For fans of international soccer who live in the United States, watching broadcasts of the World Cup is usually not a simple proposition. Set aside the quadrennial discussion over whether the sport is set to break out in this country -- it's that the last four editions have been held on the other side of the world that has made dedicated fandom a serious commitment.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, though, is making supporting your side much easier. It's the first time the tournament has been held in the Western Hemisphere since the United States hosted it back in 1994. That means no more 6 a.m. breakfast settings for a day's first matches, as was the case for the Cups in France, Germany and South Africa, and certainly no middle-of-the-night marathons like those for the one in Japan and South Korea. Nope, Brazil is only on or two hours ahead of Madison, which means matches run from late morning until mid-evening, a period that's eminently amenable for a soccer-watching siesta.
Even better, though, is there's hardly a World Cup setting more storied and evocative than Brazil. The tournament was last held in its spiritual home way back in 1950, which was the first year the nation hosted it. The Seleção have won five times, the most of any national side, and they're looking to add a sixth star to their crest this year. It's the team of Pelé, Zico, Ronaldo and well over a half-century's worth of mostly single-named icons, accompanied by their home turf at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, that established the legend of "The Beautiful Game."
The stars are aligning for soccer fans in the U.S., and this World Cup could well prove to be a convincing spur for building the sport stateside given its timing and location. That's particularly the case since the next two tournaments are currently scheduled to jump back to the other side of the planet. True, the U.S. team's draw into a Group of Death that matches it up against Germany, Portugal and Ghana sets a challenging path for it to reach the knockout stage and maintain its 2010 momentum, but those heightened stakes will drive interest among the merely curious and sweeten any success.
Here are the basics. There are 32 total participating teams. The opening match is on Thursday, June 12, and group play continues for the following two weeks. The first match of the day typically starts at 11 a.m. CDT, while the most of the later ones get under way at 4 or 5 p.m. Except for the opening day, there will be three or four matches each day in this round. The U.S. team plays Ghana at 5 p.m. on Monday, June 16, then takes on Portugal at 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 22, and wraps up group play against Germany at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 26 (all matches CDT). The knockout stage begins Saturday, June 28, from which 16 teams will be winnowed down to the final two for the championship match on Sunday, July 13. In the U.S., all matches will be televised on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, Univision and UniMás.
World Cup watching festivities have grown in Madison over the previous two cycles, building upon its healthy youth and adult soccer club scene, while the number of restaurants and bars looking to boost summer business while supporting the sport continues to grow. During the 2006 World Cup, which was held in Germany, a handful of establishments hosted dedicated screenings and fostered a celebratory atmosphere. Come the 2010 World Cup, which was in South Africa, their ranks had grown considerably, with an increased commitment to showing as many of the 64 total matches as possible. Even more is in the works for this year.
This is not a complete list, but does highlight locations where fans can gather to enjoy a match or ten.
When it comes to watching international soccer, Hawk's is at the heart of the scene in Madison. For more than a decade, it has been a gathering place for fans viewing World Cup qualifiers, confederation tournaments, warm-up friendlies, and above all, any of those matches that involve the U.S. team.
Hawk's shows all of them, year-round, and with the volume turned up. As the home bar to the Madison chapter of the American Outlaws (note: I've been a member), it draws dedicated fans to each match, no matter how important. This scene can be attributed to the enthusiasm of owner Hawk Sullivan, who is a longtime fixture in Madison's club soccer scene and a booster of the sport.
The 2014 World Cup will be the third for Hawk's. For the 2006 and 2010 editions, the restaurant opened at 6 a.m. and served breakfast to accommodate screening the early matches in Europe and Africa, but that won't be necessary this go around. Fans still turned out en masse for those early mornings, though, and crowds are likely to be even thicker in the afternoons this year.
Hawk's is split into two sections, one the primary bar and dining room, and the other a smaller sitting area by the counter for ordering food. The bar has a projection screen in the back, and most of the attention is fixated there, though three other TVs offer more angles around the room. There's also a TV in the smaller space, which is necessary when the bar overflows during the popular matches. The windows are shaded, flags of all 32 participating nations drape the walls, and competition for seats is fierce.
Hawk's can teem with fans, particularly during matches featuring the U.S. and others with high-profile sides or high-stakes outcomes. The bar is raucous during those popular matches, and patience is required. Energy and excitement suffuses the room, and all of the crowding is worth it when the team you're supporting scores a goal.
