The entire country is swept up in soccer fever, something that comes as quite a surprise to those of us raised on American sports such as baseball and football where a tie is like “kissing your sister” (as Bear Bryant used to say) and players can use their hands for something more than emoting. It is undeniable that soccer is here to stay (at least until NFL training camps open), and this includes in your office. According to Forbes, “World Cup fever has taken over workplaces … the few employees who are passionate soccer fans have talked of nothing else, and even soccer newbies — ‘newbs’ — have begun to learn names like Messi and Neymar.”
This presents a dilemma to the thoughtful manager. Most of the games are on during working hours in the USA. How do you maintain office discipline and productivity when the accounting staff wants to skip out to watch Ivory Coast vs. Japan — without coming off like a xenophobic #ScroogeMcDuck?
What you can’t do is pretend nothing is happening. According to #FIFA, the global tournament has set viewing records in a number of countries, including the USA. The USA-Portugal game (a gut-wrenching tie) was watched by more Americans than the NBA Finals (of course, so was #PropertyBrothers, I think).
What is going on here? Is this the long-awaited American embrace of soccer that edamame-eating soccer scolds have guilted us about for a quarter century or so? That all of a sudden we are sophisticated enough to appreciate the “beautiful game” that produces 0-0 scores?
I don’t think so (ask the NHL folks how long the hockey craze lasted in the USA after #MiracleonIce). Here is what is happening.
1. The World Cup turns #daydrinking turns into an act of patriotism. The games are televised during the day. Dad can come home hammered after work wearing face paint without the family staging an intervention.
2. It’s America against the world. Americans are nationalists at heart. Put USA jerseys on guys or girls playing a sport we aren’t very good at and pit us against another country and we go nuts — as long as we keep winning (or in the case of soccer, tying and losing, apparently).
3. We love hate-fueled rivalries. Somehow the word got out to the average American sports fan that other countries are nationalistic haters, too. Every match is like Alabama-Auburn on a football Saturday down South. Go to a soccer pub and check out Germany vs. France this weekend — not exactly historical BFFs — and you’ll see what I am talking about. People-watching the fans of other countries is fun, as long as you duck when fists fly. So even if we get knocked out by the Belgians on Tuesday, there are plenty of bandwagons left to jump upon.
4. The games are short. Soccer isn’t endless like a Yankees-Red Sox game on Sunday night TV. The clock keeps running, even when the players flop around on the ground as though they were chain-sawed, which seems to be most of the time.
So what do you do, thoughtful manager? Don’t fight it, embrace it. Shut down the office for the USA game this afternoon. It’s a lot better than the lame team-building exercises most of us employ. Take your folks out for refreshments of their choice at their favorite hangout — Starbucks, Baskin-Robbins, The Devils’ Liver Lounge and Package Store — their call. Pick up the tab. Wear red, white and blue. If the USA loses, start an office pool for the rest of the Cup and take them out again for the finals.
Don’t worry about a permanent breakdown of discipline. Like locusts, the World Cup only comes around every four summers or so. But your reputation as a cool boss will last forever.