A year after more than 72,000 soccer fans packed M&T Bank Stadium to watch Chelsea play AC Milan, ticket sales for a July 31 "friendly" between two other high-profile European teams have been slow, officials said.
Baker Koppelman, vice president for ticket sales and operations for the Ravens, the event's host, said Tuesday that only around 30,000 tickets have been sold so far for the match between Inter Milan and Manchester City, and Koppelman doesn't expect a crowd of more than 35,000 unless there's a huge walk-up.
"There probably haven't been too many soccer matches in the U.S. that have drawn more than that," Koppelman said. "Last year, maybe the stars were perfectly aligned for us with some of the big name players and the fact that it was the first time the event was being held in Baltimore. It certainly did raise the expectations for this year."
Koppelman said that the contract for this year's game was signed "six to eight weeks later" than last year because Inter Milan was still playing in the Champions League tournament. He is not sure about what kind of walk-up there might be because last year's event was sold out two weeks ahead of time.
"The walk-up is usually driven by the teams," Koppelman said. "Certain teams draw more than others."
The size of the crowd could affect Baltimore's chances of hosting World Cup matches if the U.S. bid committee succeeds in securing the world's biggest soccer event in either 2018 or, more likely, 2022. A decision on the U.S. bid will be made in December. Baltimore is one of 18 cities under consideration as a possible site by the U.S. bid committee.
"I think it's extremely important for the [U.S.] bid committee to see a successful event like we had last year," said Terry Hasseltine, director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing. "But at the end of the day, having a quality match between two international teams should raise our profile on an equal platform [to the number of fans]."
Said Kevin Healey, president and general manager of the Blast, "In my mind, this game is a critical component of getting the World Cup here."
The lackluster sales might be attributable to the lack of name recognition among fans for those playing in this year's game.
While the teams have 17 players who participated in the recently completed World Cup in South Africa, most are not well known in the U.S. The exceptions might be Inter Milan defender Maicon of Brazil and striker Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez of Argentina. Manchester City also recently signed striker David Silva, a member of the World Cup champions from Spain.
A year ago, AC Milan boasted Brazilian star Ronaldinho, whose YouTube videos and commercials have made him a must-see athlete around the world, as well as Maryland-raised U.S. national team standout Oguchi Onyewu. Chelsea was led by goalkeeper Petr Cech of the Czech Republic along with striker Diddier Drogba of the Ivory Coast and midfielder Michael Essien of Ghana.
"You would think that after having the World Cup, a lot of the names would resonate with fans," Hasseltine said. "Because there was so much soccer being played and watched, a lot of the names got lost in the shuffle. But there are going to be a lot of great players on the field."
The quality of the teams is not in question. Long in the shadow of Manchester United and Chelsea, Manchester City placed fifth in the English Premier League last season, its best finish since rejoining the top division in 2002-03 after years of being considered a second-rate club; last year it was one spot out of qualifying for the prestigious Champions League competition.
Inter Milan — or Inter as the team is often called — has long been one of Europe's top teams. It won a record fifth straight title in Serie A, Italy's top league, and then beat Bayern Munich for the prestigious Champions League title, European soccer's equivalent of the Super Bowl.
"We really have a great game coming here," said Healey, whose club association with Chelsea helped bring last year's match to Baltimore. "Inter Milan was the hottest club team in the world last year and Man City is an up-and-coming team that you'd like to see in this type of international friendly right before the season. They're going to try to win this game.
"I think people [who aren't planning to go] are missing the boat."
Healey and Koppelman said that another reason for the lagging sales could be that fans assume the game has already been sold out, as happened when AC Milan and Chelsea came to the city last year. Tickets for this year's game range from $30 for the upper level end zone to $200 for the club level VIP package and lower level midfield VIP package.