Thursday's soccer game between two of Europe's most powerful teams at Lucas Oil Stadium is expected to draw a crowd of more than 40,000 fans and 154 credentialed media members from five countries.
The game is part of the International Champions Cup, which includes games in five U.S. cities; Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco, New York and Indianapolis.
The selection of Indianapolis to host such a high-level European soccer match may seem an odd choice, but officials for New York-based Relevent Sports, the U.S. promoter of the event, were impressed by officials for Indy Eleven, Indianapolis' new North American Soccer League franchise, as well as leaders from Indiana Sports Corp. and Visit Indy, the city's tourism marketing arm.
"Relevent Sports was very impressed with the sports organizations we have here in Indianapolis and the momentum we're building for soccer in this city and state," said Indy Eleven General Manager Peter Wilt.
Relevent Sports officials were also impressed by the hosting job the city did with the 2012 Super Bowl and NCAA Final Fours, Wilt added.
The momentum created earlier this year by Wilt and Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir when they announced the formation of the local professional team is getting a boost by Thursday's game pitting England's top team, Chelsea against Italy's top team, Inter.
Indy Eleven officials offered its season ticket holders first choice of the best seats for Thursday's game, and that offer sparked the sale of 620 new season ticket packages, Wilt said, adding that the team which kicks off in the 2014 NASL season, has now sold 4,540 season ticket packages.
Wilt thinks brisk game-day ticket sales for Thursday's game could push attendance higher than projected. Wilt and Relevent Sports officials declined to say exactly how many tickets have been sold or what the projected attendance is. Lucas Oil Stadium is configured to seat about 61,000 for the soccer game and stadium officials will determine by Thursday afternoon if the roof will be open for the event, which begins at 8 p.m.
The weather forcast looks promising for an open roof unless stadium officials deem it too hot. Stadium officials ususally like it to be under 80 degrees when the roof is open. Either way, Wilt expects a raucous crowd.
"Ticket sales this week have gone crazy," Wilt said. "We've sold out a couple of categories. It likely won't be sold out, but it will be pretty full. And I expect the atmosphere to be very energized, with some people stadning the entire game, singing and waving their arms and banners. If you've never seen a big-time soccer game, the atmosphere is really something to experience."
Ticket prices for the game range from $30 to $250. Wilt said Indy Eleven has taken "a significant [financial] stake in the game," but declined to say how much that is. He emphasized the franchise's involvement isn't about the bottom line.
"Our idea is not to make money from this event, it's to build the sport of soccer here in Indiana and for Indy Eleven as we approach our inagural season," Wilt said.
Although promoters aren't yet divulging where ticket buyers are coming from, Wilt said "thousands of them will be coming from outside the area." Numerous ticket buyers are coming in from Chicago; St. Louis; Louisville; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Wilt said, adding, "there are also a good number of people coming in from London and various parts of Italy."
Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops said the game will be beneficial to Indianapolis in two ways. The first is the local economic impact. Conservatively, sports business experts said, Thursday's game will have a $5 million to $8 million economic impact on Indianapolis.
"The second, and perhaps even more impactful, is the television coverage in more than 150 countries for this game, putting Indy on an international stage in front of millions of viewers," Hoops said.
Those watching the game should expect all-out soccer, Wilt said.
"This is no exhibition game," Wilt said. "Many of these teams use these games to set their rosters for the next season, so there's a lot of motivaton for these guys to play hard."