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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

Money can also buy you time with star athletes on the sidelines. A new U.S. company called Beck & Score, in which Steve Nash, the Canadian basketball star and co-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps, is a partner, offers customers the chance to hang out with him at the World Cup.

An authorized reseller of $2.5-million worth of VIP “hospitality” tickets, Beck & Score arranges access to four- and five-star accommodations, books dinner reservations at the finest restaurants, and has the best seats on hand for the quarter-finals and the final, along with invitations to private receptions.

Security and transportation are taken care of. A custom smartphone acts as a digital concierge. During your down time, you can play five-on-five with Mr. Nash, or seek out American surfer Garrett McNamara, a world record holder for riding a 30-metre wave last year, who will be stationed on a Rio beach to provide surfing lessons.

Packages start at about $15,000 (U.S.) per person, not including airfare, spokesman Brian Cooley said.

Despite the buzz about Brazil, there is one group of Canadians that does not appear to be joining this summer’s stampede to the World Cup: Brazilian-Canadians.

“I can tell you, 99 per cent of the bookings for the World Cup is not for Brazilians,” said Bruna Silva of Brasil Travel, a small travel agency nestled in Toronto’s west-end Brazilian and Portuguese neighbourhood, an area that turns into a frenzied block party at World Cup time. “Our average clientele, Brazilians looking to spend their vacation [in Brazil], they are not going this year,” she explained. “They say it is going to be too crazy, it is going to be too expensive.”

Italian-Canadians and Croatian-Canadians are among her customers heading to Brazil, said Ms. Silva, who moved to Canada 11 years ago. But even she has no desire to head home for the big event, no matter what the cost: “Every if you give me free tickets, I don’t think that I want to be there for the World Cup.”

During the last World Cup, soccer provided a way for Frank Torres, a first-generation Canadian whose parents came from Spain, to connect his football-crazed 11-year-old son, Nigel, to his heritage.

While celebrating Spain’s win in South Africa with thousands of others on Toronto’s College Street, Mr. Torres started thinking that a soccer pilgrimage would be a good excuse to return to Brazil, where he and his wife Jackie travelled years ago.

“It was a tremendous experience, the way that the kids get in touch with their heritage through sport,” Mr. Torres said.

Recently, a friend moved to Rio de Janeiro, offering the family a place to stay. Now, Mr. Torres, who does traffic reports on local station AM 740 and owns a business that creates content for other radio stations, is taking his son, plus his nine-year-old daughter Isabel, seven-year-old twins Madeline and Erica, and wife Jackie, to Brazil for the World Cup.

Despite staying with friends, the family hasn’t been immune to the gouging. They saw the price of a beach house they booked north of Rio shoot up to $5,000 a week from $1,900 after the owner realized they wanted it during the World Cup.

They will be in Rio the day of the final, but they haven’t bought tickets. Particularly if Spain is on the pitch, Mr. Torres said, they may have to splurge on seats: “Even just being in Rio when the soccer’s on, is just going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’ll go down there open-minded and we may end up being open-walleted as well.”

Marc MacKinnon, a long-time soccer fan who works in communications for the federal government in Ottawa, has been looking forward to the World Cup in Brazil for years.

“It’s Brazil,” he explained. “They’re soccer crazy. We figured if there was one to go to, this was it. I don’t anticipate getting to another one in my lifetime. This is it.”

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