Bar owners say TV means smaller crowds

The prospect of Spain advancing through to the first round was not enough to draw out a big crowd at The Abbey Tavern on Monday afternoon, and bar owners said increased access to televised games during this World Cup may be partly to blame.

The Richmond District bar was virtually empty when striker Jawhar Menari put the ball in the back of the net to give the upset-minded Tunisian side an early 1-0 lead.

The decision by ESPN to

broadcast every game of the World Cup is proof of the game’s growing popularity in the United States, but it may have hurt business at bars that cater to soccer-starved fans.

The Abbey is something of an institution during the Scottish and English Premier League seasons, and it saw some big crowds during the 2004 European Soccer Championship, which was not carried on any major network. But with the early start times and the wide availability of both live and tape-delayed broadcasts, there hasn’t been the same sort of turnout for many of the group matches, according to Dermot and Tom Coll, the brothers who own and operate the bar.

Still, the Colls are optimistic about the coming weeks. “We’ve had good crowds on the weekends,” Dermot Coll said.

“When Brazil played, we got a good turnout, and we were packed to capacity for the U.S.-Italy match. And when it’s time for the knockout stage, people will want a soccer atmosphere.”

Sure enough, patrons straggled in as the match went along, and there were enough fans to let out a loud yell as Spain equalized in the 71st minute and then pulled ahead four minutes later thanks to a beautiful tap from Fernando Torres. Torres scored a second goal off a penalty kick in the 90th minute to put Spain through to the next round. While there were no Spanish backers, there was an appreciation for the artistry of the scores, as well as for the effort of the plucky Tunisians.

Spain’s late effort wasn’t enough to convince the Coll brothers of their quality — when asked who they thought would win the Cup, Tom and Dermot called out in unison, “Argentina” — but it was enough to get the regulars talking about the knockout stage of the competition. For soccer bars like The Abbey, it can’t come soon enough.

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