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Entertainment International Champions Cup will add women's event this summer

The International Champions Cup, the 5-year-old soccer showcase that has become the most high-profile summer tournament in the world, is adding something new this year: a women’s competition.

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Jane Ross and Manchester City will join Paris St.-Germain and the North Carolina Courage in the inaugural Women's International Champions Cup. play

Jane Ross and Manchester City will join Paris St.-Germain and the North Carolina Courage in the inaugural Women's International Champions Cup.

(The New York Times)

Manchester City, Paris St.-Germain, the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League, and a fourth club will make up the first Women’s ICC field.

The tournament will be contested in two doubleheaders in South Florida this summer: back-to-back semifinal matches on July 27, and then a third-place game and the final on July 29 at Hard Rock Stadium, the Miami Dolphins’ home stadium, in Miami Gardens.

The fourth team has not been confirmed, but Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are among those on the shortlist to take part.

The small size of the tournament is a concerted effort by Relevent Sports, which owns the ICC, to focus on making the first year a success even as it plans to double its size as soon as next year. Many of the clubs that regularly compete in the ICC now have professional women’s teams, and Relevent’s executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, said they had been agitating for ways to get those squads exposure outside their home markets.

When Relevent told its club partners that the women’s event was finally happening, nearly a dozen teams asked to take part.

“The response we got was extraordinary,” Stillitano said. “Every team was like, ‘Oh, can we send our women this year?’ And we just couldn’t, as an inaugural event, have 16 teams to launch it. This is just something we’re going to have to grow. We’re just trying to grow it properly.”

Stillitano and Relevent’s managing partner, Jon Sheiman, said part of the company’s motivation was to reinvest some of the profits it had begun to make after years of successful exhibition tours back into the game, and particularly in the women’s game. But Sheiman also said Relevent took pains not to appear to big-foot the American players, leagues and owners who have exerted considerable effort — and invested considerable sums — in backing professional women’s soccer.

So while they said they could have filled a four-team field with European squads quickly, Sheiman said it would have been “irresponsible” not to have a National Women’s Soccer League team involved.

Before the inaugural weekend tournament in July, the women’s teams from Europe will gather in Portland, Oregon, for several days of training. The teams will work out privately but also alongside a small group of elite teenage American prospects. On July 25, the three teams will take part in a public session with a round robin of 45-minute matches. The next day, the teams will join the Courage in Florida before the ICC doubleheaders.

The Courage were last year’s NWSL runner-up, and they will have the advantage of being in midseason form. But they could be in for stern tests from the Europeans: PSG lost in last season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final, and Manchester City has advanced to the semifinals of this year’s competition.

The games are part of an effort by Relevent Sports, which created the ICC in 2013, to expand its soccer business but also to fill the void of top-flight intercontinental women’s competitions, especially those for clubs — an area that even FIFA has identified as ripe for significant growth.

“There’s a big battle going on right now for this territory, for this content,” Stillitano said. “We think the women’s game would benefit from something like this. And we really hope this is something that helps.”

Stillitano said billionaire Stephen M. Ross, the financial might behind Relevent Sports, made a multiyear commitment to build the Women’s ICC into what has the potential to be — with the right field, and despite being a preseason event for the Europeans — a de facto club world championship for women.

Most top European clubs — including PSG and Manchester City but also teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Barcelona — now field women’s teams capable of challenging more established programs like France’s Olympique Lyon and Germany’s Wolfsburg. Juventus in Italy started a women’s professional team last year, and in March, Manchester United announced plans to create its first one.

Many of those clubs are longtime ICC partners.

“We think we can give it the stage it deserves,” Sheiman said of an intercontinental club competition for women. “And then, coming back in 2019, spend some time and think about: What’s the best format we have? What’s the best way to integrate the women’s league here and tie that in and be sure that they’re treated the right way?”

The entire men’s ICC field, as well as the matchups and cities, will be announced Tuesday. A half-dozen top clubs, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Bayern, have confirmed they will compete. Real Madrid and Barcelona are expected to return, though not face each other this time, as is Juventus, which will also serve as the opponent in Major League Soccer’s All-Star Game on Aug. 1.

But Stillitano joked that so many clubs jumped at the chance to bring their women’s teams to the United States that “we probably could have had 12 of these teams because everyone’s asking us.”

Instead, the first Women’s ICC will serve as a test run for something bigger. Ticket prices will be “modest,” Stillitano said, to encourage attendance. He and Relevent’s chief executive, Daniel Sillman, both said an expansion to at least eight teams by next year and to 16 in 2020 was possible.

“Our only challenge,” Sillman said, “is the number of clubs that actually have women’s teams.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

ANDREW DAS © 2018 The New York Times

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