Soccer means business and retailers, bars hope to cash in

Posted: 7:45 pm Tue, June 8, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

When suddenly everybody wants a U.S. soccer jersey and bars and pubs are opening their doors at 7 a.m., it usually means one thing — it’s FIFA World Cup time.

Once every four years one of the most popular youth sports in the country gets a one-month stint as the country’s most watched pro sport and businesses in the soccer world enjoy the roughly 25 percent boost in business that comes with it.

“Every four years we have an extended Christmas,” Stephen G. Humburg, general manager of Soccer American, said of the tournament which starts Friday in South Africa. “It’s not just World Cup merchandise — everything that is offered goes up.”

Humburg estimates that World Cup sales, which began in earnest at the beginning of the year, will account for a roughly 20 to 25 percent increase in business this year for Soccer American, which has stores in Columbia and Kensington. In jersey sales alone, the store are selling between 100 and 150 soccer jerseys a week compared with the usual 25, he said.

Maryland retailers say the hottest item is the U.S. soccer jersey, followed by Mexico’s jersey. But other products are going fast, too — T-shirts, shorts, soccer equipment and shoes. Adidas has even launched a World Cup shoe that can be customized to the owner’s country.

While Humburg characterizes Adidas and competitor Nike as “neck-and-neck” in soccer apparel sales at his stores, he said Baltimore-based Under Armour Inc. is making progress.

The company recently signed Clarence Goodson, an Alexandria, Va. native and defender on the U.S. World Cup team, to a multi-year deal. Goodson will be wearing a customized Under Armour boot in the World Cup, according to a company spokeswoman.

Juju Garabed, manager of Frederick Soccer, said his store also has been selling significantly more merchandise this year, especially during the last few weeks. U.S. soccer jerseys are selling “insanely quick,” he said, roughly 40 per week.

But he noted there’s also a rebound period where people come back to buy the jersey from a team going deep in the tournament.

“It’s kind of now the loyalists starting to pop out for the U.S. and Mexico,” he said Tuesday after selling the 8th U.S. jersey of the day. “I imagine when Brazil starts winning, those’ll fly. Soccer fans are kind of fickle that way — they don’t want to be associated with a loser.”

Meanwhile the places where these fans will proudly display their jerseys (at least until their team loses) are braced for nearly round-the-clock business for the first two weeks of the tournament, which will run at least two or three games each day.

The United States is scheduled to take on England in its first game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. But many of the games will start at 7:30 a.m. EST (1:30 p.m. in South Africa). Many bars are planning on opening at 7 a.m. those days accommodate fans.

“It’s like two separate worlds, it’s truly additional business,” said Gary Ouelletti, manager of Union Jack’s in Columbia. “Then you get the rest of the U.S. population that is not as into soccer, so they’ll come out to their normal lunch and normal dinner. It’s almost like an entirely different crowd for those times.”

Ouelletti said he expects the 400-seat restaurant to see a 20 percent bump in business during the four weeks of the World Cup.

“It’s a lot of fun — you kind of get that Baltimore Ravens playoff atmosphere … only it’s at seven o’clock in the morning,” he said.