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Lack of tickets could stall U.S goals

Published Oct. 9, 2005

From the outset, U.S. officials insisted that one of the primary goals of staging the World Cup was to leave a "lasting legacy" for the sport in America.

But a shortage of tickets for the masses could jeopardize that.

From the U.S. allotment of more than 2.2-million tickets, organizers designated 900,000 to be sold in two phases: 450,000 to so-called U.S. "soccer family" members, longtime supporters of the sport, and 450,000 to the general public.

A mass mailing in February to the soccer family, nearly 1.7-million nationwide, produced an "overwhelming" response, U.S. World Cup chairman Alan Rothenberg said. Those applications, which allowed 10 tickets per order, resulted in sales of more than 650,000. Siphoning a few tickets from those Siphoning a few tickets from those earmarked for sponsors and host communities increased the number of available tickets for the public for the first two rounds from 250,000 to about 300,000. That's an average of 7,000 seats per game at each venue. And during the public sale, fans could buy only four tickets.

Eight of the nine venues have sold out, including Orlando's Citrus Bowl. Remember, many observers said World Cup games wouldn't be a hot ticket in this country.

"On the one hand, you have the people who have supported the game and continue to support it; they need to have an opportunity to see the games," said Farrukh Quraishi, the Orlando venue executive director.

"On the other hand, for us to promote the game in the United States, we need to bring new fans into the fold. It's a difficult situation, but I'm glad World Cup USA has taken the position to reward the soccer family."

Rodney Marsh, who starred for the Tampa Bay Rowdies during the heyday of the North American Soccer League more than a decade ago and is a member of the "soccer family," said the final ratio was a good one.

"I don't think soccer lovers and people who have supported soccer for years and years should be victimized," he said. In fact, some have. World Cup officials had to cut off sales to the soccer family and couldn't fulfill all requests.

If the World Cup provides the groundswell of support and interest for a professional outdoor league in this country in 1995, Marsh said the support will come from the millions watching on television, not the thousands at World Cup games. All 52 games will be broadcast by ABC and ESPN.

Others disagree.

"This game desperately needs the average person, who doesn't know too much, to be there and feel the emotion inside the stadium and outside," said Steve Wegerle, another longtime Rowdies star.

"I don't think it (pro soccer) will make it in this country if they don't get the general public involved. The ones who know it, played it, they're not enough to fill the stands anymore. If you get 40,000 in the stands, you'll get TV. TV's not going to come if there's 2,000 in the stands."

World Cup spokesman John Griffin said more tickets will be available to the public as sponsors decide how many of their tickets to use. Individual game tickets would go on sale in February.

Ahead for the U.S.: The U.S. national team continues play in the America Cup _ the biennial South American championship _ on Tuesday against Venezuela in Quito, Ecuador. This is the first time the U.S. has played in the 77-year-old tournament.

Although the U.S. is without most of its top European-based players _ including John Harkes, Wegerle, Thomas Dooley, Eric Wynalda and Ernie Stewart _ star midfielder Tab Ramos wouldn't have missed it for the world.

"Next to the European Cup and the World Cup, it's the biggest soccer tournament in the world," said Ramos, who added that another incentive for him was that the U.S. opened play against his native Uruguay. "It'll be a chance to see relatives I haven't seen in years."

Uruguay defeated the United States 1-0 Wednesday.

The quarterfinals begin Saturday. The final is July 4. The quarterfinals, semifinals and final will be shown live on Viewer's Choice. Individual games cost $15.95.

Rumor mill: Three-time champion Brazil hasn't qualified for the 1994 World Cup yet, but if it does, speculation is it will play in Orlando. The location makes sense for Brazilian fans sure to follow en masse.

Collector's item: World Cup silver medallions, issued by MasterCard International, are available exclusively to MasterCard holders until Oct. 15. A circular one, containing one ounce of silver, is $29.95, while a larger rectangle containing 3{ ounces of silver is $79.95. A matched set sells for $119.95. MasterCard holders can order by calling (800)-622-3121.