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Goal for a Soccer Summer: Getting Foot in Hotel Door : Lodging: As stadiums across U.S. fill for World Cup, so will rooms and flights. Book early.

March 13, 1994|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

It is our right, as free Americans, to value baseball, football and basketball above soccer and turn a deaf ear to the upcoming World Cup competition in this country. But those who ignore soccer this summer may be punished.

Depending on how this first U.S. staging of the World Cup goes, the ignorant American traveler could either stumble into a city full of inflated rates and booked-up hotels, or hand over full price to a hotelier who is on the brink of resorting to "fire sale" rates.

The upcoming soccer competition, bringing hundreds of international athletes to this country for the world's largest professional sporting spectacle, will stretch from June 17 to July 17 with matches in nine U.S. cities. Organizers say they expect all stadiums involved to sell out. An influx of up to 1 million foreign spectators has been forecast.

Faced with such numbers, World Cup organizers started setting aside hotel rooms in 1992, and by late last year had reserved an estimated 2 million room-nights at hotels nationwide. Some of those beds have since been released, and as hotel room-deposit deadlines arrive in mid-April and May, many more rooms may or may not be released. If international travelers beat a path here, as organizers predict, the number of rooms released will be small, and the result for other travelers to those cities will be lower availability and higher rates.

In that event, said World Cup Accommodations Bureau spokesman John Parker, non-soccer travelers should "use their own experience of a Super Bowl" in deciding whether to brave affected cities. That is, book rooms months ahead or stay away.

On the other hand, if foreign fans stay home, or sleep six to a room, or lodge under the roofs of family and friends, or sleep in bags under the stars, hoteliers here could find themselves with thousands of rooms to dump in June and July. Despite the avowed confidence of World Cup organizers, John Marks, president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitor Bureau, noted that many hoteliers in his area are "very uncertain" about the World Cup projection they've heard.

Marks estimated that nearly 10,000 of the 50,000 hotel rooms in the greater San Francisco area were blocked for the World Cup as of mid-February--a figure comparable to the number the city gets for gatherings of the National Auto Dealers Assn. or the American Dental Assn. Marks said he has been told to expect up to 10,000 Brazilians, 5,000-6,000 Colombians, 3,000-6,000 Swiss, and smaller numbers of Russians and Cameroonians.

Will the soccer pilgrims prove as predictable as convention-bound dentists? The summer hotel outlook, in the Bay Area and beyond, depends in part on the answer to that question. To get a sense of availability, check for newly released rooms after the deposit deadlines in mid-April and mid-May.

There's another level to this, too. After the initial round of matches, winners and their fans advance to new cities, potentially complicating air travel as well as ground accommodations. Protect yourself and book early.

Here's a rundown of World Cup dates and the affected metropolitan areas. Note that some national teams (Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Italy) tend to draw far more heavily than others (Bulgaria, Cameroon, Morocco, Romania).

* Boston (Foxboro Stadium). June 21: Argentina-Greece. June 23: South Korea-Bolivia. June 25: Argentina-Nigeria. June 30: Greece-Nigeria. Matches in later rounds: July 5, July 9.

* Chicago (Soldier Field). Site of opening ceremonies. June 17: Germany-Bolivia. June 21: Germany-Spain. June 26: Bulgaria-Greece. June 27: Bolivia-Spain. Match in later round: July 2.

* Dallas (Cotton Bowl). June 17: Spain-South Korea. June 21: Nigeria-Bulgaria. June 27: Germany-South Korea. June 30: Argentina-Bulgaria. Matches in later rounds: July 3, July 9.

* Detroit (Pontiac Silverdome). June 18: U.S.-Switzerland. June 22: Romania-Switzerland. June 24: Sweden-Russia. June 28: Brazil-Sweden.

* Los Angeles (Rose Bowl). June 18: Colombia-Romania. June 19: Cameroon-Sweden. June 22: U.S.-Colombia. June 26: U.S.-Romania. Matches in later rounds: July 3, July 13, July 16. Finals: July 17.

* New York (Giants Stadium). June 18: Italy-Ireland. June 23: Italy-Norway. June 25: Saudi Arabia-Morocco. June 28: Ireland-Norway. Matches in later rounds: July 5, July 10, July 13.

* Orlando (Citrus Bowl). June 19: Belgium-Morocco. June 24: Mexico-Ireland. June 25: Belgium-Holland. June 29: Morocco-Holland. Match in later round: July 4.

* San Francisco (Stanford Stadium). June 20: Brazil-Russia. June 24: Brazil-Cameroon. June 26: Switzerland-Colombia. June 28: Russia-Cameroon. Matches in later rounds: July 4, July 10.

* Washington, D.C. (R. F. Kennedy Stadium). June 19: Norway-Mexico. June 20: Holland-Saudi Arabia. June 28: Italy-Mexico. June 29: Belgium-Saudi Arabia. Match in later round: July 2.

Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips.

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