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Oklahoma City employers prepare for World Cup hooky

The United States’ men’s soccer team plays Germany at 11 a.m. Thursday in Brazil to try to clinch a World Cup berth in the globe’s premiere tournament. Companies are bracing for many employers being absent with the game during the work day.
by Adam Kemp Published: June 26, 2014

photo - 
Fans of the U.S. national soccer team gather to cheer before the Group G World Cup match between the United States and Portugal on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. AP Photo
  Leo Correa -
Fans of the U.S. national soccer team gather to cheer before the Group G World Cup match between the United States and Portugal on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. AP Photo Leo Correa -

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.

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by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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