Retailers across South Florida are joining the FIFA World Cup craze — and hoping to bank off it, too.
While the normal hotels, bars and stores are doing their part, some unexpected events — think poetry readings on South Beach and soccer-themed makeovers — have cropped up as well.
Even though Miami is thousands of miles away from the soccer action that will start Thursday in Brazil, it is well-positioned as a way station for travelers and teams: Miami International Airport, with service to 10 of the 12 World Cup cities, expects a 30 percent increase in travel to Brazil between Thursday and the end of July.
And tourism boosters have mobilized to promote Miami as a soccer destination in its own right, marketing “Miami Soccer Summer” with hotel packages, watch parties and events such as the Guinness International Champions Cup final later in the summer.
“Yes, Miami is this great gateway to Brazil, but Miami will also be this summer a great destination for all things soccer leading up to the World Cup and after the World Cup,” said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s the next best thing to being there.”
Some hoteliers say they have seen an uptick in business due partially to World Cup travelers this June, typically one of the slower months of the year.
Mike Kovensky, director of sales and marketing at the InterContinental Miami, said occupancy is “north of 90” percent, an increase of seven percentage points compared to a year ago.
“I think you’ll see two major bumps: just prior and just after, and you’ll see some sprinkling in between,” he said.
The Courtyard Cadillac Miami Beach Oceanfront, which has a “soccer summer” package that includes a free cabana and welcome caipirinha — considered Brazil’s national cocktail — is noticing strong traffic from travelers in the Northeast corridor heading to South America.
And general manager Joseph LaFleur has noticed another trend. “We’re also seeing people that would normally travel in July or August from South America coming a little earlier, to try to get their vacation earlier,” he said.
At the newly opened Traymore Restaurant and Bar at the Metropolitan by COMO in Miami Beach, general manager Javier Beneyto said he hopes to give customers an intimate environment where they can to watch the games. The restaurant will offer two 15-to-20-people suites that will play each match.
“It’s like watching a game with friends, but in a hotel,” said Beneyto, who will be rooting for his native Spain.
Some of the other perks for World Cup viewers will include reduced valet parking fees, discounted imported beers and a special tapas menu. Beneyto said he expects to make some profit from the World Cup specials, but hopes the real benefit will emerge from engaging the community.
“It’s not always about making money,” he said.
Argentinean restaurant Nahuen, which has been selling World Cup merchandise since it opened 13 years ago, is also seeking to cater to customers’ wishes.
Mario Milano, president of the restaurant with locations in Doral and Key Biscayne, said that because about 90 percent of Nahuen’s clientele is Hispanic, many asked the business to sell merchandise commemorating their favorite sport’s biggest showdown.
Nahuen sells T-shirts, flags, keychains, calenders, mascot souvenirs and Panini stickers, their most popular item. Like Beneyto, Milano said he doesn’t expect rake in much profit from such sales, but rather hopes to satisfy customers eager to show off their World Cup fanaticism.
Real estate development companies are jumping in on the action, too. The Marina Palms Yacht Club & Residences Sales Center in North Miami Beach will host viewing parties for the Brazil matches, starting with the Thursday’s game.
Sales director Michael Internoscia said the events are meant to cater to their many Brazilian buyers, who make up about 40 percent of residents, but are open to anyone.
Among other events:• The Coral Gables Museum is adding some culture to the sport with an exhibit showcasing the architecture of the 12 stadiums hosting games in Brazil.
• The Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach is also taking an artistic approach, hosting two “world poetry soccer” events before matches.
• The Miami Seaquarium is discounting admission for fans who show up in their teams’ gear, starting with 15 percent off in the first round and increasing to 50 percent off for fans of the two final teams.
• Even the Aventura Mall is getting into the spirit, adding themed displays, selling official merchandise and hosting events such as mini World Cup makeovers by Sephora and MAC.
But it seems no place will be celebrating as much as Fado Irish Pub in Brickell.
Eighteen TVs will be ready to show all 64 matches with sound for an expected 600 guests during each major showdown, said bar manager J.R. Baal. Customers can expect appetizer specials, beer-bundling packages and $5 draft deals.
The festivities will begin with an opening party Thursday when Brazil plays Croatia, including a Brazilian drum line and samba dancers, and end with a block party July 13 to celebrate the finals.
And for customers who want to test their soccer expertise, Fado will also host its 2014 Cup Brackets Challenge, like the NCAA basketball bracket challenge, with a $1 million grand prize going to the person who correctly predicts the outcome of each game. Smaller prizes for partially correct brackets include gift cards, a $500 Fado party and a 60-inch TV.
Baal said this is the first year Fado is having its World Cup event in Miami, and he expects June and July to be its busiest months thanks to the promotions.
“I truly believe this will open up Brickell, if not Miami, to really establish ourselves as the place to watch international sports, especially soccer and rugby,” Baal said.
Stephen Sloane, a British tourist from Birmingham, came to Miami with friends on his way to Brazil to watch England play friendly matches against Ecuador and Honduras in preparation for the World Cup.
Sunburned and smarting from the expense of several days on South Beach — including some $20 pints on Ocean Drive — Sloane said his first trip to South Florida was driven by the opportunity to watch his national team play as much as possible.
“Can’t miss an England game,” he said. He listed the other amenities he had also encountered. “Lots of drinking, lots of fun, lots of friends and lots of ladies.”
WLRN-Miami Herald news reporter Kenny Malone contributed to this report.