Star Players in World Cup Watch Parties: City Governments

Cities across the nation have teamed up with professional and minor league soccer teams to host public viewing parties to cheer on the United States.
by , , | June 30, 2014 AT 7:00 PM

Thanks to city governments, U.S. soccer fans who could not make it to Brazil to support the American team against Belgium Tuesday will cheer them on, instead, amid iconic landmarks and throngs of star-spangled supporters.
Boston and San Francisco will host viewing parties just outside of their city halls. Washington, D.C., will invite residents to watch the match along Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and the U.S. Capitol. And Chicago will host soccer enthusiasts in Soldier Field, nearly 20 years after Germany and Belgium met there to kick off the 1994 World Cup. 
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who first took office in January, wanted to make sure his city hosted a World Cup viewing party this year, after several World Cups without one. Roughly 5,000 people joined him to see the U.S. take on Germany on Thursday. 
“It was really good to see because it was just a cross-mix of folks—very diverse, young and old, kids out of school,” said Ken Brissette, Boston’s director of tourism, sports and entertainment.

Fans watching the USA World Cup game versus Germany outside Boston City Hall. (FlickrCC/walknboston)

The city expects an even bigger turnout for a second viewing party the mayor is hosting Tuesday, because the game is closer to the end of the workday and because the stakes are higher for the U.S. team in its elimination game against Belgium.

Boston teamed up with the New England Revolution, a Major League Soccer club based in nearby Foxborough, to put on public game viewings. The pro team helped cover the cost of setting up the TV screens to show the game.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is also using the World Cup to showcase the city’s new minor league soccer team, called the Indy Eleven. The mayor’s office is coordinating the celebration on Massachusetts Ave., a popular destination northeast of downtown. City crews will barricade the streets, and police will help direct foot and vehicular traffic. The city’s department of Latino and veterans affairs, which already hosts a citywide soccer tournament for youth, is also involved. But Indy Eleven is footing the bill for the three 12-foot by 9-foot LED screens and other expenses.

“There is a general excitement and support for the (U.S.) team. We’re really excited to bring that and put that on display on Mass Ave. next Tuesday,” said Ballard spokesman Marc Lotter.

Cities so far have experienced few problems with public safety at the events, but organizers in Chicago have had to tweak their plans to adjust to both weather and surging public interest. The games each drew roughly 20,000 fans to the city’s lakefront.

The Chicago Park District, along with U.S. Soccer, hosted a watch party for each of the U.S. team’s three appearances in the first round of the World Cup. Soggy fields forced them to move the location for the U.S.-Portugal game from one area of Grant Park to a smaller area. Police blocked off access to the party when it reached capacity, a half an hour before the game.

Chicago fans watching the USA World Cup game versus Germany in Grant Park. (AP/Stacy Thacker)

Fans who come to Soldier Field Tuesday will be able to watch the game on the stadium’s existing video screen, which is used for Chicago Bears football games. They will be able to watch from the field or the stands.

The U.S. team’s advancement out of its “Group of Death” on June 26 left little time for cities to plan for its game Tuesday. San Francisco’s Department of Parks and Recreation found $30,000 from sponsors to host Tuesday’s party, according to Connie Chen, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation. The city expects to see a crowd of more than 4,000 people come out to see today’s match.

In San Jose, organizers also planned a last-minute viewing party after the U.S. team advanced. They hope to offset the costs of security and screen rental with sales of alcohol and concessions at the event.

“The city staff has been great and flexible because they want to see it happen,” said Blage Zelalich of the San Jose Downtown Association, which is sponsoring the events with city officials and the Earthquakes, San Jose’s Major League Soccer team.

Many major cities have not directly hosted events themselves, instead letting private groups—often professional soccer teams or fan groups—host their own watch parties. Soccer teams in Dallas, Detroit and Kansas City, for example, have taken the lead in organizing watch parties.

Even in Washington, D.C., the U.S. city with the highest World Cup TV ratings this year, did not organize any public events in the tournament’s first round.

The German Embassy paid for the District’s only public event in the initial stage. It showed the U.S.-Germany game in Dupont Circle, a traffic circle and park that anchors the historic northwest quarter of the city. But that request went through the National Park Service, not the District government, which has jurisdiction over only about 10 percent of park space within its borders.

“We have control of very few parcels that would be suitable for outdoor viewing,” said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray.

But Gray and other city officials announced Monday that they would, in fact, host an outdoor viewing of the U.S.-Belgium game. It will take place on Freedom Plaza, a federal park directly across the street from the John A. Wilson Building, the District’s city hall.

Event organizing started over the weekend, largely on the initiative of several organizations that support building a new soccer stadium for the city’s professional team, DC United. Private sponsors are paying for the costs of vendors; the city is providing one mobile police unit and handling street closures, said Tony Robinson, a DC spokesman.

Officials anticipate anywhere from 800 to several thousand people attending. Robinson, a District native, added that he’s not aware of another time in the city’s history that it’s sponsored a World Cup watch party, which provides a perfect opportunity to showcase growing enthusiasm for the sport.

“The World Cup is probably our best advertisement for [a new soccer stadium] because there’s a visual demonstration of the support for soccer right now,” he said. “Unlike American football, this is sort of a mania throughout the world, and we’re just kind of catching on.”

Kevin Tidmarsh | Intern