‘Soccer bars,’ traditional Pittsburgh sports bars prep for Women’s World Cup quarterfinals
As the bar manager at what is almost universally known as Pittsburgh’s premier soccer pub, Hart Johnson’s job description often can be described as watching people watching soccer.
“Being in a room with 200 people absolutely elated that something happened,” Johnson said as he unloaded a box of whiskey and other spirits onto the bar at Piper’s Pub earlier this week, “it’s contagious and infectious.”
Johnson feels that energy when a couple of buddies dig into some bangers and mash at dawn on a winter Saturday to watch West Ham play Aston Villa.
But the palpable electricity at Piper’s can reach another level during the ongoing Women’s World Cup.
“The U.S. women’s team is obviously an elite team,” Johnson said. “They are in the World Cup. You can’t say that about the men’s team. It’s exciting for that (reason) — and plus, the women’s team seems to be on a straight mission to annihilate everyone, which people seem to really embrace, too.”
For our noon @uswnt match w Spain we've got a grilled Chorizo burger topped w provolone, vinegar slaw, charred green onion on a fresh bap w salt & pepper chips. Soup is a Spring Onion Veggie Stew. pic.twitter.com/QyhqYFt9kW
— Pipers Pub (@piperspub) June 24, 2019
In winning its four World Cup games by an aggregate score of 20-1, the U.S. has captured the attention not only of local soccer enthusiasts but also others in the area. Monday’s Round of 16 victory against Spain attracted a 2.01 rating and 7 share in the Pittsburgh market, according to Fox Sports publicist Jenn Inglesino.
For context, that’s roughly the rating the Stanley Cup playoffs got on whole in the market on NBC (albeit, the six games of the Stanley Cup Final drew an average of 5.3, per the network). For the entirety of the first 16 days of the Women’s World Cup, the Pittsburgh market drew a 0.65 rating and 2 share.
On Friday, the local television audience is expected to be its highest yet for the American women. The U.S. plays a quarterfinal against France, the host nation and one of the few teams thought to have the talent to compete with Team USA.
For a game being played in a time zone across the Atlantic, a 3 p.m. kickoff on a Friday is almost an ideal broadcast time, too.
“I expect a big crowd on Friday,” said Jeff Butya of All Star Sports Bar & Grill in Robinson. “It starts at (3 p.m.) here, people are going to blow off work. They are going to take a later lunch or they are going to blow half the day off and they are going to come watch the games. There is no doubt about it. The interest is up.”
While Piper’s is the quintessential “soccer bar” in Pittsburgh, All Star Grill is a more traditional gathering spot for Western Pennsylvania sports fans. But Butya said business was up dramatically Monday for the U.S.-Spain match.
— David Highfield (@DavidHighfield) May 11, 2017
“The people that were in here Monday, they came to watch soccer,” said Butya, who has been in the bar business for more than three decades. “And people are already talking about Friday’s game.
“People are starving for something now. The Penguins went out too early. I am a huge Penguins bar, so they are dying for sports. So they’re hopping on the women’s bandwagon. And the people who come, they know the game. They know what’s going on.”
That’s a given at Piper’s, with its British Isles theme where the everyday clientele often skews soccer-centric.
“All told, we show thousands of games each year over every imaginable league and competition,” Piper’s owner Drew Topping said. “I wouldn’t call them viewing parties; it’s just what we do.”
Topping said Team USA was the biggest draw during the group stage but the knockout stage has brought in supporters of other teams.
“The men’s team, you get a lot more people just seemingly out have a good time, celebrate and chant ‘U-S-A,’” Johnson said. “The women’s team, you get people wearing actually women’s team kits (uniforms) and know the players.
“These are important games, world-wide games. And if you need to be around people that are watching it just like you, what better place?”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .