Ask any local sports fan, and they'll likely say that Baltimore is a football city. On July 24, that sentiment will be taken to a new level.
The Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore Blast, Department of Business & Economic Development (DBED), Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) and Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA) announced today that the World Football Challenge is coming to M&T Bank Stadium this summer. The event will feature international clubs AC Milan and Chelsea in the most significant soccer match to ever be held at the stadium.
The World Football Challenge will feature some of the most recognizable football clubs in the sport, playing throughout the United States, with Chelsea and AC Milan representing two of the elite. Baltimore is one of six stops throughout the match schedule, with stops in Palo Alto and Pasadena, Calif., Foxborough, Mass. and Arlington, Texas.
"Make no doubt about it, this is a major soccer event," said Ravens vice-president of stadium operations Roy Sommerhof. Sommerhof met with the media today along with DBED Deputy Secretary Dominick Murray, MSA Executive Director Mike Frenz, BACVA President & CEO Tom Noonan and Baltimore Bays/Baltimore Blast President Kevin Healy. Each man spoke of the significance and benefits such a high profile game would bring to the city.
"We like to bring at least one major non-NFL event to M&T Bank Stadium each year," Sommerhof commented, citing examples like the Navy/Notre Dame game, NCAA lacrosse events and the Kenny Chesney concert from last year. The Ravens had tried to bring soccer events to M&T Bank Stadium before, but were unable to get a deal done until this year.
"This is an absolute home run for Baltimore," Noonan explained, noting how significant the economic development for the city would be. There have already been hotel partners in contact, hoping to purchase groups of tickets to offer package deals for the large number of out-of-towners the city hopes to get. With the close proximity of hotels, restaurants and other venues in Baltimore, the group concurred that Baltimore was an ideal spot for such a game.
"This is a great sports town and a great sports venue," Noonan added.
The group believes that people will come from all over the east coast, as well as the rest of the country and from Europe to attend the game.
Also in attendance was soccer great Giorgio Chinaglia, who played during the 1970s and championed the players who will be in attendance, such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Kaká, Andrea Pirlo and Ronaldinho.
"This is a tournament," Chinaglia noted. "There is meaning toward these games. It's not just an exhibition game, which is important. And in the end there's gonna be one winner. So therefore the players are gonna put it all out there.
"You can enjoy a really great game of soccer."
A natural grass surface will be in place for the game, and supporter sections will also be set up for loyal fans of both clubs.
In addition, there will be a new partnership with the Baltimore Bays local boys youth soccer club and Chelsea, whereby the England-based club will provide coaching for the Bays, and the Bays will be able to send players London to be evaluated. Chelsea will also hold a soccer school from June 22-26 at Cedar Lake Regional Park and hold seminars for local coaches.
"The Bays' partnership with Chelsea will continue to enable us to impact elite athletes in the soccer community and will help all soccer players who are interested in learning and improving their game," said Healy.
This game may also set up opportunities down the road for M&T Bank Stadium according to Sommerhof, including potential World Cup matches. The exposure the city would receive would be unlike anything Baltimore has had before. For those who helped bring the game, that point is not undeserving of attention.
"Baltimore is considered one of the gateways of America," Murray said.
"Why not Baltimore?"