U-20 sales near million

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

There's no more 'gonna' about it.

The FIFA U-20 World Cup is truly huge. And then some.

With nationwide ticket sales of 850,000 already in the bank -- and quiet whispers that the number might approach one million before it's done -- the 24-country tournament is pushing soccer into a new sporting realm in Canada.

To hear one Canadian Soccer Association official tell it, the world's game is now Canada's game.

Finally, after all these years.

TWO MAJOR SPORTS

"We've changed the sporting landscape in this country (with this tournament)," Peter Montopoli, the U-20 World Cup's national event director, told the Sun yesterday. "Hockey is in the rightful place it should be in this country in the winter. Now soccer will be in the place it should be in the summer.

"We have two (major) sports now."

A year ago, even the most optimistic of tournament organizers would never have seen this coming. The overall tournament ticket target was 520,000, based on averaging 10,000 spectators per match at six Canadian cities, including Ottawa.

Now the 'sold out' sign has already been hung up at some match venues across the country. More than 52,000 will attend the tournament-opening doubleheader Saturday at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

HEADING TOWARD SELLOUT

In Ottawa, ticket sales for the July 6 twinbill that features Brazil-U.S. have cracked 22,000 (capacity at Frank Clair Stadium for this event is 26,500).

"We're going to sell that out," said Montopoli. "If you want tickets for that game, you better order them now. If you wait until July 6, it'll be too late."

Sales for Saturday's opening doubleheader, highlighted by the Argentina-Czech Republic match, have surpassed 20,000. Frank Clair is also host for a pair of first-round games July 3, a second-round match July 12 and quarter-final July 15.

"We're thinking Ottawa is going to be a smashing success," said Montopoli.

What's behind it all? Montopoli points to a combination of a massive grassroots support at the club level, an upswing in soccer interest across Canada, and a national marketing campaign that hammered home the scope of this event.

"It was a consistent message -- 'It's gonna be huge,' " he said of the event's marketing slogan. "The world's biggest game is coming to your town, and this is a world-class event that you want to get behind in your community."

Ticket prices are also remarkably affordable. Full eight-match passes at Frank Clair are available for $105-$125. But for the soccer community, the tourney tab was an almost dirt cheap $60 for south-side seats.

AFFORDABLE PRICES

"It's been 50% of our sales," said Marci Morris, the tournament's site manager in Ottawa. "The soccer clubs and leagues all over the city were incredibly receptive right from the beginning. We had sold a significant amount of tickets on the south side before we sold any on the north side."

The affordable prices were a true hit with families.

"That made a huge difference," said Morris. "It made it a very easy sell."

Clearly, the naysayers who scoffed at Canada being awarded this event have long been silenced. Montopoli doubts any sports event in this country will ever match it in terms of ticket sales.

"There will never be another event like this," he said. "We will own the record (forever). The sport of soccer will own the record.

"This will be the largest single-sport event ever held in Canada."


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