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Marlins Park to host Miami Soccer Challenge

Marlins Park to host Miami Soccer Challenge
MIAMI -- Marlins Park will soon be home to more than just baseball.

In January, the venue will host the inaugural Miami Soccer Challenge as part of a three-year partnership with Global Football Challenge, supported by the city of Miami and the Miami-Dade Sports Commission.

"This is the first step in a process of introducing a number of international events to this community," said Marlins senior vice president of marketing and event booking Sean Flynn. "It was the most logical choice. It was almost a no-brainer here."

The Global Football Challenge has initiated similar successful partnerships around the world, including in Dubai and Shanghai, as well as in New York. The New York event in 2010 included current English Premier League champions Manchester City.

"Football unites people across the globe," said Global Football Challenge president Stuart Webb. "The Miami Soccer Challenge will bring together the world's leading clubs from Europe and South America that will be seen by packed stadiums and millions of TV viewers around the world."

The inaugural Miami Soccer Challenge is expected to feature one "super game" in the first year, likely scheduled Jan. 2 or Jan. 3 so as not to coincide with the Orange Bowl football game the city hosts each year at Sun Life Stadium. Webb hopes to add another exhibition game at Marlins Park in the summer, followed by a four-team tournament by 2014 or '15.

Teams for January's game have not been decided on yet, but an announcement is expected in early November. Webb said he would like to have one of the two major professional clubs from Madrid -- either Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid -- participate in the inaugural game.

Although Webb would prefer a team from Madrid, he said they want to "find the right mix for this multicultural city," and any of a number of teams could be in the picture. Among those in play for the game, which will be held when the European clubs have a winter break, are Liverpool, Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan from Europe, and South American teams such as Boca Juniors and Santos.

"This is a vibrant community and a community that loves soccer," Miami-Dade County commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz said. "[Soccer] is a part of us. This is a community that is combined by so many nationalities from all over the world; we are a true melting pot. When we talk about [soccer], we talk about part of our heritage and part of us."

The idea, Webb said, is to have a mix of the top European and South American clubs going "head-to-head for a European-South American champ" for years to come.

"This was built as a facility to hold much more than 81 regular-season baseball games," Flynn said. "As we dip our feet into the water of other events, this was a no-brainer, but it's not the end."

While Flynn said soccer was the most logical event to host, he added that the stadium could host a variety of different events in the future, including conventions, trade shows, boxing matches and even UFC cards.

"This building is open," he said. "This is our official announcement that this building is open for much more than baseball."

Tom Green is an associate reporter for

Milwaukee Brewers