World Cup drink specials at Hawk's center on $2.50 tall boys of PBR, and the bar will also be serving the new Pelé Pale Ale made by One Barrel Brewing (see below).
Here's a tip on a refreshing and soccer-friendly beverage for watching the Cup at Hawk's. Order a pint of Capital Brewery Lake House from the bar, and purchase a can of San Pellegrino Pompelo (grapefruit) from the grill's front counter. Mix the beer and soda together at a 3:2 ratio in an empty glass (don't spill!) and enjoy a DIY radler. The beer is a Münchner Helles (lager), an appropriate style for making this sessionable summer drink, and certainly holds its own against a can of Stiegl.
As he did during the last two World Cups, Sullivan plans to set up a TV outside to allow patrons in his sidewalk cafe and passers-by to catch the action. "Part of the appeal of Hawk's is that we're not really a sports bar," he says. "I think soccer fans tend to like to gather in places that aren't necessarily sports bars."
Hawk's is also once again planning giveaways for almost every match of the tournament. "If a lot of people show up, we'll give away a lot of swag," says Sullivan. In past years, this has included Hawk's gear, glassware, and various World Cup-themed items like t-shirts, flags and jerseys.
When it comes to the World Cup itself, Sullivan points to Germany, Brazil and Spain as the sides to watch for possibly making it all the way. As for the U.S. Team and its Group of Death, he considers a victory in its opening match against Ghana to be essential.
"I'd say getting out of the group is 50-50, and that's a pretty good chance," Sullivan says. "Ghana is the weakest team in our group, and they're not bad. Honest, Portugal might even have a hard time. Who knows? I think the U.S. is getting a little better in each World Cup."
This craft beer-friendly bar isn't really a sports-watching venue, as its TVs are fairly small. Nor does it have special plans for the World Cup, though its screens will be tuned in to the matches. It is, however, downstairs from Samba Brazilian Grill, so if watching a match in São Paulo or Salvador triggers cravings for a rodizio-style dinner with a bowl of feijoada, all one need do is head upstairs when the restaurant opens at 5 p.m.
Though it's set up a restaurant and doesn't really have a bar for hanging out over the course of a couple hours, Los Gemelos will be screening the entire World Cup on its four TV sets. For fans looking for a meal during a match and want to keep up with the action, this spot just off State Street is a likely option, particularly with its two tacos with rice and beans special for $6.
World Cup crowds are thick at State Street Brats, with fans filling its upper level for most matches, and its main floor too for the really big ones. As a sports bar, Brats is well known as a place to be for all things Badgers, but it's made sure to attract soccer fans as well. It screens international matches regularly, including the recent UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Last year during the Confederations Cup, a mini-tournament put on by the upcoming World Cup host nation as a warm-up, an enthusiastic group of Brazil fans decked the red and white bar out with the blue and yellow of the Seleção.
"Based on the last two World Cups, interest in U.S. soccer has gotten a lot stronger over that same time period," says manager Matt Goetsch. "Eight years ago we had a lot of fans out for Brazil and Germany, but in 2010, we saw hundreds of people here for U.S. matches."
State Street Brats will be screening the entire tournament on its TVs, upstairs and downstairs, both inside and out, and is expecting turnout to continue growing. Goetsch points to building improvements, including a new air conditioner, that will help keep patrons happy, while drink specials are in the works.
"We're expecting really big turnout for U.S., Brazil and Germany, while Spain and Portugal are really popular, and we'll get fans of France and Mexico too," Goetsch says. The wildest day of all, though, might be the U.S.-Germany match on June 26, which he expects to be "phenomenally huge."
Formerly the site of the Pub for decades, the cavernous tavern space on State Street is now home to Whiskey Jacks's is one of the largest bars on the strip connecting campus and Capitol. It's rivaled in size only by Brats less than a half-block away, and like it's neighbor, is planning to celebrate the World Cup in a big way.
Two big screens will be the center of the action at Whiskey Jack's, one measuring 124 inches and the other at a comparatively bantam 96 inches. (That's over 10 feet and eight feet, respectively.) The bar is outfitted with another dozen TVs, including two overlooking its sidewalk patio on State Street. They'll screen all 64 matches of the Cup, with doors opening a half-hour before kickoff for the early contests.
Flags of all 32 participating national teams hang from Whiskey Jack's rafters, while the bar is outfitted with beers from 17 of them. Those will be offered at $3 a pop during matches, and will be accompanied by two-buck hot dogs and five dollar pizza. Throughout the tournament, the staff will conduct prize giveaways, with the freebies including things like glassware, soccer balls and jerseys.
