer wire. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at:http://twitter.com/cboehm.
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