America: Help the Economy. Advance in the World Cup.

For several bars in D.C., sales have jumped 50 percent during World Cup games. The U.S. should win for pride. It should also win for the economy.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
June 25, 2014, 9:17 a.m.

While World Cup crowds in bars across the coun­try chant, “I be­lieve that we will win,” bar own­ers are singing their own happy tune: “I be­lieve that we will make a lot of money if we win.”

It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but bars are clean­ing up dur­ing a World Cup where the ex­cite­ment around the U.S. Men’s Soc­cer Team is palp­able. In Wash­ing­ton, bar own­ers hope the suc­cess of the U.S. team con­tin­ues, for pride and for pock­et.

Fado in Chin­atown has been a hot spot for watch­ing the last five World Cups, since it opened in 1998. It’s even lis­ted as an of­fi­cial U.S. soc­cer bar by the U.S. Men’s Soc­cer Team. Gen­er­al Man­ager Michelle Stew­art is used to the soc­cer crowds, but there’s something dif­fer­ent this year.

“It’s like a rally,” Stew­art says. “When the U.S. scores, the walls in the build­ing lit­er­ally shake. It’s like if you watch the games on TV and see the fan sec­tions, just ima­gine drop­ping all that cheer­ing and singing and jump­ing out of those stands and in­to a bar.”

Bar own­ers hope the suc­cess of the U.S. team con­tin­ues, for pride and for pock­et.

That ex­cite­ment trans­lates to drink sales dur­ing a time of the year where many bars struggle. In the past couple weeks, Stew­art has seen a 50 per­cent jump in sales com­pared with this time last year.

At Bier­garten Haus on H Street North­east, Gen­er­al Man­ager Sigi Smailys says they went through 160 kegs of beer this last week­end, twice as much as they would have in a reg­u­lar week. When the U.S. star­ted its game against Por­tugal on Sunday, he says 100 people were wait­ing out­side, watch­ing the match through the win­dows.

Down the street at Queen Vic, sales have doubled in the past couple weeks, says own­er Ry­an Gor­don. Dur­ing week­days, the pub is usu­ally open after 5 p.m. But for the World Cup, it opens at 11 a.m. That means 100 per­cent gains in sales dur­ing the times it would have been closed. Dur­ing reg­u­lar hours still, Gor­don has seen a 50 per­cent boost in sales. When the U.S. plays, he says, you can see the dif­fer­ence.

“The ma­jor­ity of people are go­ing out and ex­per­i­en­cing it, they are en­joy­ing the ca­marader­ie that they’re only about to ex­per­i­ence every four years,” Gor­don says. “It’s more of an Amer­ic­an thing this time.”

But there is a con­cern among those in the res­taur­ant in­dustry about what hap­pens if the U.S. does not ad­vance to the next round in the World Cup. Eng­land is already feel­ing the eco­nom­ic pain of an early knock­out from the tour­na­ment, with many su­per­mar­kets and sports shops miss­ing out on what would have been a wel­come boost.

Yes, the true U.S. soc­cer fans will con­tin­ue to at­tend games at bars for the fi­nal rounds, but the crowds won’t be as big, nor will that ex­cite­ment shake walls.

“We’re a Brit­ish bar, so when Eng­land got knocked out, we knew we were go­ing to lose thou­sands and thou­sands of dol­lars,” says Gor­don. “But you try to keep that go­ing with the U.S.”

There’s sim­il­ar con­cern at Buf­falo Bil­liards in Dupont Circle. Jam­ie Walth­er, the gen­er­al man­ager, says the only time he’s seen this level of ex­cite­ment, at­tend­ance, and sales is dur­ing the NCAA Tour­na­ment. He re­calls the game versus Ghana: “The first goal that was scored was prob­ably the loudest I’ve ever heard any­thing any­where. It vi­brated the en­tire place.” His staff, he says, is go­ing as fast as they can from about an hour be­fore the game to about an hour after the game.

“The fur­ther they go, the bet­ter we do,” says Walth­er. “Ob­vi­ously, we want them to go as far as pos­sible be­cause the dif­fer­ence is meas­ur­able.”

All four bars have been at ca­pa­city at least an hour be­fore U.S. games start, some­times with lines stretch­ing around the block to get in. They’ve had to turn people away. The fur­ther the U.S. goes, the more money these places have to gain.

“The fur­ther they go, the bet­ter we do.”

It makes sense that Wash­ing­ton bars would reap the be­ne­fits of the World Cup. For the second week in a row, D.C. has led the coun­try in watch­ing the World Cup, with a 13.3 rat­ing. That’s more than Colum­bus, Ohio (12.6), New York City (12.5), and Bo­ston (11.5). And that sort of en­thu­si­asm is na­tion­wide. Sunday night’s game against Por­tugal re­ceived an overnight rat­ing of a 9.1, mak­ing it the most watched World Cup game ever on ES­PN or ES­PN2.

Many of those people watch­ing those games were in bars. People like to share big na­tion­al mo­ments like this to­geth­er, and what bet­ter a place than the loc­al wa­ter­ing hole? In Ju­ly, we’ll get a bet­ter sense of how well D.C. bars in par­tic­u­lar did from the World Cup when the Of­fice of the Deputy May­or for Plan­ning and Eco­nom­ic De­vel­op­ment re­leases bever­age sales fig­ures.

But it’s clear already: Bar own­ers and gen­er­al man­agers are hav­ing a ban­ner June and hop­ing to carry that in­to Ju­ly. Root for the U.S. team for love of coun­try, yes. But you should also root for love of loc­al busi­ness.

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