UW-Madison is home to a large contingent of underaged undergrads and international students who are as serious of soccer fans as anybody, so the Wisconsin Union is planing to screen all matches at both of its primary facilities. At Union South, which was still under construction for the 2010 tournament, they'll be screened on TVs on the main floor the Sett and one level down in its rec space. Over at Memorial Union, matches will be projected onto the big screen that drops down over the center stage at Der Rathskeller. If crowds are big, TVs in the renovated Stiftskeller and Lakefront on Langdon will also be tuned in to the matches, something that's a likely scenario.
"For some of the bigger matches with Brazil and other favorites, you'll get a pretty full house," says Marc Kennedy, communications director for the Wisconsin Union. That was certainly the case in 2010, when crowds were thick and vocal. With matches later in the day this go around, they'll likely overlap with those on the Terrace, and should make for a lively scene. No food or drink specials are planned, but Der Stiftskeller's ample tap list, 24 beers total, is back in place after a long winter's construction hiatus.
Interested in watching a World Cup match featuring Algeria with Arabic commentary? Or a Belgian match in Flemish? Or Persian? Or German? UW-Madison is providing those opportunities and others with a series of multilingual screenings at Van Hise Hall, a campus Tower of Babel that's home to many of the university's language departments.
Steel Wagstaff, an instructional technology consultant with the Learning Support Services department at the UW's College of Letters & Science, wondered if it would be possible to show World Cup matches in the native languages of the teams on the pitch, and so went ahead and found a way to make it happen. During weekday matches that start before 4 p.m., a pair of auditoriums in Van Hise will each screen the same match, but with different audio feeds.
Altogether, matches will be screened with soundtracks in about a dozen different languages. The idea behind the project is to provide enrichment for language students on campus, as well as offer an opportunity for international students to watch the Cup in their primary language and encourage cross-cultural exchange among a whole globe's worth of soccer fans.
When the Coopers Tavern opened in early 2010, it immediately set out to attract international soccer fans, and promoted itself as a place to watch the World Cup in South Africa that year. With an ambitious European-focused beer list, the gastropub fit the bill, but the location of only two TVs and the sight lines accompanying them in its first-floor space wasn't ideal. That issue was solved and improved upon mightily, though, once Coopers opened its second floor space last year.
"It gets packed up there," says general manager Peter McElvanna. The second floor at Coopers can fit 122 people (compared to 76 downstairs), and its layout is very friendly to the soccer watching masses. The front wall looking out towards the Capitol is outfitted with an 11-foot screen for its HD projector, which is one of seven TVs around the space. With this setup, Coopers has rapidly developed a soccer-watching culture, with fans turning out for Champions League finals, last year's Confederations Cup, and other international matches. It's also the home to the Arsenal Supporters Club of Madison.
Coopers will be screening every match on both of its floors. McElvanna plans to open the upstairs an hour before every kickoff, which means 10 a.m. during the group stage, 10:30 for the knockouts, 3 p.m. for the semis, and 1 p.m. for the final. "It's awesome that the World Cup in a close time zone, so we don't have to get up at five in the morning," he notes.
The second floor is a busy location for wedding and rehearsal dinners, but the restaurant has cleared its calendar for the entirety of the tournament, no minor commitment. "We didn't take any reservations, and are just concentrating on the footie," says McElvanna.
Flags of all participating nations, sourced months ago, will be displayed around the space to provide even more World Cup spirit. No drink specials are planned, and a limited food menu will be served on the upper level. For the final, customers will get a chance to win prizes.
"It's a wide open competition this year, there might be six or seven teams that could win it," says McElvanna about his expectations for the Cup. "It's not like the last time where everybody knew Spain was going to win. If I was a gambler, though, I'd put my money on Germany."
As an Irish-themed restaurant and bar, Brocach is a natural fit for watching soccer, per the pattern of similarly styled establishments around the nation. It's long served as a place for fans to watch a match, screening numerous World Cup matches in 2006 and all of them in 2010. It's plans this year are just as ambitious.
"We're gonna go hard and heavy on the World Cup," says co-owner Don Gautreau. Brocach will screen every match over the month, and is opening early on weekdays, at 10:30 a.m., in order to let fans settle in before the first kickoff.
The big change compared to the last Cup is the addition of a large projection screen in the main dining room, which will serve as the primary viewing area on top of the two TVs at either end of the bar. "We're becoming a bigger scene for the sports fans thanks to the screen," notes manager Marco Jimenez.
