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Hawaii soccer event takes aim overseas

By Ferd Lewis


Organizers of the Hawaiian Islands Invitational soccer championship hope to attract about 30,000 fans — as many as 5,000 from overseas — for the inaugural event next year as the state seeks to market itself through the world's most popular sport.

Teams from pro leagues in Japan (Yokohama FC), South Korea (Incheon United) and Australia (Melbourne Heart) will join the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer for the Feb. 23 and 25, 2012, event at Aloha Stadium.

"Soccer is, I think, the world's most popular sport and it is very popular in our (foreign) markets, so it makes sense as an international destination that we align ourselves with it," said Michael Story, Hawaii Tourism Authority brand and sports manager.

"We are looking forward to working with HTA and ESPN to provide a global platform for professional soccer and provide the people of Hawaii a first-hand look at the competition," said David Matlin, HII executive director.

The HTA "will be supporting it with significant dollars," said Story, who said a contract is being negotiated. ESPN Regional Television, which will show the matches globally on its networks, owns and operates the HII. Hawaiian Airlines and the Hilton Hawaiian Village are presenting sponsors.

"One of the things we looked at was the popularity of the Pan-Pacific Championships (at Aloha Stadium) in 2008," Story said. "So we thought that concept would be ideal if we could continue an event similar in nature."

The Pan-Pacific drew announced crowds of upwards of 30,000 over the two nights.

But unlike the Pan-Pacific, which had two MLS participating teams and one team each from Australia and Japan, the HII added a team from Korea and reduced MLS participation.

Matlin said the event also hopes to tap into local soccer interest in Hawaii, where there are nearly 30,000 registered youth soccer players.

Ticket prices were not immediately announced, but Matlin said tickets will go on sale Aug. 1 and, "We will gear our packages to fundraising opportunities for youth soccer in Hawaii."

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