Merchants Hope World Cup Kick-Starts Slow Economy : Soccer: Businesses bet on a $623-million bonanza. Residents dread crowds. So far, hotel bookings lag.
Tom Rosenstein spent an afternoon fixing his espresso machine, ordering foreign cigarettes and figuring out how to say “Welcome World Cup” in 15 languages.
With tens of thousands of tourists descending on the Rose Bowl in a few weeks to watch seven matches and the championship of the international soccer tournament, Rosenstein and hundreds of other merchants and restaurateurs are hoping the event will be their ticket out of the financial doldrums.
World Cup organizers figure the tournament will give a $623-million kick to the region’s economy between June 17 and July 17--a month of tourists shopping, dining and finding other ways to spend money.
Already, a world class marketing blitz has begun to overtake Los Angeles. At the corner convenience store you can buy your official World Cup mug. For your official World Cup wardrobe--from hat to shoes--stop by any of your favorite malls. On the way there, of course, you will undoubtedly see billboards pitching the products of some of the tournament’s sponsors.
By the time the final game arrives, the World Cup’s mascot, Striker the Dog, could rival Barney the Dinosaur as Los Angeles’ most overexposed celebrity.
Just how big is all this supposed to get? Some Pasadena officials say it will be like cramming the crowds of eight Rose Parades into a span of less than a month. If the numbers hold, it would be a dream come true for the Chamber of Commerce, but a nightmare for some of the city’s residents.
For example, forget about a July wedding in Pasadena. Hotel and reception rooms in the city are a scarce commodity during the final week of the tournament, although room bookings during June have been disappointingly low.
While Pasadena plans dozens of events to lure tourists, some residents have begun plotting their escape.
“The traffic, the noise,” said Rosemary Lonergan, who lives near the Rose Bowl. “I’m going to Santa Barbara.”
Traffic, crowds and revenue estimates aside, American soccer buffs are using the event as an opportunity to tout their sport.
During June and July, soccer groups and officials throughout the Los Angeles area will be sponsoring workshops and cultural festivals to raise community awareness and bring together locals and foreign visitors.
Rosenstein, who owns the Pasadena Creamery yogurt shop and the General Store in Old Pasadena, said he is determined to get in on the action.
“During the 1984 Olympics, we were all supposed to get rich and that didn’t happen,” Rosenstein said. “I’m going to keep my expectations realistic. I don’t expect to make a year’s worth of revenue in one month. But we hope to get our share of what’s out there.”
If the giant welcome sign fails to lure customers into his Colorado Boulevard yogurt shop, Rosenstein will offer another incentive to hungry tourists: an international ice cream sundae, complete with French vanilla ice cream and Italian gelato, espresso-flavored.
“You’ve got to be creative if you want to compete,” he said.
Mark Tourgeman, owner of the nearby World Classics clothing store, hopes to win over visitors with used Levi’s and a wide selection of bowling shirts, the kind Dad used to wear in the ‘50s.
“Retro. Everything is very, very retro,” Tourgeman said.
And for the foreign travelers who are into the Seattle scene, Tourgeman has expanded the grungewear section.
“We figure everything American will be big sellers,” he said.
Around the corner at Game Trends, a novelty shop off Colorado Boulevard, store manager Erin Noonan has spent the past four months stocking up on World Cup trinkets.
For $12.99, you can buy a candy jar with a miniature soccer ball and shoes sealed inside the glass lid. A pack of playing cards decorated with the World Cup emblem is available for $4.50. And for big spenders, there’s a giant nylon banner picturing a soccer ball. The price: $53.
There’s another benefit from the tournament besides increased tourism dollars, Noonan said. It’s the foreign men.
“I have visions of Raul Julia and Andy Garcia,” said Noonan, age 19 and single. Grinning, she added: “It will be very, very nice to see the Spanish and the Colombian guys.”
Bride-to-be Amanda Beall, however, dreads the giant soccer fest. She had no idea what the World Cup was--until a few months ago, when she started planning her July 23 wedding in neighboring San Marino.
