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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Pinellas businesses surrender to World Cup madness

— After more than 24 million Americans tuned in to the United States’ nail-biting 2-2 tie with Portugal on Sunday, interest was at a fever pitch to see the team’s crunch World Cup game with Germany.

But with Thursday’s game kicking off bang in the middle of the work day, fans and businesses in the Tampa Bay area had to get a little creative to carve out two hours to catch the game that would decide if the United States advanced.

Many fans took an extended lunch and caught the noontime game in packed local bars. Fearing a loss of productivity, some companies held watch parties or scheduled “staff meetings” around conference-room TVs. Others set up TVs where workers could keep an eye on the game and still work.

Even the local bastion of baseball, Tropicana Field, bowed to World Cup fever with the Tampa Bay Rays turning a planned staff meeting into a World Cup-themed watch party at Everglades Brewhouse for more than 100 staff members.

“I was going to take a long lunch; this is fantastic,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, a Rays membership services staff member who wore a U.S. team jersey to work.

At Jabil, one of the area’s largest firms, bosses set up areas with TVs so workers could bring their laptops and keep an eye on the game, spokeswoman Beth Walters said.

Spatial Networks, a Clearwater software development firm, held a watch party in a conference room.

“We’re all dressed in our red, white and blue attire,” human resources director Stephanie Hargrove said. “We’re ordering some food in; we have a big room in the back with a TV. We’re going to watch the game and root on USA.”

Despite the noon kickoff, some local bars in downtown St. Petersburg filled up, including MacDinton’s and Mike’s Tap and Tavern, a sports bar on First Avenue North.

“We were turning people away; we didn’t have any room,” said Victoria Terranova, shift manager at Mike’s. “It’s been awesome.”

The Rays’ watch party came at the end of the baseball team’s 10-game home stretch.

The bar on the ground floor of the Trop was decorated in red, white and blue bunting, and cupcakes were displayed in the shape of a U.S. flag. Lunch included American and German dishes, with some named for soccer stars such as (Clint) Dempsey Dogs and Michael Bradley’s mac ’n’ cheese.

In honor of the U.S. team’s German coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, there was sauerkraut and laugenbrezln, German pretzels served with beer-cheese dip.

“We were looking for an event to help celebrate the end of a grueling month,” Rays President Matt Silverman said. “In reality, a number of people would be trying to watch anyway.”

The mood became tense after Germany scored the only goal and fans anxiously watched the game while keeping an eye on the Portugal-Ghana game. The final whistle in both games brought relief and smiles, as the U.S. team, despite its 1-0 loss, advanced in the tournament because of Portugal’s victory.

Similar watch parties sprung up on the other side of Tampa Bay.

About 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.

That’s how much soccer has taken hold 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.”

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Twitter: @codonnellTBO

Tribune reporter Keith Morelli contributed to this report.

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