Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Tuesday, May 8, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Real Madrid and star Cristiano Ronaldo are coming to Las Vegas this August for a game against Juventus FC at Sam Boyd Stadium, it was announced Monday.
The game, which is part of the 2012 World Football Challenge, is the first significant soccer game to be played in Las Vegas, something Justice Entertainment Group President and COO Daren Libonati has been trying to make happen for nearly 25 years. Now that it’s set, he said he can’t think of a better matchup for the city’s introduction to the sport.
“We’re talking about the best of the world’s sport coming to the world’s playground,” Libonati said.
Last weekend, both teams won titles, with Real Madrid clinching its record 32nd trophy in La Liga, Spain’s premier league, and Juventus capturing its 28th title in Serie A, Italy’s top league. The teams are traditional powers in their respective countries and have met on the pitch 14 times dating back to 1962. They have split those matches with seven victories apiece.
The World Football Challenge brings some of the best teams from around the world to the United States for a series of games that mostly take place against teams from Major League Soccer. A couple of the games announced Monday include the Seattle Sounders hosting Chelsea FC and the LA Galaxy hosting Real Madrid. That second game is on Aug. 2, just a few days before Madrid comes to Vegas to face Juventus at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5.
Both teams are contractually obligated to bring their "A" players, barring injury, which includes Ronaldo, Kaka and Sergio Ramos for Madrid, and Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Matri for "Juve." Madrid won the Challenge last season behind Ronaldo’s event-leading four goals in three games.
This year’s Challenge schedule has a lot of good games for U.S. soccer fans, but Libonati said he’s confident putting this game up against any of the others.
“We’ve got a really sexy matchup,” Libonati said.
Las Vegas has been close to getting a soccer match like this before.
The New York Cosmos, which gained fame in the '70s with international star Pele leading the team, reorganized in 2010 with the hope of eventually joining the MLS. The team played its inaugural friendly game at Manchester United on Aug. 5, 2011, and lost 6-0. Libonati had a game set up between the Cosmos and either Chivas USA or Club America — two Mexican teams — for February of this year, but in the months after the Manchester United loss, the Cosmos underwent front office changes, and in November 2011 the matchup was canceled. The Cosmos haven’t played a game since.
After that fell apart, Libonati, who was a place-kicker at UNLV in the late '80s, aimed higher, with Madrid as the No. 1 target. Now that he’s got the game, the question is figuring out where to go from here.
Libonati said JEG’s contract with UNLV involves creating new content for the Thomas & Mack Center and Sam Boyd Stadium. Recently that has included the USA Sevens rugby tournament, which has been held at Sam Boyd the past two years.
Depending on the success of this soccer game, the future could hold more significant matchups like this one or the possibility of starting an MLS franchise in Las Vegas down the road.
However, all of that depends on the success of this first game. Sam Boyd seats 36,800, which is much smaller than some of the venues that held these games last year. Real Madrid vs. the Galaxy drew 56,211 to the L.A. Coliseum, and the Chicago Fire brought 61,308 to Soldier Field for a game against Manchester United.
Judging by that, this game shouldn’t have any trouble selling out. Tickets range from $68-$253, with separate VIP packages also available. They’re available starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 10, at unlvtickets.com or by calling 855-258-5425 or 702-739-3267.
Selling out too quickly is a problem Libonati would like to have, and one he’s worked toward for many years.
“These are the things that excite my blood,” Libonati said.