Now she is struggling to find hotel rooms in Pasadena to accommodate relatives when they arrive from Connecticut the week of the championship game.
“I called literally five or six hotels looking for rooms. Nothing,” she said. “Picking this date was a big, big mistake. If I had known, I would have totally done it differently. Can you imagine the human overload in Pasadena?”
Even in a city that has become accustomed to throngs of people descending on its doorstep for the Rose Bowl every New Year’s Day and for an occasional Super Bowl, this will be a challenge.
“It’s just going to be terribly difficult to get in and out of our houses,” said Lonergan, who lives on a street north of the stadium. “The Rose Bowl is different. It’s over in one day. But this is going to go on all month.
“Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions that are not valid. We’ll probably all survive, although a little worse for the wear. I can tell you, I’ve written all the game dates down on my calendar.”
The Rose Bowl schedule goes like this:
On June 4, the United States and Mexico will play an exhibition game. On June 18, the tournament starts with Colombia playing Romania. On June 19, it’s Cameroon vs. Sweden. On June 22, the U.S. team plays Colombia. And on June 26, the United States plays Romania.
The second round will be held July 3, the semifinals July 13, and the third- and fourth-place games July 16. The championship game is July 17. Tickets--which range from $30 to $75--are sold out for most games.
Unlike any other sporting event, the World Cup takes place at nine venues nationwide, including San Francisco, Dallas and Washington, D.C.
For its part, Pasadena has extensive plans to keep the soccer fans--who are often boisterous and sometimes violent--under control.
Several weeks ago, the city announced that it would prohibit alcohol within the Rose Bowl. It has also asked all residents living around the stadium to apply for special parking permits just to get to their homes.
The Pasadena Police Department, which has been undergoing riot training, will bolster its force with officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol.
“There will be eight days of crowds even larger than Jan. 1,” Pasadena Mayor Kathryn Nack said. “We are doing everything we can to make it bearable for the families who live on the edge of the Rose Bowl.”
Norman and Trudi Bradley, who have lived on Linda Vista Avenue next to the Rose Bowl for 30 years, said they are trying to be optimistic.
“Of course it presents an inconvenience to us because of the traffic problems,” Trudi Bradley said. “But at the same time it is very exciting for Pasadena to have this happening here.”
Some Pasadena hotel officials, however, are worried that the city may be overestimating the crowds. As of last week, there were still rooms available during the tournament.
“This is somewhat of a disappointment to us,” said Robert Yeoman, general manager for the Pasadena Hilton. “Going into the program, we had assumed that we would be full during the entire 30 days of the tournament. But during the first few weeks, we still have plenty of rooms available.”
During the final week, however, the hotel is completely booked, Yeoman said.
“We think this is going to be a nail-biter to the bitter end,” he said about filling the hotel.
Pasadena is not the only Southern California community trying to attract the tourists.
In neighboring Glendale, 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 June 11 and street parties June 24 and July 15.
At the Glendale Galleria, a number of stores are prominently displaying World Cup merchandise, from T-shirts and caps to jackets.
“It’s been a longtime recession. We see this as a stimulus,” Glendale Mayor Eileen Givens said. “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.”
But it’s not all about making money. It’s about winning converts.
“If not now, never,” said Frank Rojas, president of the California Soccer Assn. and a local official for the World Cup in Los Angeles.
Groups throughout the region will participate in SoccerFest, a giant soccer expo, in an effort to attract players to the sport. The event, which will be held at the Los Angeles Convention Center July 8-17, will feature international entertainment, educational displays, soccer clinics and player appearances. Meanwhile, four soccer fields will be constructed in central Los Angeles.
The increased attention brought by the World Cup seems to be paying off for soccer buffs.
Rojas said that when he became president of the California Soccer Assn. in 1990, there were about 23,000 adult members in Southern California. Now there are 40,000.
“For the first time there are full-blown color pictures in the newspapers and soccer scores on the radio stations,” Rojas said. “That should generate an awful lot of new members.
“We already have 17 million people playing soccer countrywide. If they don’t (play), they will.”
Times staff writer Vivien Lou Chen contributed to this story.