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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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In local offices, World Cup trumps work

With baseball season in full swing and football just around the corner, “Olé, Olé, Olé O-lé” on Thursday afternoon out-shouted “We will, we will rock you.”

Front and center at noon was the U.S. soccer team taking on Germany, live from Brazil. World Cup fever has flooded the nation, and Tampa, usually known for football, not fútbol, was no exception.

As sports bars and taverns bumped up their business on a usually slow weekday afternoon, offices and businesses across the region also let employees linger longer at conference room and desk-top lunches, watching the match on work televisions or company-issued computer screens.

A dozen employees of Dunn & Co., a marketing firm near the port east of downtown Tampa, sat around the big screen for a couple of hours, allowing soccer to cut into their work day. Some ate, others held laptop computers on their laps, their gazes going from the game to the small screens on which work was sporadically being done.

The work product notwithstanding, creative director Jim Darlington had no problem with his employees enjoying a little soccer on a Thursday afternoon.

“We try to carve out the time here for this,” he said. “We're interested in this. We've had sports teams as clients for a long time.”

He nodded toward the television on the third floor of the historic building that once was a cigar factory and still has that pungent odor in the hallways and woodwork. “We can't help but get excited over a thing like this.”

Though the United States lost 1-0 to Germany, the team advanced in the tournament thanks to a 2-1 Portugal win over Ghana.

There wasn't much to whoop about on the big screen, but when Portugal scored the go-ahead goal on the small laptop screen on the coffee table, Dunn & Co. people erupted in cheers.

That's how much soccer has taken hold here lately, said Sarah Waldie, an account executive at the marketing firm.

“We've actually watched quite a few games,” she said. The loss in productivity is negligible.

“It's a 90-minute game,” she said. “We have an hour for lunch and it's just a little extra. We only do this every four years.”

Many fans took the long lunch hour and caught the match in packed local bars. Some employers opted for in-house watch parties or scheduled “staff meetings” around meeting room television sets. Others put sets where workers could keep an eye on the match and still work.

Soccer even invaded Tropicana Field, the local bastion of baseball and home to the Tampa Bay Rays, who were en route to Baltimore for a weekend series with the Orioles. The workers left behind turned a planned staff meeting into a World Cup-themed watch party for more than 100 in the Everglades Brewhouse inside the stadium.

“I was going to take a long lunch,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, who works for the Rays membership services office. “This is fantastic.”

Across town in South Tampa, the soccer dominated the conference room at Exit Bayshore Realty, where the match played out on a 100-inch screen.

About a dozen real estate agents and office workers were in and out of the darkened room, catching the action between cell phone calls and messages. On the table sat a pilfered Dunkin' Donuts box.

Lewis Stewart gave passes to employees who wanted to plunk down in front of the massive screen.

“I think soccer is a big deal right now,” he said. “We've been watching World Cup games since 2002. Over the next hour-and-a half, work has stopped.”

He said employees are welcome to drift into the conference room to catch whatever games happen to be on at the time.

“We have the television on the whole time,” he said. “It builds team morale. We are all coming together, especially if the U.S. wins.”

Justin Hubbard's eyes were on the big screen, but he sat in front of a laptop and was scrolling property listings at the same time.

“I'm kind of doing work,” he said, seated next to Stewart, the boss. “I'm looking up properties right now, but definitely I'm watching the game.''

Real estate agent Elissa McEwen walked into the room just before halftime.

“Everybody's a soccer fan this time of year,” she said. She sat in the rear to catch the last few minutes of the first half. Typically, she said, she is here to watch training videos.

“I guess,” she said, “this room is good for something more than hearing about mortgages.”

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