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Frank Torres, his wife Jackie, and their children, left to right, Nigel, Isabelle, Madeline and Erica, are staying with friends in Rio, but may have to splurge on seats for the final. (MARK BLINCH FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Frank Torres, his wife Jackie, and their children, left to right, Nigel, Isabelle, Madeline and Erica, are staying with friends in Rio, but may have to splurge on seats for the final. (MARK BLINCH FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Soccer-mad Canadians dig deep to see the World Cup Add to ...

Globe and Mail Update Apr. 25 2014, 6:45 PM EDT

Video: How this Winnipeg travel company is making a World Cup play

Those who did not, or could not, buy tickets in advance from FIFA, officially the International Association Football Federation, may end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the secondary market to get them from ticket agents or websites before they travel, or once they arrive in Brazil. On the U.S.-based ticket reselling website StubHub.com, seats range from about $225 for first-round games featuring unpopular teams to more than $6,000 for the final in Rio.

Mario Livich, chief executive officer of ShowTime Tickets, the largest ticket broker in Canada, predicts some of the wildest ticket prices for games later in the tournament will fall as certain teams are eliminated.

“Market prices are high based on optimism from various teams,” Mr. Livich said. “Once the tournament starts, you’ll see that settle down substantially, where you’ll see some games becoming very very affordable and others being incredibly expensive.”

Tickets to the final are still going to be gold-plated. Right now, Mr. Livich said, top-notch, front-and-centre midfield tickets to the July 13 contest in Rio’s Maracana stadium can be yours for $9,000 a seat.

For some, there is more to worry about than just money. While many headed to Brazil say they are not concerned about their safety, most acknowledge that they plan to be cautious in a country where muggings – and worse, such as shootouts between drug gangs and police in the country’s poor and overcrowded neighbourhoods known as favelas – are notoriously common.

Ms. Wright-Schwietz said she and her soccer-mad husband were originally planning to take their seven-year-old son with them, but their friends in Brazil advised them to leave him behind.

“The gang activity and some of the unrest right now, even in Recife, they wouldn’t feel comfortable with that many people and what’s going on right now,” Ms. Wright-Schwietz said. “These gangs are getting on public buses with other Brazilians and setting people on fire.”

Elie Abitbol of Toronto-area Gateway International, a travel agency that specializes in Latin America and is busy booking “higher-end” World Cup trips, insists security concerns in Brazil, where he travels frequently, are a non-issue.

“Honestly, it’s nonsense,” he said. “It’s like anywhere in the world. You go to downtown Toronto certain hours of the day, I would not take a child.”

Demand from Canadians has a lot to do with the attraction of Brazil itself as a destination, with its love of soccer, but also for its beaches and its reputation as a place to party. And people are paying handsomely for the experience. Checking into Rio’s five-star Caesar Park hotel around the final, he said, is costing clients between $1,500 and $2,000 a night: “You say wow. And I say wow. But people pay it,” he said.

It seems there is a growing group of travellers interested in major sporting events for whom price is no object – and a growing number of niche travel agencies that cater to this demographic. They appear to be doing brisk business before the World Cup.

Among them is Winnipeg-based Roadtrips Inc., which has been booking luxury travel to major sporting events – the Olympics, the Indy 500, Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix, Wimbledon – since 1992. Its website says it still has rooms on hand at Rio’s luxurious Copacabana Hotel.

Duane Penner, the Winnipeg outfit’s vice-president of sales, said his business caters mostly to Americans but is also handling Canadian high-end excursions to Brazil for the World Cup. They procure the game tickets and arrange every detail.

Some travellers are bringing their families and making side trips to the Amazon jungle, he said. Interest is also being driven by the less-attractive nature of the next two World Cup venues, Russia and Qatar, he adds: “This idea of seeing it in Brazil, seeing the final in Rio, Carnivale, the beaches – it’s maybe a bit more compelling than seeing it in Qatar.”

There appears to be no price limit. One Indian businessman is bringing his wife and two boys and spending $250,000 on the trip, Mr. Penner said, not counting airfare: “They are obviously not flying coach.”

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