M&T Bank Stadium to host Liverpool-Tottenham exhibition in July

March 30, 2012|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

A soccer rivalry that has endured for decades in England will hit Baltimore this summer.

Liverpool F.C. and the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, two of Europe’s most storied soccer teams and long-time foes in the English Premier League, will play an exhibition game at M&T Bank Stadium on July 28. The joint announcement was made Friday by the Ravens, Maryland Stadium Authority and Maryland Office of Sports Marketing.

“It’s unusual to get two Premier League teams playing a match in the United States. I can’t say it’s never happened, but it is unusual,” said Ravens President Dick Cass, who was involved in the negotiations with the teams to bring them to Baltimore. “It’s something that we tried to do before, and it didn’t happen. To get two English Premier teams to come over and play a friendly, it’s really going to be great for the city. It’s very gratifying.”

It will be the third soccer game at M&T Bank Stadium and the first since 2010. A.C. Milan and Chelsea drew a sell-out crowd of more than 72,000 in July 2009. A year later, approximately 36,500 fans watched Inter Milan play Manchester City.

Stadium officials are hoping the matchup between two teams with global fan bases will not only attract the local soccer community, but bring soccer fans around the country to Baltimore.

Liverpool, nicknamed the Reds, has won 18 league championships, second most in English football to Manchester United, five European Cups and three UEFA cups. Led by Spanish goalie Jose “Pepe” Reina, captain Steven Gerrard and high-scoring Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez, they currently sit in seventh place in the Premier League with an 11-10-9 record.

Tottenham has claimed eight FA cups, two UEFA cups and two league championships. Spurs is fourth in the Premier League with a 16-7-7 record and boasts standout midfielders Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart.

“We would love to get the sellout again,” said Baker Koppelman , the Ravens’ vice president of ticket sales and operations, who helped broker the deal along with Cass and Roy Sommerhof, vice president of stadium operations. “That’s always going to be the goal. If we can’t get the sellout, just to bring a big event with a lot of people is fine, too. We obviously set some financial expectations hoping we can reach certain benchmarks.”

The game could have some competition for fans as Chelsea and AC Milan, two other top international clubs, will reportedly play a friendly the same day at FedEx Field in Landover.

Tickets will go on sale Tuesday for the Tottenham-Liverpool exhibition, which will be played at 1 p.m. in order to not conflict with the Orioles’ 7:05 p.m. home game against the Oakland Athletics.

“It was one of those things as we kind of got into this, we were looking at dates and we always try to avoid situations where we have conflicts on campus here because we share parking lots more than anything,” Sommerhof said. “We got the Orioles involved. We had a number of conversations with them, and at the end of the day, the Orioles were very accommodating toward us playing this game at 1, and they’re going to have the game at night. We appreciate their help in making this happen.”

The Ravens hoped to have a soccer game at M&T Bank Stadium last summer, but they were unable to reach an agreement. Talks for this game started as early as last July, and the desired matchup quickly came into focus because of a number of factors.

Liverpool is owned by the Boston Red Sox owner John Henry and the Fenway Sports Group. Sommerhof and Koppelman built relationships with several members of Boston’s ownership group during their days working with the Orioles.

“When we heard that Fenway Sports group had bought Liverpool, I asked them about it,” Koppelman said. “They said when they asked Liverpool where they wanted to play in the United States, they said Baltimore. That was what they told me. It really just lit a fire. I think it’s important to us to try and bring teams that are well known here. The soccer world brands are important. Liverpool has a strong brand, and they have fans all over the country that will travel to see them. It really sort of hit us. It was like, ‘Wow, that’s a great starting point.’”

The Reds are also playing an exhibition three days earlier against AC Roma at Fenway Park.

“I think we are all very excited to come to U.S. soil. We haven’t been there since 2004,” said Damien Comolli, the director of football for Liverpool. “We will also be playing at Fenway Park. One is an iconic stadium for baseball and the other is a stadium for one of the best teams in the NFL. I know some of our players are very interested in the NFL.”

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