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Snubbed Lionel Messi Fans to Get Refund, Organizers Say

 Lionel Messi during the Messi & Friends v The Rest Of The World XI match on July 2 in Lima, Peru.
Lionel Messi during the Messi & Friends v The Rest Of The World XI match on July 2 in Lima, Peru.
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Getty Images/Marco del Rio

CHICAGO — After Saturday's Messi & Friends match at Soldier Field disappointed some fans who paid a whopping $2,500 for a VIP experience that came up short, organizers say they're giving refunds.

The game's organizer, Miami-based Numero 5 Producciones, had promised those tickets would include "unprecedented field access," a meet-and-greet with the players and a jersey and ball autographed by Argentinean soccer player Lionel Messi, the marquee star of the event.

But the experience turned out to be "ultimate let down" for Deerfield resident Tony Sherwood, 39, who'd bought two tickets (amounting to about $5,000) for him and his 9-year-old son, Hudson.

Hudson thought he was going to meet Messi, his biggest soccer hero. Instead, Sherwood said his son left in tears.

Sherwood, his son and the other 75 VIP ticket holders were brought into a room under Soldier Field for a scheduled meet-and-greet before the game, which was set to begin at 6 p.m., he said. They waited before meeting some of the players and waited some more for the arrival of Messi, who never came, Sherwood said.

An event spokesperson explained to the room that Messi had "TV commitments," and couldn't make it to meet them, according to Sherwood.

Rather than a jersey, Sherwood said he received a T-shirt with a signature that had apparently been stamped on, not signed, and a "cheap" autographed ball, Sherwood said.

Sherwood said meet-and-greets with stars like Derrick Rose, Patrick Kane and other stars have become a father-son tradition for him and Hudson, and this one left his son in "utter sadness."

The Chicago match came after a series of mishaps, including a final roster of players that was slashed to remove several soccer stars, lackluster ticket sales and the abrupt cancelation of the Los Angeles match scheduled for July 3.

Even with Messi as a draw, general ticket prices were reduced in the weeks ahead to fill seats at Soldier Field, and tickets were reportedly still available a day before the match.

Chicago's match was one out of four such Messi & Friends games, two of which took place in South America, and was to benefit the Leo Messi Foundation, a children's health charity.

Numero 5 chalked up the cancelation of the Los Angeles event to "irreconcilable issues with the local promoter," though the company had said the Soldier Field event would "continue as planned." The company also noted it was not affiliated with the organizer of the L.A. match.

Numero 5 spokeswoman Ada Linares acknowledged that Messi "was not able" to meet with fans, and that the company was finalizing plans to give a refund for the nearly 80 VIP tickets that were sold.

Those eligible will receive a form to sign so they can receive the refund, Linares said. 

Sherwood said he'd talked to his credit card company and received a full refund, but another VIP ticket buyer, Highland Park resident Paul Tatelli, said he hadn't heard a word from Numero 5 about a possible refund for him and the ticket he bought for his 8-year-old son. 

Tatelli said his experience was similarly "disheartening," and he'd contacted Numero 5 several times about a refund without receiving a response.

Linares declined to say if Numero 5 would provide a full or partial refund to the rest of the VIP fans, and she also declined to give details as to how the refund would affect the charity, if at all. Linares said she did not immediately have details as to what percent of the sales would go to Messi's charity.

After the match, Messi posted on his Facebook, "I hope that the donation made by the 'Fundación Leo Messi', thanks to the match Messi&Friends in Chicago, help the affected communities."

A spokesperson with UNICEF, a sponsor of Messi's charity and which named Messi a goodwill ambassador in 2010, was not immediately available to comment.