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Impact of MLS All-Star Game felt by RSL and local economy



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SANDY -- It's soccer nirvana for Utah fans of the sport Wednesday as Real Salt Lake hosts its first Major League Soccer All-Star Game. The event marks an important coming-of-age moment for both the team and the league.

Rio Tinto Stadium opened last fall, but it was a long road getting there, filled with controversy over the selection of the location and the $45 million in public funds going toward the final $110 million price tag.

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However, since it opened, Rio Tinto has been plenty busy hosting RSL games and concerts, like the Eagles and Kenny Chesney.

Wednesday night is the MLS All-Star Game, with the league's best facing one of Europe's best clubs -- Everton from England -- which features USA national team goaltender Tim Howard.

With its own stadium, the team now controls its revenues, parking, concessions, merchandising and dates.

Meantime, the league is steadily growing, surviving the recession, adding new teams and soccer-specific stadiums in recent years.

RSL's president, who has been with pro soccer, basketball, football and now soccer says the stadium helps put soccer on the map.

"I think it's legitimized us as a professional franchise. I think there was some worry that it was a glorified high school stadium, and people come in here and they're just blown away. Owner Dave Checketts spared no expense. Everything is first class in this building," President Bill Manning said.

Manning also added that the league is seeing steady growth.

"When I used to be in the league, before I went to the NBA or NFL, it was when the league was going to fold. Now it's, ‘When's the next expansion franchise? When is the next stadium going to be built?' It's such a different dynamic," he said.

Sandy estimates the economic impact from the event will be about $3 million, with nearby hotels nearly full and almost 6,000 tickets being bought by people who live outside Utah.

The owner of one nearby diner says his business is packed before games, with people paying to park in his lot.

"Everybody is making money in the neighborhood," said Jim Bournakis, owner of Jim's Diner.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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