Kristian Pedersen can explain his business plan for the next few weeks at his pub, Courtyard Hooligans in Brevard Court in uptown Charlotte, in just four words:
“Wall-to-wall soccer,” he says. “We’re going to go huge this time.”
In Charlotte, the FIFA World Cup, which opened Thursday in Brazil and continues until July 13, is going as big as it has been in the rest of the world for years.
Imagine if the Super Bowl lasted for a month. That’s what it will be like for soccer fans, with bars, restaurants and breweries all over town making plans and vying for business. Many plan to open early and stay open late whenever games are on.
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Pedersen, a native of Norway who lives and plays soccer, can’t wait. He opened in 2009 to be ready for the last World Cup games, in 2010. His small bar on Church Street, about a block from BB&T Stadium, quickly became the place to go for the true fan. Even when it isn’t a World Cup year, Pedersen opens at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays for fans to watch European broadcasts.
“It’s a completely different world out there,” he says. When he opened five years ago, he got 300 in the courtyard for the opening game. This year, for the first U.S. game on Monday (vs. Ghana), he expects 1,000.
During the cup, he says, he’ll open at 11 a.m. daily and stay open until the last kick every night. Besides the flat-screen TV bolted over the door for overflow viewers outside in the courtyard, he has leased space in the parking lot behind the building. He’s adding another big-screen TV and an expandable trailer with a bar and multiple TVs out there.
Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, a popular spot with German and Croatian fans, is building a new facility, but they’ll stay put in the original location until after the Games. They’re putting up an 8-foot high-definition projector screen in a space they usually rent out for private events. As long as the room is available and a game is on, they’ll have it turned on.
Other popular spots, like Tyber Creek, Jackalope Jack’s and Big Ben’s, all are making pitches for watching the action on the pitches. Tyber Creek has had a giant soccer ball outside for weeks to announce its 7:30 a.m. openings.
At Big Ben’s in SouthEnd, they’ve added five outside TVs on the patio in addition to their 107-inch HD projector TV.
“We don’t play,” said general manager Andy Danos. “As long as a soccer game is on, we’ll open early and stay late.”
What makes a great place for watching soccer? Matt Garner is president of the Queen City Outlaws, the Charlotte branch of a national club dedicated to getting people together to watch soccer.
“The main thing is the buy-in,” he says. “It’s not just on a TV on mute in the corner.” Even though Hooligans is small, he loves to watch there because there’s so much enthusiasm for the game, with yelling and singing. Even the bartenders are well-versed, he says, and the fans came from all over the world.
“It’s cool to get someone from Europe who says, ‘Oh, you’re doing this well.’ It’s good to get that pat on the back.”
So what about watching with the Brazilians, the hosts of this year’s FIFA World Cup Games? You’ll need an invitation: Alex Vasconcelos of Charlotte says most Brazilians will watch the games at home.
For Brazilians, he says, soccer is a family thing, something you do with your kids.
“It’s hard to find kid-friendly places, when people are drinking and yelling,” he says. “Me and the Brazilians I know, we will be getting together in somebody’s house. You’ve more comfortable, your kids know each other and they can play together.”
For part of the time, though, Vasconcelos really will watch at home. The captain of the Brazilian team for the 16-team Charlotte World Cup, a tournament of dedicated amateurs, he is taking a special trip back to Brazil for the occasion.
“Can’t stay away from it,” he says.