The world's biggest sporting event — the World Cup — starts Friday in South Africa, kicking off a monthlong drink fest at area bars.
Many will open early to show the morning games live on ESPN. South Africa is six hours ahead, meaning the matches will air locally at 7:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Matches run daily through July 11, with none of them airing live during prime evening bar time. The schedule isn't ideal for working folks, but it's better than previous tournaments. The 2002 World Cup held jointly in Korea and Japan had games in the middle of the night. The last Cup, in 2006, was in Germany, also six hours ahead.
Bar officials hope the daytime schedule gets people out early and keeps them there later.
"This only happens every four years,'' said Matthew Nigriny, a manager at Old Northeast Tavern in St. Petersburg, which is opening for the 7:30 a.m. games. "Diehard soccer fans really change their schedules to see the games."
Like never before, local bars and restaurants are jumping on the soccer bandwagon and showing the games. Nationally, the World Cup has never received this much attention. ESPN, and its partner, ABC, is showing all 64 games.
"I'm seeing that the more traditional bars that don't normally show soccer are promoting it," said Ray Lopez of Tampa, a longtime fan and member of the American Outlaws cheering group for the U.S. soccer team. "It goes to show that it's becoming more a part of the mainstream culture."
Fans credit this year's return of the Tampa Bay Rowdies — technically FC Tampa Bay — for the surge in local interest. They also see it as further proof that Tampa Bay wants — and deserves — to land the Cup in 2018 or 2022.
Ground zero for Cup watching will be MacDinton's Irish Pub in South Tampa, which has gotten notice nationwide as one of the country's top soccer bars. It's the home bar for the Tampa chapter of the American Outlaws and the only official U.S. Soccer bar in Central Florida.
MacDinton's will open early for all 10 a.m. matches and the higher profile 7:30 a.m. games. The main event will be World Cup Family Fanfest in the bar's parking lot, with a mini soccer field, barbecue grills and a 10- by 14-foot TV. Presented in part by former Rowdies player and manager Rodney Marsh, the event will benefit the EJJE Soccer Academy, which helps underprivileged youth.
"Last time, (the Cup) caught us a little bit off guard,'' said manager Chris Sweeney. "This year we wanted to be prepared.''
The first Fanfest is Saturday, when United States takes on England in their first match. Others are July 3 for the quarterfinals and July 11 for the final.
Mike Fera, the head of the Tampa American Outlaws, hopes for a sea of red, white and blue, especially on Saturday.
"The last thing I want to be is outnumbered by Brits," he said.
And the party won't end there. After the USA/England match, his group will change into their green and yellow and head to the Rowdies game.
Games to watch
The United States plays three games in the first round: Saturday vs. England at 2:30 p.m.; June 18 vs. Slovenia at 10 a.m.; and June 23 vs. Algeria at 10 a.m. For the geographically disadvantaged, Slovenia is a small country bordering Italy on the east. Algeria is in North Africa. The United States is favored to beat them both but could run into trouble against England.
Where to watch the World Cup
MacDinton's Irish Pub in Tampa will host the World Cup Family Funfest at 11 a.m. Saturday. Admission is $10 and includes three drink tickets. Kids under 16 are free (but aren't allowed inside the bar). MacDinton's, 405 S Howard Ave.; (813) 251-8999. Parties are also scheduled for games on July 3 and July 11. MacDinton's may be soccer central in South Tampa, but it's not the only area bar or restaurant pulling out the flags, imported beer and soccer jerseys for the Cup:
Courtside Grille: Partly owned by NBA star Matt Geiger, this bar loves every sport that involves a ball. For the bigger Cup matches, look for food and drink specials that coincide with the competing countries. (tacos for Mexico, Spaten beer for Germany). The bar opens at 11 a.m. but might start earlier for major games. The St. Pete location is expected to be rowdier than the Westchase one. 110 Fountain Parkway N, St. Pete. (727) 561-7433 ; 13901 Nine Eagles Drive, Westchase, (813) 818-7433. courtsidegrille.com.
Dubliner Irish Pub: The Citrus Park location will open for every game, including the early ones. For Saturday's match, the pub will host a kickoff party starting at 7 a.m. with breakfast skillets and a free barbecue in the afternoon. Wannabe soccer stars can take penalty shots at an outdoor goal for prizes or buy World Cup buckets of five imported beers for $15. You pick the kind. The South Tampa location will open for the 2:30 p.m. games Monday through Thursday and for the 10 a.m. games Friday through Sunday. 12836 Henderson Road, Citrus Park, (813) 300-2076; 2307 W Azeele St., Tampa, (813) 258-2257. thedublineririshpub.com.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen: The name pretty much sums up the bar's loyalty, so don't be surprised if Brits outnumber U.S. fans on Saturday. The bar will likely get jammed for England's other first-round games on June 18 and June 23. It'll open at 10 a.m. every day there's a game. 4115 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 832-3037. maddogs.com.
Madeleina Cottage: Owned by a Brit and named after a place in Malta, this restaurant hopes to pack in English and European fans. It normally opens at 9:30 a.m. but might open earlier if demand warrants it. Twenty-ounce draft beers will be a buck off: $4 for imports and $3 for domestics. The bar is also adding a casual menu with wings, hot dogs, fried shrimp and onion rings. 357 Corey Ave., St. Pete Beach; (727) 367-1727. madeleinacottage.us.
Old Northeast Tavern: Fans can roll out of bed and stumble to this neighborhood bar starting at 7:30 a.m. The kitchen doesn't open until 11 a.m., but they'll bring in croissants and coffee for breakfast. First call for beer is at 8 a.m. One of the bartenders is from South Africa, so if you like what you see on TV, tip him well. 201 Seventh Ave. N, St. Pete; (727) 821-8070. oldnortheasttavern.com.
Press Box: This football- fan favorite will open at 10 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, to accommodate the mid-morning games. Features: About half of the 35 TVs will show the matches, all in high-def. 222 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 876-3528. pressboxsports.com.
Tank's Tap Room: Home of 51 kinds of draft beer and an outdoor beer garden, Tank's plans to open early for all the 7:30 a.m. matches and serve breakfast. Just call ahead to make sure the staff didn't oversleep. 13150 N Dale Mabry Highway, Carrollwood; (813) 961-2337. tankstaproom.com.
World of Beer: With 500 kinds of beers from around the world, fans from every country will feel at home here. Most locations will open for the 7:30 a.m. games, quite a departure from the normal 3 p.m. opening time. During matches, bars will have beer specials and giveaways of glassware and apparel. Westchase, Tampa Palms, Carrollwood and St. Petersburg. For addresses, wobusa.com.