Last night, Real Madrid closed out an undefeated American tour with a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The MLS side ceded those goals early. The scores were impressive, the type you'd expect from a world powerhouse.
Jose Maria Callejon one-timed a long pass in during the match's second minute and Mesut Ozil — the match standout, by far — converted a give-and-go from Karim Benzema in the 11th. The Union didn't react as if they were a Triple-A squad cast in the role of patsies so their foes could show off overseas, though.
But for a failed bicycle-kick attempt, Cristiano Ronaldo's second-half appearance was unremarkable. The Union had scoring chances; in the 80th minute, Michael Farfan lofted a classy chip over Real's backup keeper. Philadelphia had a chance to tie in extra time but were denied. Both sides seemingly played to win.
What was most impressive about the night wasn't how the Union scrapped back against Real, or the caliber of play. It was wonderful, yes, but not world-classiest.
It was that more than 57,000 spectators turned out on a sweat-through-any-garment-while-you-sit night. They were vocal. They had that glint of excitement in their eyes that accompanies memorable-event attendance. Tanktop-sporting wives sat next to their husbands and sons with cameras dedicated to only taking pictures of Ronaldo, noting aloud that they'd help tie his shoes if it meant getting close to him. Many sported his jersey, including one fellow who hoisted a sign pleading with the homem bonito to sign his replica so it'd be his Best! Birthday! Ever!!! (Here are links to some pics and videos from the affair).
Some of it was novelty. World-class soccer teams don't come to those parts but once a year (maybe twice now that the Union's gotten their professional footing firmly beneath them; DOOP). But when this world-class soccer team took the pitch upon which Michael Vick should soon sprint, it was for a preseason game.
Preseason. Not a regular game. Not a regular game. Preseason. (For Real Madrid, that is; the Union's at roughly their mid-season point, but 'twas an exhibition contest with no effect on league play).
Yes, last night represented a near-sellout for which spectators weren't forced to shell out a bunch of coin to further protect their personal-seat licenses. There was no greedy quid pro quo. No gimmick. No money-grab scam. They paid to watch something that had no effect on sporting record. They paid to watch something they actually wanted to watch.
The stars weren't put in for a couple of runs and then benched so people you'd never heard of (nor will again) had the chance to impress a coach who's barely paying attention. The coaches didn't call rudimentary plays to prevent future competition from some early game-planning, as if they're mental giants drawing up things the foes and fans hadn't already seen multiple times a week for decades.
It's ironic, then, that preseason profits were the point of discussion as the American-football league tries to iron the final wrinkles out to ensure that there's even a modicum of preseason preparation before the big-money games inevitably start, on time, in September.
Each lost week of the preseason results in a shared forfeiture of roughly $200 million. Under the proposed labor deal, that's roughly $96 million for the players, and roughly $104 million for the owners. ... For the owners, $104 million in lost revenue per week roughly equates (setting aside for these purposes revenue disparities) to $3.25 million per team, per week. Which increases to $13 million per team if the full preseason is lost.
What's $13 million per team? For some, that's most if not all of the profit margin for the entire year.
Granted, it's utter bullshit to believe an NFL franchise's profit margin is on par with Sam Bradford's, but it wasn't utter bullshit to walk away from the Linc last night thinking, "The NFL's really missing the preseason point."
No, football and American football are not entirely comparable entities. You run a bigger chance of injury if James Harrison's running into your vertebrae than if Xabi Alonso takes a whack at your patella, no matter what the former says about knee injuries being more harmful than brain pain. But, I can't imagine that season ticket holders at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu would have turned out in such giddy force to watch the Philadelphia Union play a preseason match against the home side any more than an NFL fan values the preseason "games" they're forced to pay regular-season rates to suffer through, gift to a less-fortunate neighbor or blow off altogether.
Which brings us to the modest proposal.
If they're going to keep four half-assed preseason games, why not take them out of the home NFL stadiums to where an audience might be as geeked up as the crowd at the Linc last night? The Panthers play the Falcons at the home stadium of a high-school football champ halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte. The Texans and Cowboys follow suit. Take the Broncos and Seahawks up to Boise. Play the games where, instead of a burden, they'd be a memorable affair.
Better yet, make it seem as if the teams care what the final score is since you can't exactly replicate the whole "lesser league vs. world powerhouse" dynamic in football short of a preseason relegation game where the team with the worst NFL record has to fend off the CFL champs.
Maybe they wouldn't be able to hit that magic $13 million figure bandied about, but it would sure as hell smooth over some it's-all-about-money-not-the-game-itself-anymore PR concerns ahead between franchise and fanbase. Hell, it might make the players feel as if the people watching them actually give a shit about what they're watching. Who knows, maybe everybody would have some fun while they're at it.
With billions in play, NFL stands to win [Buffalo News]
Real Madrid Against Philadelphia Union, A Chance to Connect with U.S. Fans [HispanicBusiness.com]
Philadelphia Union - Real Madrid [Real Madrid]
After shaky start, Union prove a point against Real Madrid [Philadelphia Union]