Baltimore gearing up for another soccer run

Ravens president confident in city's ability to support international matches

August 01, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

With the notable exception of appearances by Manchester United, attendance for international soccer friendlies in North America was down this summer.

Dick Cass will take that for what it's worth and keep trying to cultivate a marketplace for the sport in Baltimore.

"We're not discouraged," the Ravens president said shortly before Saturday night's friendly between Inter Milan and Manchester City drew only an announced 36,569 to M&T Bank Stadium just a year after Chelsea and AC Milan drew more than 71,000.

"We're going to try to get another match next summer. We will definitely try to get another match. I think you have to try to be consistent. You have to build up a following. I think that's what we're trying to do."

Cass' other job -- after the Ravens -- is bringing high-quality events such as international soccer and the NCAA lacrosse final four to Baltimore. This year's soccer match was fraught with problems from the beginning.

Because Inter played deep into the spring in the Champions League, the Ravens, who work with the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Department of Business and Economic Development in promoting the game, got a late start on marketing. The World Cup and the proliferating number of U.S. friendlies might have taken some synergy out of the game here, Cass speculated.

But the biggest reason for a decline in attendance might be the sophistication of the U.S. soccer fan. Although Inter is this year's European champion and Manchester City is engaged in one of Europe's biggest spending sprees for players, fans understood both teams would play young, more inexperienced players.

A year ago, superstar Ronaldinho played for AC Milan. This year, Man City's Carlos Tevez, who played for Argentina in the World Cup, did not. Neither did most of the 17 internationals who played in the World Cup. This year's match, then, was like an NFL team's fourth preseason game, where stars take a seat.

Even with that, Terry Hasseltine thinks Baltimore improved its case for being part of the U.S. bid for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. Hasseltine, director of Maryland's office of sports marketing, said both teams were pleased with how they were treated. "And that starts to resonate up the ladder of international circles," Hasseltine said Sunday.

In fact, Hasseltine pointed out, Baltimore's attendance was better than the rest of the U.S. friendlies that didn't include Manchester United.

United drew almost 71,000 at Reliant Stadium in Houston last week for a game against the Major League Soccer all-stars. It drew more than 52,000 to Arrowhead Stadium for a game against the MLS' Kansas City Wizards. And it drew more than 44,000 to Philadelphia for a game against that city's MLS team, the Union.

Meanwhile, Atlanta's Georgia Dome had a crowd of 33,000 for a match between Manchester City and Mexico's Club America; Boston's Fenway Park had 32,000 for Celtic and Sporting Lisbon; and Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, had 27,000 for Club America and San Luis FC.

Cass remains optimistic that Baltimore's soccer fans can and will support top-notch matches.

"I think if we have a good international match, we can get the Baltimore crowd and we can get more people from the Washington area and from Philadelphia," he said. "But can we sell it out without that? I think we can, if we get the right times and [play at] the right time of the year, not a World Cup year, and with a better economy.

"I don't know if we're going to sell it out, but I do think we can do better than [Saturday's] crowd. I really do. And I don't want to be down about the crowd. Â This is still going to be a successful event. We're not losing money tonight."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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