ST. LOUIS — There is an international soccer match coming to St. Louis in two months, if you haven’t heard. Based on slow early ticket sales, maybe you haven’t. Or maybe you have.
The Bosnia-Herzegovina national soccer team will play Ivory Coast, part of the 2014 Road to Brazil series, on May 30 at the Edward Jones Dome. Plenty of good seats remain.
"Early results ticket sales-wise have not been as strong as two of the three matches that were held last year with Real Madrid and Inter Milan and then the game last spring at Busch with Man City and Chelsea," said Jake Bye, the Rams’ vice president of ticket sales and premium seating. "It’s a little tricky because it’s not apples to apples in a lot of ways as well, comparing the participating teams, the type of match that it is. Until you’ve sold 30,000-plus and you’re on par with last year’s numbers, I think the answer is always going to be, ‘Yeah, we wish more tickets would have been sold.’ But that’s always the answer."
And in truth, it’s not really fair to compare the upcoming match to those held last year in St. Louis.
There’s no Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo involved.
No Argentina national team or Real Madrid this time around.
St. Louis hosted three international-level soccer games in 2013, and more than 48,000 fans attended two of them. The third game, in mid-November, drew just over 30,000.
There was a standing-room crowd of 48,263 at Busch Stadium on May 23 when Manchester City came from behind to beat Chelsea 4-3 in a friendly. It was a game that featured a unique venue — similar to the success the NHL has had with its games at football and baseball stadiums — and two well-known Premier League teams playing a rare game in the United States.
The next game in St. Louis was even bigger, with 54,814 fans in the Edward Jones Dome as Ronaldo and Real Madrid defeated Inter Milan 3-0 in a friendly on Aug. 10. The attendance was the most ever for a soccer game in St. Louis.
The third and final game in St. Louis took a major hit when Messi, the top player in the world, suffered a leg injury about a week before the Argentine national team was scheduled to play Bosnia-Herzegovina on Nov. 18 at Busch Stadium.
Argentina still pulled out a 2-0 win in the international friendly, which was on a Monday night with temperatures in the 30s, but the pro-Bosnia crowd was announced at just 30,397. It’s impossible to know how many fans would have attended had Messi, the game’s brightest star, been able to take the field for his country that night.
The success of those three games helped Major League Soccer choose St. Louis for this latest international friendly, which is part of the Road to Brazil series, where countries will play in the U.S. prior to going to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup.
"The interesting thing — and I think the great thing for St. Louis — is that we were the only market to receive a game in this series that does not have an MLS team in the market as well. I think that’s worth pointing out," Bye said. "I think it speaks a lot to how they view this market as a potential growth market for the league, which is doing very well in adding teams at a relatively rapid pace with two new franchises in Florida over the next two years. To get a game awarded to us in the first place I think was an accomplishment.
"We definitely want the community to step up and support it through grass-roots ticket sales. And the ticket pricing of all the matches thus far, by far the most competitive and affordable ticket prices are what we’ll have for this match. I think that will serve itself well also."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that of the 30,397 fans who attended the November game at Busch, 30,000 were Bosnian fans. Those supporters will get another chance to see their team here as well as check out former St. Louis University standout Vedad Ibisevic, who played high school soccer in St. Louis.
Bye said it’s still early to evaluate ticket sales, which went on sale to the general public on March 17 via this website.
"As far as strength of initial sales, I know ticket sales were made available earlier for this match than they were for the ones in the past," he said, "so if this is any indication, I think the expectation is that a large majority of these tickets are going to be sold within a short window leading up to the game."
Exceeding the attendance for two of the three games last year might be unrealistic, but Bye still expects the match to be successful.
"Because of the success St. Louis had last year with supporting not one, but three matches, I think that really helped us beat out some other more likely markets to host this match," Bye said. "And with that as a backdrop, we expect it to be successful and we need the word out that, yes, tickets are available and very affordable and reasonably priced."
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.