Dressed in team colors, with temporary tattoos of the U.S. soccer crest adorning her cheek and forearm, Raley Bennett sat through a blizzard to watch the U.S. men’s soccer team play a qualifying match in Denver in March 2013.
Bennett, 28, of Edmond, followed that up with trips to Kansas City and Columbus, Ohio, to watch her favorite boys in red, white and blue clinch a World Cup berth.
So today, there’s no way she’s going to let a little thing like her job get in the way of watching when the American team takes to the pitch for their next big game.
An estimated 40 million U.S. television viewers tuned in for the United States’ first two World Cup matches against Ghana and Portugal, and excitement is high for today’s match against Germany; the possibility to advance to the next round of soccer’s premiere tournament is on the line.
But an 11 a.m. start time has some soccer fans adjusting their work schedules, making up excuses or downright lying to make sure they are out of the office, in some cases swapping a suit and tie for a jersey and face paint.
“I will be off for every single match,” said Bennett, who does social work for a private company and can set her own hours. “Guaranteed. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
Projections are that today’s two-hour “break” during the workday to watch the game will cost employers nationwide about $390 million in lost wages, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based employment consulting firm. By comparison, the NCAA basketball tournament, which runs over several days, costs American businesses about $1.2 billion. In reality, there’s probably very little employers can do to make soccer fans focus on their work, said company CEO John Challenger.
“Prepare for the fact that many workers could be taking an extended lunch on Thursday,” Challenger said. “Other employers will probably notice a significant drop off in Internet speeds, as bandwidth is consumed by multi-tasking employees attempting to get work done while streaming the game at their desks.”
In the Oklahoma City metro, the match is expected to cost employers about $2.3 million in lost wages, according to a chamber of commerce official.
While the drop in productivity might worry some employers, others are embracing the once-every-four-year tournament.
Reese Travis, chief executive officer for Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, said the 52 employees at company headquarters, located just off of May Avenue and Memorial Road, will be able to watch the match and cheer on the United States in a party atmosphere. Food will be catered and big screens television brought in.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” said Travis, adding that one of the company’s principals is laugh loud, hard and often.
“If we have a huge event like this that brings everyone together, where we can have lunch and high-five and build camaraderie instead of making a buck, then we are all for it,” he said.
Valir Health Care and Rehabilitation in downtown Oklahoma City plans to tune all of their televisions to ESPN and tell employees to watch as their schedule permits.
At Soccer USA, near May Avenue and Hefner Road, owner Oscar Ghanbari and his two employees will be watching. Having the game on won’t hamper his employees, he said.
“They will stop and help any customer that comes in and then they can go right back to watching the match,” Ghanbari said. “Usually the customer will stop and watch right along with us. The interest this year has been incredible.”
Joe Gutierrez owns Medio Tiempo, a southside bar that has enjoyed standing room crowds during several recent World Cup games, said he doesn’t know what excuses his customers use to get out of going to work. He doesn’t care. All he knows is that he’s gearing up for a huge day.
“I’ve had to double the staff for the bigger day games,” he said. “I’m not sure how they all get off work, but they are here.”
‘An important cause’
For those caught in a bind, seemingly unable to shake free from work, the national team’s coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, was kind enough to provide a form letter to submit to the boss seeking to have the absence excused.
“I can assure you it is for an important cause,” Klinsmann writes. “We will need the full support of the nation if we are to advance. By the way, you should act like a good leader and take the day off as well Go USA.”
Not every employer is caught up in cup fever.
Several Oklahoma City companies said they don’t plan to allow employees to watch the match during work hours. Others said they don’t have the capability to show the game.
“We would be but we don’t have the channels,” Teemco marketing director Beau Bohanan said. “I wish we could. I think it could be a fun thing to do together.”
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett sides with businesses who want their employees concentrating on the task at hand, not watching soccer.
“You are at work to work,” Cornett said. “That’s what DVR is for.”
But Eric Long, economic researcher with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks there could be long-term advantages in Oklahoma City’s growing love of soccer.
He said the lost productivity numbers don’t take into account an employee’s ability to work and watch at the same time. Plus, a lot of employees will work extra hours to make up for those spent watching the game.
Also, the increased interest in the World Cup might spur more passion for Oklahoma City’s new professional soccer team, Energy FC.
“In the long run, I think the benefits outweigh the cost,” Long said. “Every four years, we all become more of a soccer fan. Growing passions are good for all.”