DENVER — Never mind that there were dozens of TV sets at the bar, many turned to pro wrestling, poker and bowling to provide background noise early one weekend morning. Jon Forget walked in, asked the bartender to change one set to soccer and got laughed out of the joint.
Fast forward almost two decades and there’s no room to sit at the bar Forget runs these days. His concept for a soccer pub near downtown Denver is taking off, and a new generation of American-born soccer fans piled in by the hundreds Thursday to watch the U.S. advance to the World Cup knockout round despite a 1-0 loss to Germany.
Forget’s success at the 3-year-old Three Lions pub is a microcosm of what’s happening around America during the World Cup. Social media numbers are strong, TV ratings are setting records and, other than Brazil, no country’s fans have bought more tickets to the games than those from the United States.
All this in a country that long fought against soccer’s global intrigue, even though the number of American kids playing the game has been rising slowly for decades.
“Over the past 25-30 years, you’ve seen people come over here from around the world and they know the game and they start influencing Americans,” Forget said. “This generation has the proper training, a lot more have played at a high level. They understand the game. It’s not boring to them.”
In fact, just the opposite.
Merritt Paulson, who owns the MLS Portland Timbers franchise that regularly sells out its 21,000-seat stadium, calls the burgeoning group of 20-something soccer fans — many having taken their high school passion into recreational adult leagues — the “on-demand generation.”
“They want what they want, when they want it and how they want it,” Paulson said. “It’s that shorter attention span. The fact that soccer games are two hours, start to finish, win, lose or draw, with very condensed action, fits very well into the psychographics of those folks.”