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Baltimore’s World Cup Chances

2010 July 21
by Dennis Coates

Last summer, 72,000 fans packed M and T Bank Stadium in Baltimore to watch a “friendly” between Chelsea and AC Milan. This summer, with less than two weeks before Inter Milan and Manchester City take to the field at M and T Bank Stadium only 30,000 tickets have been sold.

This worries local boosters of Baltimore as a site for games of the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. The idea is that of the 18 cities listed as finalists in the US bid, only those showing the strongest support for soccer will be selected to play host to games. Three explanations for the lack of ticket sales are suggested by the people with stakes in the outcome.

One opinion is that people may think the game is sold out already. The match between Chelsea and AC Milan was sold out two weeks in advance.

A second explanation is that local fans are not familiar with the players on either of this year’s competitors. Last year fans could expect to see Ronaldhino and Didier Drogba. Advertising also raised awareness of the stars that would participate. This year the teams don’t boast players with such impressive resumes or wide-spread recognition.

A third explanation is that last year was the first time such an event occurred. Not said in so many words, the implication is that there was a huge novelty effect component to attendance at the 2009 match. Now that the novelty has worn off, attendance is approaching a more sustainable level. Obviously, that perspective is not one boosters of the 2018/2022 bid want to push too loudly.

An interesting perspective on attendance is offered by Baker Koppelman the person in charge of ticket sales for the Baltimore Ravens (through which the event is promoted and to whom much of the net revenue will accrue). Even if attendance is only 35,000, “There probably haven’t been too many soccer matches in the U.S. that have drawn more than that,” Koppelman said. I suspect that is not a selling point for the US Bid committee either.

The full Baltimore Sun article is here.

7 Responses
  1. Steve permalink
    July 21, 2010

    Interesting.

    The lack of stellar appeal hardly seems like a reason (should the entire squad be making the trip) since Inter Milan boasts Wesley Sneijder, almost the hero of the world cup as well as Samuel Eto’o, and Manchester City has big names such as Argentina’s Carlos Tevez.

    As far as crowds for a World Cup are concerned, wasn’t USA ’94 the highest attended World Cup in history?

    One would suspect that crowds will not be a problem for countries with large immigrant populations in the US, or for teams from richer countries in Europe or North East Asia / Australia for whom you would expect many travelling fans to fill the stadiums or top teams like Brazil or Argentina (although both countries have significant immigrant populations also). Local fans, one might suspect would be needed to fill stadiums for countries that are lower profile.

    Thinking about the South African World Cup, games like New Zealand vs. Slovakia or North Korea vs. Cote d’Ivoire would struggle for travelling fans. Sounds like the people of Baltimore would be unlikely to turn up to such games without free / discounted tickets if they wont go to this friendly (mind you a real game with points on the line is a bit different to an exhibition match). One might argue that the stadium is one big sound stage for the global television audience, and the spectators are “extras”.

    The lottery held during the draw where the cities are drawn also needs to be factored into expected benefits for a city, as there is a risk that a city will draw a game between two minnows.

  2. Duane Rockerbie permalink
    July 21, 2010

    I wonder what the ticket prices are? Maybe they are much higher than last year in anticipation of 72,000 fans again. Don’t forget the law of demand. Or maybe it is the same night that Strasburg is pitching in DC.

  3. Dennis permalink
    July 21, 2010

    Duane,

    I don’t know what ticket prices were last year, so I can’t say what change there was. Here is the Baltimore Ravens web page devoted to selling tickets to the match: http://www.baltimoreravens.com/Gameday/Tickets/Special_Events.aspx.

    There are a couple of interesting aspects to this for me. First, the cheapest tickets are $30, and rise to$115. Of course if you want some sort of VIP package that costs more.

    Second, there are sections set aside for supporters of the two clubs. Obviously, since last year’s match was a sell out, all the tickets in the sections devoted to supporters of each club were sold. Evidence that the lack of sales is due to lack of interest in the clubs in the match might be that relatively few of the seats sold are in the supporters areas.

