Cheers and beers surround US team

DETROIT - Football may not be the national sport, but Americans in bars, on Wall Street trading floors and even in the White House are cheering hard for their team during its World Cup run.

Striker Landon Donovan's last-gasp goal against Algeria on Wednesday allowed the American team to advance to the knockout round for a game against Ghana on Saturday. Many Americans celebrated.

Bars from New York to Houston to San Francisco enjoyed the World Cup's early-morning first-round games that boosted demand for beers and breakfasts, and more of the same is expected on Saturday.

"We wouldn't have a single person here because we wouldn't even be open yet," said Jason King, general manager of the Claddagh Irish Pub outside Detroit, where about 100 fans clad in red, white and blue drank beer at 10am EDT and cheered for the U.S. team playing against Slovenia last week.

Soccer is a growing sport in the United States and the World Cup, being played in South Africa, will help if TV audiences are any indication.

The U.S. soccer team's game versus England drew almost 17 million viewers between Walt Disney Co's ABC network and Spanish-language Univision, making it the country's most-viewed first-round World Cup match ever, while ESPN's broadcast of the critical third game against Algeria was the most-watched soccer game in the sports network's history.

King said business was up as much as 15 percent, and dinner business had not suffered. Others among the 500,000 U.S. bars and restaurants said sales were up as much as 20 percent as many opened at 6a. EDT to show early-round games.

"Basically, anybody who has a TV has seen business pick up," said Bruce Grindy, chief economist with the National Restaurant Association.

Retailers also caught the wave, as companies selling licensed goods online or in stores saw an increase in sales, said Daniel Butler, National Retail Federation's vice president of retail operations.

"As we have more and more people who have come from other parts of the world to live here, it's broadened the interest in the sport," he said. "There's potential down the road for this to be as big as the Super Bowl."

Since the American squad began qualifying again for the World Cup tournament in 1990, it has seldom been seen as a threat, advancing out of group play only twice before this year.


Large U.S. companies like the World Cup too.

On Wednesday, Nike Inc, the largest global player in the athletic shoe and clothing market, said revenue for soccer-related gear was up 39 percent during the fourth quarter.

"And that's before the first goal was scored at the World Cup," Chief Executive Mark Parker said on a conference call.

Nine World Cup teams, including the United States and Brazil, are sporting Nike uniforms and England is wearing a jersey bearing the company's Umbro brand.

Meanwhile, on Wall Street trading floors, roars were heard after each American goal as traders gathered around TVs to watch the U.S. team in the first-round games.

"A lot of people are following the game and rooting hard," said Gordon Charlop, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.