Adding the kick to Chelsea-AC Milan

Daily Record Business Writer
July 23, 2009 5:20 PM

Chelsea Football Club and AC Milan aren’t the only ones with something to prove Friday.

In the highest-profile soccer match the city’s ever hosted, Baltimore has a chance to show to the world it can be a soccer town, and fans and businesses are uniting to get that message across.

“We want to make sure that when they go away from Baltimore, they’re going to remember this city for a long time,” said Steven Jones, the brew master at the Pratt Street Ale House, one of two designated Chelsea FC bars downtown.

“A game of this stature being in Baltimore is such a big thing,” added Jones, who moved here from Coventry, England, nearly 10 years ago. “We’re the ambassadors for the city.”

Jordan Bazant, a partner at New York-based The Agency Sports Management, said those “in the know” already consider Baltimore an elite sports town. But the event and broadcast on ESPN sends that message worldwide.

“It’s almost like its coming-out party in some ways, but it’s already been out,” Bazant said. “It’s proving what people are assuming — that it’s a phenomenal market for world-class soccer and just bringing it to people’s forefront.”

And that begins by going all-out to make the thousands of soccer fans traveling to Baltimore for the World Football Challenge exhibition game at M&T Bank Stadium feel like they’re at home.

Helping to coordinate that is Chris Bowley, a marketing director for Chelsea in America, a network for U.S.-based Chelsea fans. Bowley and many of his cohorts travel literally thousands of miles a year to see Chelsea when the team plays in the U.S., and at least once a year for a match in England.

Bowley said when they coordinate Chelsea events in a new city, those bars and pubs tend to retain a stronger soccer following afterward.

“Pretty much everywhere we’ve been we’ve seen that,” said Bowley, 52, a lifelong Chelsea fan. “In L.A. the Fox & Hound [Pub & Grille] became a meeting spot three years ago, and as result of that business exploded. That’s now the place to go if you’re traveling and an English football fan.”

Bowley said he was pleased by the reception when Chelsea in America approached the Ale House and Pickles Pub, the other designated team bar. Not only did they jump at the chance for a cross promotion — and guaranteed influx of about 400 Chelsea fans — but Bowley said they went beyond what was expected in terms of making fans feel welcome.

Jones has even brewed up 12 kegs of a special concoction he’s calling Chelsea Best, a 4.3 percent English session ale, for the event. The brewery has made special taps for the brew, which is selling for $2.50 a pint, it will auction off in a raffle.

The Ale House, a traditional English brew pub, was the rally point for fans Thursday evening and will host the post-game party Friday. Pickles Pub, chosen for the fact that it has Chelsea fan favorites Stella Artois and Strongbow Cider on tap, is the gathering place before the game.

Other establishments around Baltimore such as Slainte Irish Pub & Restaurant, James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant and Captain Larry’s are also offering brew specials and have extended their hours Friday.

Jones said the influx of fans will boost business the same way Orioles’ opening day does for the brewery.

“It’s going to be a very busy next few days,” he said Thursday.

All that spending will translate into an estimated $15 million to $20 million in economic impact for Maryland by approximately 100,000 people expected downtown Friday, according to the state’s estimate.

And the mass of people in town and watching the match on television exposes the city to a whole new tourist, said Tom Noonan, president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

“There will be a strong international delegation in town and it’s also being broadcast back to their own countries,” he said. “This is another audience that you don’t traditionally see in Baltimore ... and we make it really easy to be a fan here.”

Sports marketer Bob Leffler noted that because Baltimore has recently been a neutral site for sporting events such as the Army-Navy game and the NCAA Lacrosse Final Four, it’s now almost natural for downtown to transform itself for any sporting occasion.

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