The World Cup may be about soccer, but for hundreds of businesses in Burbank and Glendale the quadrennial international tournament may be a ticket out of the recession.
Merchants, restaurateurs and hotel operators in both cities are preparing for a swell in business as about 800,000 tourists descend on the Southland to watch eight matches, including the finals, played at the Rose Bowl.
Between June 17 and July 17, as much as $622 million in tourism dollars will be pumped into the region's economy, according to World Cup organizers.
"It's been a longtime recession. We see this as a stimulus," said Glendale Mayor Eileen Givens, where police are training with those of Pasadena and Burbank to provide crowd control and security at the matches.
"Glendale is anonymous to a lot of people who don't live here. This is a chance to make a name for ourselves. We're looking to seize the opportunity."
The Glendale Galleria and businesses along Central Avenue and Brand Boulevard will be ready to welcome the hordes of international visitors with open arms and cash registers. At the Galleria, a number of stores are prominently displaying World Cup merchandise, from T-shirts and caps to jackets.
But in Burbank, city officials are unsure of what to expect from the world's largest sporting event and have largely avoided promoting the city to arriving visitors.
Unlike any sporting event to ever come to town, the World Cup takes place at nine venues nationwide and is 31 days long. That's 31 days of tourists shopping, dining and finding other ways to spend money.
Because the games will be played at the Rose Bowl, businesses in Glendale and Burbank are hoping sightseers don't stray too far when looking for things to do.
"What's making us happy is we've heard they're very good shoppers," said Donna Lum, marketing director for the Media City Center mall in Burbank.
"During the (1984) Olympics, people heard so much negative that everyone left town. The difference here is we're anticipating, happily, more people coming in. We're in a different economic situation. We need the shoppers."
In Glendale, where soccer is as popular as baseball, city officials have spent $15,000 to organize local activities related to the World Cup and hire a public-relations firm. The activities include a soccer relay along an 18-mile course on June 11 and street parties June 24 and July 15.
Soon, the World Cup logo will appear on public buses and banners along Brand Boulevard.
In contrast, Burbank city officials--with the exception of Police Chief Dave Newsham--say they have made little effort to prepare for the event, partly because they are uncertain of what to expect from a tournament that has never taken place in this country.
The Burbank Airport "is going to get a lot of business," Burbank Mayor Bill Wiggins said. "But whether Burbank will, I don't know.
"I don't mean to be blase. I'm not in any way playing the event down. I just don't see Burbank playing a large part in the World Cup matches."
The Burbank Chamber of Commerce originally intended to let its retail committee work on promotions related to the World Cup. But that plan fell through when the committee chairman left Burbank to take another job, said Zoe Taylor, the chamber's executive director.
"It's just not something we've done a lot of work on," Taylor said.
The threat of terrorism and soccer's reputation for attracting devout and sometimes violent followers has law enforcement agencies planning ahead.
Officers at the Burbank and Glendale police departments will be on call to back up the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Pasadena police if needed.
"On the one hand, this is a neat way to bring people together," Newsham said. "On the other hand, there are some countries with centuries of rivalry."
At the Red Lion Hotel in Glendale and the Burbank Airport Hilton, reservations for the monthlong tournament have been slower than anticipated, with the exception of the final week.
The Red Lion, one of four hotels in the Los Angeles area where the international media will be lodged, had set aside 200 of its 348 rooms for World Cup attendees.
But only about half of those blocked rooms have been reserved, said Janet Waldie, the hotel's marketing director.
The teams scheduled to play at the Rose Bowl do not have followings as strong as other teams, she said, and the final matchups have not been determined.
"The impact in the Los Angeles area will be more, per se, over finals week," she said. "I think there will be an economic impact. It just may not be to the extent originally thought."