Soccer America
Thursday February 21st, 2008

For a tournament set in a fabulous Hawaiian setting, there's much of the Pan-Pacific Championship that's not to like.

All four games in Aloha Stadium will be played on artificial turf. MLS representatives Houston and Los Angeles are barely three weeks into preseason training, and the squads they brought are pockmarked by injuries.

Neither of the foreign teams, Gamba Osaka of Japan and Sydney FC of Australia, are champions of their respective leagues. The games will be played late at night in most of the U.S., which is one reason they are being televised on ESPN Classic instead of the main channel or ESPN2.

The prize money, such as it is, totals a rather paltry $150,000.

Still, there will likely be smiles aplenty on the faces of organizer SUM and its partners once the receipts and invoices are added up. For once again it has parlayed David Beckham into a marketing coup, and cracked yet another frontier on the marketing side as well as the competitive front.

Gamba Osaka upset Los Angeles 1-0 in the opener on Wednesday, while Houston beat Sydney FC 3-0 in the later match; the third-place match and championship game set for Saturday. Dynamo forward Brian Ching, a native son, is getting a lot of press yet he's by far the second-most popular interview subject.

"This is my first time in Hawaii, so I'm looking forward to looking around and seeing the beaches," said Beckham at a Monday press conference that formally kicked off the event. "Everything is beautiful here."

Not much of the soccer is expected to be beautiful, with three of the four teams working out the preseason kinks on a synthetic surface. Like the MLS teams, Gamba Osaka is preparing for the start of a new season. Sydney FC is in Hawaii the same week as the A-League's Grand Final is to be contested; it was knocked out a month ago in the Preliminary Final.

Yet none of that is likely to matter much to the native fans eager to see Beckham, and the thousands of Japanese visitors expected to arrange their trips in conjunction with this event. In Japan, the games will be televised on Sky PerfecTV, which shows the J-League. Among the tournament's sponsors is Japan Airlines, Johnson & Johnson of Japan, etc.

Sponsorships have been sold totaling in "the low seven figures," according to a league spokesman. Beckham jerseys and shirts are selling briskly. For a week, TV crews and print journalists have been cranking out coverage, which escalated when the Galaxy and Beckham hit Honolulu.

For SUM, and MLS and its teams, this is a part of the world from which it can profit, on and off the field.

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