Fans ignore downturn for Rome showpiece

MILAN - The recession will not prevent fans digging into their pockets to enjoy the Champions League final in Rome on Wednesday, experts say. More than 50,000 paying supporters are expected to travel to the Italian capital this week for one of the world's biggest one-night sporting events. "This is the pinnacle of football for European clubs. Fans see it as a one-off situation, they have saved to go to this kind of event," Mark Roberts, senior consultant in the Sports Business Group at Deloitte, told Reuters. "They will continue to spend as if nothing was happening in the economic climate." Holders Manchester United and Barcelona have been given some 20,000 tickets each from the 67,000 available for the sold-out match at the Stadio Olimpico. Another 10,000 tickets were put on sale for neutral fans in March while the remaining have been allocated to European soccer federations and commercial partners. Ticket prices ranged from 70 to 200 euro, not including administration fees. SAFE BET While loyal fans are a safe bet to fill the stadium, crisis-hit corporate clients may have been more reluctant to snap up expensive premium seats. "Money in businesses is tight," said Paul Blakey, senior lecturer in Sports Sciences at the Northumbria University. "UEFA may have over-estimated the value of their product. Prices for fans and corporate hospitality will need to be considered very carefully in the next two seasons." Apart from the match itself, Rome is also likely to draw supporters and tourists to its renowned monuments, also featured in the new blockbuster movie Angels & Demons. For last year's Champions League final between United and Chelsea in Moscow, visiting supporters spent around 624 pounds each during their time in Russia, according to analysts' estimates. "Rome is potentially an easier destination to get to and in terms of flight times is quite centrally located," Roberts said, predicting that Rome could cash in as much as Moscow. Fans staying at home and watching on television will also play a key role in the economic success of the final. "The broadcasting revenues are the most significant revenue stream," Deloitte's Roberts said. Manchester United and Barcelona have more than 80 million supporters across Europe, according to German consultancy group Sport+Markt. In Italy, almost half the population will show an interest in the event while about 35 million Britons watched the all-English final last year. "Because of the reputation of Barcelona I am sure that the level of TV viewers will be the same in the U.K. this time," Roberts added.