SANDY, Utah — The result on the field for Real Salt Lake during last Tuesday night's U.S. Open Cup 3-1 loss against the Minnesota Stars of NASL could only be described as dismal. No MLS team ever likes to lose to a team from a lower division, not anywhere, but especially not at home. But not too far off the field, RSL are excited with what they saw — a nearly full Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real drew a record crowd of 17,212 — the biggest non-Final, non-doubleheader in Open Cup history. A big crowd is nothing new for RSL, who regularly sell out Rio Tinto for MLS games, but to get that many people out to an Open Cup game on a school night? That accomplishment took a little creative thinking.
RSL teamed with a partner for four games this season. For four games, patrons of what is called, "The Pass of All Passes" — in essence a discount card that allows cardholders to attend four RSL games, four minor-league hockey games, four arena football games and unlimited access for a year to several water parks and activity parks — were given a free ticket to the game.
"We think it has been very successful," said RSL vice president of communications Trey Fitz-Gerald. "While we may lose out on some ticket revenue, we feel we make it back in concessions, parking and future ticket sales. I have always felt that if we can get someone to come to a game once, they'll come back.
"We feel we have a unique product for people to come and enjoy," Fitz-Gerald added. "The atmosphere at Rio Tinto is terrific. People are always commenting about how they had no idea they would enjoy attending a soccer game so much. We think that by allowing the "Pass of All Passes" customers to come and see for themselves what we are all about, that we can add to a growing fan base and it will pay off in the future."
While the original plan may have been to have more than one Open Cup game available for the pass, it is not the only games available. In fact, the first two games for pass holders were regular season contests. The first was against Chivas USA on March 24, a game that drew 20,415 fans on a Saturday evening. The second game was Wed., April 4 against Montreal, another school-night game that saw 20,191 fans in attendance.
"To get over 20-thousand fans out on a Wednesday night against an expansion team, that is pretty amazing," said Fitz-Gerald. "Even if a lot of those people used their passes, it creates a better atmosphere for everyone involved, from the fans to the players to the coaches to the vendors. I think it is just a win-win situation."
The team is not certain when it will make the fourth game available, but whether it is an MLS-regular season game, or a CONCACAF Champions League game, one thing is a lock — there will be plenty of people there to see it with the opportunity to turn them into fans of soccer and particularly Real Salt Lake.