Jose Arriaga has run out of excuses for missing work to watch the U.S. men’s soccer team in the World Cup.
The births of his children, deaths of relatives and those pre-World Cup friendlies — all have eaten up his personal days. But after watching the Americans advance to the knockout round despite a 1-0 loss to Germany on Thursday, Arriaga is ready to bargain for a few more hours when the U.S. resumes play next week.
“If we would have lost and gotten knocked out, I would have second-guessed missing out on work,” said Arriaga, a 28-year-old who put off mortgage work for a watch party in Dallas. “But we advanced and I can’t miss that. I think I made the right decision.”
Tens of thousands of eager Americans like Arriaga set work aside to watch the game — with or without their bosses’ OK. Many more watched online as they could. ESPN tweeted that its online streaming application set a record with a peak of 1.7 million concurrent users, leading to limited issues the company blamed on “unprecedented demand.”
The match kicked off at noon Eastern time, right in the middle of the work day for many, but that didn’t stop crowds from filling bars and restaurants from Orlando, Florida, to Seattle and many points in between. The biggest turnouts were at watch parties in places like Chicago’s Grant Park, Dupont Circle in Washington and Bryant Park in New York.
The nail-biting lasted a full two hours, and most fans were stayed until the final whistle to make sure the Americans had advanced, thanks to goal differentials and the other early match of the day, a 2-1 Portugal victory over Ghana.
“I’m willing to get in trouble,” said Sugey Lozano, an account manager for a Chicago mortgage servicing firm who planned to take a long lunch as she watched the game in the lobby of her office building on a 12-by-22-foot screen.
It’s a time-honored American tradition to scramble for excuses whenever work gets in the way of the big game. But more and more companies are fine with workers watching at the office instead of losing them to a full “sick day.” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann did his part, posting an online note for people to give to their bosses that asked managers to excuse staff to watch the game for the good of the nation.
“By the way, you should act like a good leader and take the day off as well. Go USA!” he wrote.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation hosted a party for its staff of about 100 with a TV and food. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved an extra hour of lunch for all state employees so they could watch the whole game. Matt Rogers of the Washington-based Urban Institute, which held a party for its 400 employees, said the World Cup is a great way to build office morale.
“We don’t have many moments where you can find a common interest among a big chunk of that population,” he said. “Sports, and in particular a World Cup-type event with a national team — and tense and dramatic sporting moments — really bring people together.”
President Obama watched the match on Air Force One on his way to Minnesota. At the Transportation Department in Washington, officials worried that so many employees would watch online from their desks that it would slow down the agency’s computer network.
“We are going to monitor bandwidth utilization throughout the day and we’ll plan to block the streaming sites should we encounter any network issues,” Todd Simpson, the department’s associate chief information officer, warned in an email to workers.
John Challenger, the CEO of executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., estimated the match could cost U.S. companies $390 million in lost wages. But Challenger said the investment in something that brings staffers together might not be such a bad idea.
“It’s just like if you invite your team out to have drinks after work,” he said. “You’re spending it on enhanced morale and trust among your people.”
Of course, not everyone could watch the game at work or get the day off.
Dalton Hayes, a student at Simpson College in Iowa, asked for a few hours off from his summer job teaching swim lessons at a local pool.
When his supervisor balked, Hayes said he quit on the spot and now has to move in with his parents for the rest of the summer. He said it was worth it.
“I was just thinking, ‘I get to watch the game,‘” Hayes said.
Associated Press reporters Brett Zongker, Josh Lederman, Carla K. Johnson and Joan Lowy and Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.