They were shoehorned and sardined in every crevice and cranny and stairstep not for America’s Game (football), for which this sort of thing might seem routine, but for the World’s Game (futbol).
They dressed up in gaudy gear and preened for the ESPN camera that kept flashing to the scene, so many times it might have seemed as if Kansas City were the center of the U.S. soccer universe.
Indeed, Downtown Kansas City has been in the eye of the World Cup hurricane as the U.S. bolded battled in its three-game run. The Power & Light District, an official FIFA World Cup watch party, attracted at least 10,000 fans to each of the U.S. games — making it one of the most watched Watch Parties in the nation and the planet.
According to Tuesday’s Kansas City Star:
Cheers more than 10,000 strong of “USA, USA” washed over into McFadden’s Sports Saloon in the Power & Light District last last. Bar manager Josh Ditto looked around and smiled. “I bet you have never seen anything like this,” he said.
Ditto said the nearly 13,000 people gathered to watch the United States’ World Cup match versus Germany was liveliest crowd he had ever seen in the district.
With thousands more expected to pour into the KC Live area of the district, adorning flags and
face paint for today’s game against Belgium, some wonder whether this atmosphere can be repeated.
“All I can say is that I sure hope so,” Ditto said with a laugh. Maybe. But it might be difficult.
The growing fan base of Sporting Kansas City has helped create some rare magic for the district, Executive Director Nick Benjamin said. Plus there’s one other element: The entire crowd is cheering as one for the same team. This year has put the Power & Light District on a national stage, with airtime on ESPN and The Associated Press naming it a top five watch party for World Cup fans. It is why Power & Light and KC Live were created, Benjamin said.
“Thanks to the World Cup, we’ve become the biggest living room in the Midwest,” Benjamin said. “There is something unique about the environment that’s been created over the last three weeks. It’s hard to replicate but exciting to be a part of.”
The turnout may mean the district is finally coming into its own, Assistant City Manager Rick Usher said. The city has invested heavily in the eight-block retail and entertainment district since it opened in 2007, and a number of Downtown projects have launched in the area, he said.
“It was envisioned as becoming the metro area’s living room,” Usher said. “That’s shown to be true with these World Cup events. It will be an ongoing activity to capitalize on the success, but they’ve shown they can throw an incredible party.”
The district was designed with the hope it eventually would repay the $295 million in bonds the city issued for its development with tax revenue from its restaurants and shops.
The revenue has not been close to projection, however, forcing the city to provide a $10 million to $15 million annual subsidy to cover the shortfall and leaving a large portion for taxpayers to cover.
Councilwoman Jan Marcason said the World Cup watch parties have been a high point for the district, one she said she hopes builds momentum for other sporting events, such as the NCAA basketball Final Four and Big 12 Conference tournaments.
“It’s becoming a tradition in Kansas City to share these events with neighbors and strangers from all over the metro area who come in,” said Marcason, who attended World Cup watch parties at Power & Light four years ago and hopes to make it out again this year. “I believe it’s just going to keep growing.”
While World Cup crowds only happen for the district every four years, Benjamin said the growth in popularity of this year’s games is encouraging. He said that when the district first hosted World Cup watch parties four years ago, the crowds, which totaled about 35,000 people, came as a surprise.
And, since the crowds for Tuesday’s game against Belgium once again reached capacity at 13,000, as all USA matches did this year, the district topped the 2010 World Cup’s number by more than 10,000 people.
“The outpouring has been incredible. We’ve been at capacity every game,” Benjamin said. “It’s exciting this year, but it’s not surprising anymore.”