Brocach is one of several places around town that is presenting a drinks promotion that is generally called a passport. Patrons receive a card that's used to track a list of beers, and are entered into a contest after purchasing a set number of them. In this case, there will be a total of nine brews on Brocach's list, with a prize raffle set for the championship match.
"As an Irish pub we cater to folks who are looking for an international experience," says Gautreau. "It will feel like an appropriate space, with people singing and cheering on their teams."
The newest player in the increasingly large World Cup screening scene in Madison is Diego's, which opened at the top of State Street in the summer of 2012. Its multi-level space is well suited for watch parties.
Like other locations this year, Diego's plans are centered on projection screen, this one located in an upstairs banquet room that's outfitted with stadium-style seating. Then there's the back bar area with a trio of 65-inch TVs, and a private couch area with another big screen. "For the last Champions League match, we had about 250-300 people, and at capacity we can fit 350 in here comfortably," says general manager Travis Splan.
The Mexican restaurant bills itself as Soccer Central, and is offering an array of specials on spirits, along with $3 pints of Carlsberg and $2 off appetizers during all matches. Diego's is also hosting its own beer passport program, one with a graduated perk program that provides frequent customers the opportunity to earn a free pint, a free appetizer, a World Cup t-shirt and restaurant gift cards. There will also be giveaways during matches of t-shirts and other promotional swag, and a raffle for big prizes like a flat screen TV and a foosball table.
"We've got a lot of stuff going on," notes Splan. "Everybody gets ramped up for these matches. It gets loud and emotional."
Owner Peter Gentry has visited two World Cup host nations during the tournament, first France in 1998 and then Germany in 2006. He's not going to Brazil this year, but his east side brewery is releasing a new beer to celebrate the spectacle. Named Pelé Pale Ale, head brewer Dan Sherman designed this beer with plenty of international flavor, as it features malts from the U.S., England, Germany, and Belgium, along with Cascade hops from New Zealand.
"It has an interesting malt and hop character, and neither one is overdone," explains Sherman. "The idea is to make it smooth and drinkable."
Gentry is hoping to open One Barrel a little bit early during some of the tournament -- the regular time is at 4 p.m. -- in order to show most of the mid- to late-afternoon and evening matches on the TV above its front window. During that time, they'll be serving Carlsberg on tap, and the taproom will be outfitted with flair provided by the Danish brewer. "It's the quintessential World Cup beer, in my opinion," he says.
When it comes to his picks for the Cup, Gentry is supporting the U.S. first and foremost, but notes the difficulty of its competitors. "It's the hardest group we've been in, but it might be the best team we have," he says. "But for any of those tams to get out, it's going to be a challenge."
Gentry is hoping that the excitement over the event will help continue to build soccer fandom here. "Americans just aren't really that into soccer still, but I think a lot of people come into it by watching this type of thing. You pick who you like by happenstance, and become a fan."
Brewery co-owner Pepper Stebbins lived in a city on the Amazon River for over a decade, and learned to appreciate the serious futbol fandom in Brazil during his time there. That helped inspire a series of beer tapping parties that Next Door is hosting over the initial days of the World Cup.
For the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, the brewery will be releasing five gallons of Rumble On, an Old Sugar Distillery rum barrel-aged version of its Bramble On, a strong wheat ale made with blackberries. The June 13 match between Mexico and Cameron will see the rerelease of Rey Rye, an imperial Vienna ale, while the June 14 match between England and Italy will feature the return of Battle of the Bulge, a German/English mash-up brew; both were brewed as collaborative projects for beer week. When the U.S. plays its opening match against Ghana on June 16, another five gallons of Rumble One will be served.
Next Door plans to open a little before 11 a.m. to accommodate patrons viewing the first match in the early going, and plans to screen as much of the tournament on its TVs as possible. The bar will feature caipirinhas on its menu over the whole month, and happy hour deals ($1 off beer pints and rail mixers) will be in place during gameplay.
Food will also be an important component of World Cup festivities at Next Door. There are plans for Brazilian themed menu items, and each day, one of the nations competing on the pitch will inform a food special.
This Park Street restaurant proudly displays its allegiance to Chivas, but international futbol is appreciated there as well. Taqueria Guadalajara will screen all matches during its regular business hours (which means all matches), and fans of Mexico and other Latin American teams turn out to watch. "A lot of people call ahead of time, and we tell them it's on," explains Imelda Perez, daughter of the restaurant's owner. And it's a great time to feast on their tacos.
