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U.S. failure in World Cup qualifying hurts local bars

American soccer fans aren’t the only ones disheartened by the failure of Team USA to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Bar owners are equally distraught.

No games in the World Cup tournament featuring the American team means no chance to capitalize on the expected significant spike in off-peak-hours revenue next June and possibly into July.

Places like Brickwood Grill, at 250 Monroe Ave., and The Exchange, at 251 Exchange Blvd., were already planning ahead for the World Cup, the planet’s biggest soccer tournament that takes place every four years.

But when Team USA was eliminated from World Cup qualifying by Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago, it hurt future bar business in Rochester.

“Translating that into dollars isn’t easy but I’m sure it’s probably in the tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue (for us),” said Jeff Limuti, president of Brickwood Grill and managing partner at The Exchange.

The Brickwood has become home for the Rochester chapter of American Outlaws, a national fan club of avid soccer supporters. But for World Cup games, the Brickwood and most sports bars across the region saw casual sports fans showing up to cheer on Team USA at the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Women’s World Cup.

“You get people coming in wearing the American flag around them,” said Patrick Bairsto, general manager of The StoneYard at 1517 Empire Blvd. in Penfield. “People get excited when the U.S. is playing.”

Limuti was expecting big crowds at Brickwood, even though the games would be starting somewhere between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. The 2018 World Cup will be played in Russia.

“We were looking into putting projection screens in our parking lot and creating almost like an outdoor movie theater,” he said. “We don’t support just USA soccer, we support all soccer, but we’re passionate about the USA.”

Had the Americans qualified, they would have been guaranteed three games in the Group Stage (played between June 14 and 28), with games in the Round of 16 and beyond determined by winning. The World Cup final is July 15.

“For the Women’s World Cup in 2016 we bought newspaper, radio and TV ads and said come out to your favorite Salvatore’s to watch the U.S., and we did extremely well with it,” said Salvatore’s founder Sam Fantauzzo, aka “Soccer Sam” in Rochester.

His marketing strategy wasn’t meant to be a one-hit wonder, however. Nine of the 30 Salvatore’s locations across the Rochester area have beer, wine and big-screen TVs.

“If we marketed it right, then people who didn’t know about Salvatore’s Pizzeria & Pub would realize they can come out and watch other sporting events throughout the year,” Fantauzzo said.

That was Limuti’s intention too.

“People are out and about and supporting the country, and we can show off what we have to offer to people that might not ever come to Brickyard or the Exchange otherwise,” Limuti said.

Fantauzzo realizes bar and restaurant owners aren’t the only ones that will feel a hit from Team USA’s failure.

“Can you imagine all the warehouses that have all this U.S. soccer stuff ready to roll out,” he said.

Of course, even without an American entry for the first time in 32 years, the World Cup will go on.

“We’ll still be busier than normal,” Limuti said, “but it’s a different level when the U.S. is playing. It’s the same with football. When the (Buffalo) Bills are good, business is good.”

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