Get Your Kicks and Root for the Pac Rim Cup at This Week’s Major League Soccer Games
Four matches on Thursday, Feb. 8 and Saturday, Feb. 10 feature teams from the U.S., Japan and Canada—part of an ambitious plan to make Hawai‘i a world soccer hub. Advance and walk-up tickets are still available.
Photos: Courtesy of Pacific Rim Cup
Since the NFL’s Pro Bowl left town, finding the right sport to make use of Hawai‘i’s central location in the Pacific and local sports appetite has been the goal of many a marketer with hopes of filling Aloha Stadium. What raises hopes for this week’s Pacific Rim Cup—and its Thursday and Saturday matches—is our genuine Island passion for soccer.
“This Pacific Rim region, not just Hawai‘i, is in my mind the last market for soccer,” says Takehiko Nakamura, founder and CEO of Blue United Corporation, which is putting on the Cup with sponsorship from UnderArmor and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. “Soccer is played all over the world; Europe has its Champions League, with its history and tradition. Latin America has its Copa de Libertadores de América, which has history and everyone going crazy.”
But, adds Nakamura, who brought the 2008 Pan-Pacific Championship to Aloha Stadium, including stars such as David Beckham, “this region is relatively young. The Japan League is 25; American soccer is 23; the Australian A League is 8 years old, Thailand’s is 10. They’re booming right now. It’s growing. Hawai‘i and the Pacific Rim should be the third powerhouse, with Latin America and Europe.”
Young soccer players and their parents have already jumped on the free clinics with international stars and tickets—they’re sold out. But the matches will rock you, Nakamura promises. In addition to MLS playoff team Columbus Crew SC, the Canadian Vancouver Whitecaps FC and two teams from Japan, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo and Iwaki FC, will face off. Iwaki is from Fukushima Prefecture and its players will wear special jerseys to honor the memory of victims of the 2011 earthquake tragedy. The “We Play On” jerseys also serve to thank the U.S. for its disaster relief efforts, particularly Operation Tomodachi by the U.S. Armed Forces.
Ticket sales reflect soccer’s strong draw in Hawai‘i, whose high school state championships just concluded. “We’re selling very well, with 40 percent of sales through the internet,” says Nakamura. “Those are the millennials who grew up with soccer, the 18—34 age group. Major League Soccer is sending a film crew to make a documentary to capture the growth of soccer around the country.”
Players from Japan’s Iwaki soccer team warming up for the Pacific Cup.
The event is the first time in six years that MLS and Japan League teams have played in Hawai‘i. Nakamura’s plans for creating a soccer hub actually began when he was in school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, when he wrote his master’s thesis on creating an Asian business unit for MLS. Soon he was interning for the U.S. soccer organization. “I learned from the MLS how they were doing so many international matches and with the Mexican national team and narrowed my broad idea down.”
Tokyo born, raised in New York and Los Angeles until he was 10, when his father moved the family back to Japan, Nakamura now runs his company in New York City. “We’re just 13 guys recruited from the USA, Europe and Japan, trying to bring this vision to life. I just need the local fans to turn out to bring this tournament back on an annual basis.”
To boost sales, “we’ve set the prices very reasonably: $20 is the most expensive, $9 is the lowest, and we have group discounts. We have a sponsor program for those who buy tickets and donate them to schools. It’s been unique. Our sponsors are our partners, so we’re able to go very low on ticket prices.”
Thursday’s 5 p.m. match is between Vancouver and Iwaki; the 8 p.m. match features Columbus versus Sapporo. Saturday’s Pac Rim Cup will feature a 4 p.m. third place match featuring the two losers from Thursday and a 7 p.m. championship match.
Advance tickets can be purchased online at etickethawaii.com or by calling the Aloha Stadium Charge Line at (808) 483-7123, or by visiting the Aloha Stadium Box Office. Both Charge Line and Box Office are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.