About a mile farther south on Park Street, this Mexican restaurant is likewise planning on screening as many World Cup matches as it can, just as it did four years ago. Outfitted with a satellite package that inclues ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, beIN Sports, Univision, Telemundo and other networks, it will be airing Spanish-language broadcasts. Owner Lino Ruiz says El Pastor draws mostly fans of Mexico, but also supporters of Spain, Brazil and Portugal. "When it's the World Cup, everybody wants to see everything," he says.
Irish pubs have long been a primary gathering place for soccer fans looking to catch the sport on TV, and Erin's offers a place to sit down and catch a match for fans looking for a spot to the north and east of Madison. Located east of the interstate just off Hwy. 151, this restaurant will be screening all 64 matches on its 13 TVs. Lunch will be on the menu for the first two match times of the day, but happy hour is just in time for the third.
Soccer is central to the identity of Claddagh Irish Pub, which will be screening every single World Cup match at all of its dozen-plus locations around the Upper Midwest, including the one at Greenway Station in Middleton. As an official U.S. Soccer bar, the pub screens every single match featuring the Red, White and Blue, and so has developed a strong fan base that turns out for friendlies and serious contests alike.
Claddagh can attract a crowd with its 109-inch projection screen, not to mention another eight TVs scattered around the restaurant and bar. Managers are also considering setting up TVs for its patio to bring the party outside.
Like several other big watch party hosts this year, the centerpiece of Claddagh's specials offerings is a beer passport. For his one, customers can buy $3.50 pints from a list of nine mostly European beers and get entered into a raffle that will be held during the championship match. The restaurant is also in the process of determining food specials during the tournament.
Manager C.J. Plunkett expects big and lively crowds of fans. "It's super high energy, and we're all yelling at the screens," she says.
Soccer is not merely something to watch at Keva Sports Center, but something to play as well. This sports and recreational facility in Middleton opens the month-long celebration with its own World Cup Co-ed Soccer Tournament. Running June 14-15, these matches will feature seven-on-seven teams playing 25 minute matches, with the champion taking home a shiny replica of the FIFA trophy.
Of course, both players and spectators at any level will be able to watch the action in Brazil too. Keva will be screening matches at its outdoors bar, and will move the show indoors should inclement weather threaten the party. A DJ will be on hand for the opening match, and for the final match of the day on subsequent Thursdays. There will be drink specials during matches, as well as a buck off burgers and three-dollar bottomless fries.
"As we are a soccer specific facility, we have a lot of local players," notes Keva food and beverage director Ryan Brotherton. During U.S. and Mexco qualifiers for the World Cup, he notes that a few dozen fans would usually turn out to watch, and expects bigger crowds for the Cup.
Matt Lombardino, owner of Break Away Sports Center in Fitchburg, looks to the World Cup as a learning opportunity for youth learning to play and love the game. "We like good soccer, and you're going to see the elite playing the game, which in most instances translates to good soccer being played," he says.
This indoor soccer complex hosts numerous youth and adult leagues, and offers classes and training opportunities for all ages. And watching the Cup has a role in developing the next generation of players and fans. "We want to start to create that passion for young kids, not only to watch U.S. soccer, but see where it can go to in the future," says Lombardino.
As part of this focus, Break Away will be screening the U.S. group matches specifically to youth soccer clubs, and the facility will not be open to the public during those times. However, the center will be screening other matches, all of which will be shown
Due to this focus, Break Away will be screening the U.S. group matches to youth clubs that have secured the facility, which will be closed to the public. However, the center will open its door for other select matches, which will be shown on a projection screen set up on the pitch. At these times, a concession stand will sell food and beverages. Fans interested in watching at Break Away should call 608-288-9600 for a screening schedule.
As for the U.S. this year, Lombardino has some guarded optimism. "I think it's going to be tough, but not impossible for the U.S. to get out of its group," he says. "I really think we're going to beat Ghana this time. At the very least, it's going to give a lot more experience to younger players. By 2018, I think we'll have a lot more players who will help us get to another level on the world stage."
Fans of the U.S. or any international team can show their support and join in the festivities by watching the action on the pitch at any of the establishments noted above. The complete schedule for all World Cup 2014 match broadcasts is available here via ESPN FC.
[Editor's note: This preview was corrected to note that Brazil first hosted the World Cup in 1950, and was updated through Thursday, June 12 with additional information about events.]