It was obvious by the look of Tuesday's press conference at the Grand America Hotel that this wasn't your average publicity staging. David Beckham, noted soccer star and heartthrob, was in the lobby beforehand to sign autographs and pose for pictures, looking even more dashing than in the movies. In the conference room, there were 10 TV cameras, seven still cameras and a couple of dozen other reporters.
If you didn't know better, you'd think it was the 2002 Olympics revisited.
It wasn't but it felt that way.
Real Madrid was in town, which made it officially futbol , not football, season in Utah.
One of the world's most famous and successful teams in any sport arrived Monday at Salt Lake International Airport to prepare for Saturday's friendly against Real Salt Lake. Fifty or so spectators were on hand for that. Then it was on to Tuesday morning's workout at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the team looked every bit the part. At practice alone, there were eight TV cameras, seven still photographers and at least three foreign writers tapping out stories from the bleachers. The team has been called the New York Yankees of soccer make that the 1927 Yankees. Real Madrid was named the "FIFA Team of the 20th Century."
"It's like the Yankees or the Cowboys," said Real Salt Lake publicist Spencer Checketts. Nodding toward Madrid's Roberto Carlos, he said, "That's Derek Jeter right over there."
The team has a downright Yankee-like $200 million payroll, too roughly 100 times that of RSL.
"It's hard to explain," said RSL's Eddie Pope. "They probably have three or four Michael Jordans on this team. To understand the magnitude is difficult."
Hosting a world class club like Madrid has its advantages. One reporter at the press conference framed a question by noting the team's visit was helping put Salt Lake on the international map which must come as news to those who hosted the Olympics.
But hosting an all-star cast doesn't come cheap. RSL spent nearly $2 million to bring Madrid here, including an estimated $200,000 to put the team up in Salt Lake's only five-star hotel, and $650,000 to charter a jet.
"You make concessions for a team like this," said Checketts.
"There have been plenty of times when we got phone calls and they said we needed to make this happen, and we made it happen."
For instance, the grass field that was installed last week.
Real Madrid doesn't play on artificial surfaces.
The 757 charter plane carried about 80 people, 30 of which were players or coaches. The rest were part of the entourage. Real Madrid has its own TV network, broadcast in two languages.
"This team is like having U2 or the Rolling Stones in town or bigger," said Scot Woodbury, RSL's director of operations.
The team has two full-time security officers as well as a personal chef and a catering service. It also has use of three Suburbans, four buses and two cars.
Media from Poland, Mexico, Spain, England, Japan and the Netherlands will be at Saturday's game. Likewise, there will be fans from 30 states and 12 foreign countries.
But Madrid didn't become internationally adored by accident.
Aside from decades of success, the players know their roles. Yes, they are prima donnas, but they came off the plane Monday looking professional, with matching suits and ties. Beckham even stooped to wipe tears from the eyes of a 4-year-old in the crowd. Tuesday, he patiently posed for pictures after practice with several fans who somehow found their way into the closed stadium.Comment on this story
He was everything a modern metrosexual athlete/actor/pitchman is supposed to be.
Carlos and teammate Raul joined the team's manager in the press conference, politely fielding questions from both Spanish- and English-speaking reporters.
Thus, the U2/Rolling Stones/Yankees of soccer made a splash in their first full day in Salt Lake.
"I can sense the buzz around town," said team owner Dave Checketts.
He added, "If people want to appreciate why soccer is the world's No. 1 sport, you have to be there Saturday."You'll know Real Madrid. They'll be the ones wearing stage makeup.