Sun, Jul 17, 2005 - Page 23 News List

Real Madrid players blow into Windy City


The promotional tour started way before Real Madrid arrived at City Hall on Friday afternoon.

There was an autograph session at a sports bar in the morning. The team then headed to Wrigley Field, home of Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs where midfielder Raul threw out the first pitch before the game between the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, and then came the visit with mayor Richard Daley.

Nine-time European club champion Real Madrid plays Mexican power Chivas Guadalajara Saturday at Soldier Field, before heading to Carson, California, for Monday's match with Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.

Then, the team heads to Beijing, Tokyo and Bangkok.

At City Hall on Friday, Real Madrid presented the mayor with an autographed ball, a jersey with "Daley 05" on the back and a model of its stadium. It also invited Daley to Madrid.

"We are really very excited for the opportunity to come to Chicago," Real Madrid director of sport Emilio Butragueno said.

Daley welcomed the team, calling it a "great honor."

"Soccer has grown, become the No. 1 sport of young people in the United States," he said. "It's very popular in all the schools."

Friday was a day for promotion. It was a chance for fans to meet stars such as Ronaldo and David Beckham, and for the players to mingle with officials. The routine in other cities will be similar.

Beckham sees the US as a relatively untapped market for soccer, one reason why he thinks it's important to play well on Saturday.

"It's important to put on a good performance because there are a lot of people paying a lot of money to see us play," he said after an evening practice at Soldier Field. "It's only right that we should work hard. But you'll get that with this team because they work hard. You'll see a lot of the skills. You'll enjoy it."

A crowd of approximately 50,000 is expected to watch Beckham and his teammates against Chivas.

The match against the Galaxy in the 27,000 capacity Home Depot Center already is a sellout.

For Beckham and Michael Owen, this is the second trip to the United States in six weeks. They played for England's national team here in late May.

At practice, Real Madrid had a small -- but loud -- audience of about 1,000 who held signs and screamed "Beckham!" as the team ran laps early on and that continued throughout the evening.

On his way off the field, Beckham waved to the crowd. But the day really was more about saying hello than goodbye; it was about connecting with the fans.

"Basically, what we try to do in each [city] is integrate with local traditions and events, so things change from territory to territory," said Michael Novack, director of Real Madrid Television. "Here, the [first] pitch at the stadium was a main example. ... It's all about union -- bridges between sport, team and the country."

Along that line, the Real Madrid brand continues to grow.

Within the next few weeks, the franchise will launch a 24-hour English-language TV network that will be carried on satellite and be integrated into cable systems, said Michael Novack, director of Real Madrid Television. And its Spanish station, which is broadcast in Spain, will go global.

Besides shows about the team, programs will cover a wide range of topics.

"All leading up to the values that Real Madrid players exemplify -- leadership, effort, etc.," Novack said.

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