It’s been 20 years since the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994 — a massively successful tournament that averaged more than 68,000 people across 52 matches and quite simply revived soccer in North America.
Brazil is hosting this year’s tournament, and there’s one big reason why that location — even though it’s on another continent — represents the biggest opportunity for soccer in the United States since 1994: Time zones.
In the four World Cups since ours (France, 1998; South Korea/Japan, 2002; Germany, 2006; South Africa 2010) the time offsets for U.S. viewers in the lower 48 have been formidable: East Coast viewers were six, 13, six and five hours behind, respectively, during those intervening tournaments. West Coast fans were another four hours behind that.
Which meant that — for most casual fans of the sport here — World Cup was something they watched on ESPN Sportscenter as highlights when they got home from work.
It also meant that — in terms of the development of soccer culture here — venues that opened their doors to World Cup watch parties often did so at a financial loss. It’s hard for a sports bar in Charleston to justify the expense of opening at 10 a.m. for a midweek match between two countries not named United States.
But with Brazil hosting, Charleston is just an hour behind matches in Rio de Janeiro, and there’s no time difference here for games played in the western part of the host country. Which means that when the United States takes on Ghana on Monday, the match will start at 6 p.m. That’s a great time for bar owners to pack in hungry patrons.
So bear that in mind when you consider your options for watching matches with other fans this year. Because they’re simply unprecedented.
Officially, the Charleston chapter of the American Outlaws — a group founded just last summer — will be gathering at Madra Rua Park Circle on Monday afternoon for the USA vs. Ghana match. It’s the chapter’s sponsoring bar, the epicenter of the Charleston soccer bar scene — and entirely too small to handle the anticipated crush of fans who are likely to go out in search of some place to watch World Cup soccer.
Which is why the group also pointed fans to the following:
Three Lions Club at Blackbaud Stadium, Daniel Island
Madra Rua in Summerville, on Highway 17 Alternate
Local 616 in Charleston, on Meeting Street at the foot of the exit from the Ravenel Bridge
My Father’s Mustache in Mount Pleasant, on Coleman Boulevard just past Rifle Range Road
Mueller’s Pub, West Ashley, in the Quadrangle Shopping Center near the Piggly Wiggly off Savannah Highway at I-526.
Molly Darcy’s Pub in Charleston, on East Bay by The Market.
The Alley in Charleston, on Columbus Street, just below the Crosstown between Meeting and King and across the street from The Post and Courier building.
To be blunt about it, those are just bars where you can be sure that the owners will give precedence to the world’s biggest sporting event. Every sports bar, franchised wing joint, and neighborhood watering hole with a television is likely to switch over to some of the tournament. Because hosting World Cup fans this year requires no special effort.
The most obvious special effort being made locally involves the Lowcountry’s professional soccer club.
The staff at the Charleston Battery have been talking about plans for the World Cup since the end of the 2013 USL PRO season, and eventually settled on a plan to open the Three Lions Club on the second floor of Blackbaud Stadium for 19 matches spread across six match days between Thursday, June 11, and Thursday, June 26. They’re skipping both Saturdays of the Group Stage because the Battery will be in action.
Whether the pub will continue to open during the knockout stages remains an open question — and probably depends on how the USMNT does. But Whitney Woods, the club’s director of marketing and communications, said the Three Lions would probably reopen for the Cup final.
From the Battery perspective, the primary value of the World Cup isn’t what the Three Lions will rake in from food and beverage sales. It’s the opportunity to convert fans of world and US soccer into new fans of the local football club. And though some of the wilder ideas for building events around big Cup matches at Blackbaud didn’t come to fruition, the Three Lions remains the secret gem of the local soccer scene.
For the uninitiated, the Three Lions is part soccer museum and part faithful recreation of an idealized English soccer pub. It’s a big ingredient in the Battery’s secret sauce when it comes to attracting players and impressing soccer people. But it’s also something a mythical beast for most fans in the Lowcountry. It only opens for special events and home matches, and it’s off limits both before and after Battery games to anyone who lacks a pub pass. Which means that the only way some people get to see it is by requesting a tour.
That makes the next two weeks the single best opportunity for fans to experience the Three Lions. So put it on your World Cup to-do list. The pub opens half an hour before the first match on each Group Stage match day, and there will be drink and food specials along with a regular menu. The special for Thursday’s opening match (Brazil vs. Croatia) is Brazilian Baura sandwich (hot roast beef and fresh mozzarella on french bread) with fires and a Xingu beer for $12.
Of course, on the flip side, the World Cup can also compete with the Battery on game nights. When Charleston takes on the LA Galaxy II Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for their only meeting of 2014, they’ll be opposite a huge match between England and Italy.
So here’s the bottom line: The next two weeks could either be a step forward for local soccer culture, or a high water mark. That’s true around the country, too — but people in Charleston will judge the strength and value of local soccer fandom based on how visible we are.
Having an American Outlaws chapter here is a big part of that. That’s why we pushed so hard last year to help get one started. But Charleston soccer needs energy and new blood.
Do your part. Plan on coming out to watch some matches with other fans. And like the people in the Free Beer Movement say, grab a friend and bring him or her along with you.
TOP IMAGE: American Outlaws react to a USA goal in 2013. Dan Conover photo.