    A point that occurred to me after I posted the original blog was that it may be that Baltimore area fans have overdosed on soccer for the year. Tickets went on sale just before the World Cup kicked off. Perhaps after a month of relatively intense soccer viewing, the fans here have had enough for a while.

    Another possibility is that likely attendees are afraid they will be subjected to still more noise from vuvuzuelas.

  4. Dan permalink
    July 21, 2010

    Those vuvuzuelas have probably scared a lot of fans. Every stadium should announce a ban to assure fans they won’t have them blasting in their ears all game long. There’s enough opportunity for fans to make noise at games without artificial means. Teams have ultras to provide atmosphere and intimidate visiting teams.

    Steve is right that the appeal of the two teams is maybe a notch below Chelsea/AC Milan. So if the promotion and prices were similar to last year I would first look at burnout after the WC or the continuing economic problems related to high unemployment. If Strasburg is the reason Bud Selig should make him the poster boy for MLB as he can knock down attendance for the world’s most popular sport.

  5. Will permalink
    July 21, 2010

    I wouldn’t expect the overdose to be the cause of the decreased attendance. With the month-long World Cup recently completing, I would expect the opposite result for a one-off event in the near aftermath. As other comments have mentioned, Inter Milan is coming off winning the Italian league and the UEFA Champions League. Both teams have relatively big name players that have been seen on American broadcasts of soccer and the World Cup. Manchester City is in the English Premier League (which American soccer fans pay more attention to than the other European leagues); although, it doesn’t have the same name recognition as probably, Chelsea, Manchester City, or Liverpool.

    Do you know how much promotion has been done for this game? I noticed and read about last year’s game being promoted strongly. If this game hasn’t received the same level of promotion, it may be cause for the decrease in ticket sales as well. With it being a World Cup year, many clubs have a later reporting date for their World Cup players than the rest of the team. I wouldn’t be surprised if the advertising/promotions for this game have been lighter than last year, and I would also think that the promotions wouldn’t be as focused on the World Cup players unless they were in some way contractually obligated to be part of the game. Otherwise, the players mentioned in a previous comment (Tevez, Sneijder, and/or Eto) may not even be part of the team’s trip and may be excluded from the advertising promotions.

    I also wonder if the attendance stays in the 30-35, 000 fans range, how much does Baltimore’s proximity to Washington, DC affect its 2018/2022 US World Cup bid appeal? Baltimore might have more luck continueing its consideration in the bid with a relatively low attendance in this game if it weren’t not so close to another bid city (especially one that is probably a lock for the bid by being the capital).

  6. Greg Pinelli permalink
    July 22, 2010

    Baltimore and many other US cities are probably decent venues for exhibitions but would be hard sells as Cup sites. These World Class Clubs and exhibitions are just fine..but they don’t extend 1 inch towards the development of a niche sport in this country to Superstar status.

    Personally, I’ve always thought the US was the perfect perennial host to the Cup. First, it knows how to handle the 8 ball soccer crowd in spades. Second, the US has a great transportation infrastructure and a limitless housing (hotel/motel) infrastructure as well. Third..and MOST important..the US is a soccer irrelevant country. There are enough fans to add to the interest but not enough crazies to cause a fiscal and control problem. Finally..we have an almost limitless supply of existing game facilities that require only minimal changes compared to build to play venues.

    As for vuvuzuelas are concerned..only a third world site would allow these ridiculous mood destroyers to be a part of the viewing experience. The US MAY have had the highest per game attendance..but I can assure you it is irrelevant compared to Brazil in 2014.

  7. Mark Jendrysik permalink
    July 26, 2010

    There have been plastic horns at sporting events in this country for years. I was personally yelled at by a soccer mom at RFK during a WC 1994 match for disturbing her children with my horn.
    Baltimore is an unlikely venue for a World Cup match for several reasons, proximity to DC and New York not the least.

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