2014 World Cup's Growing Wisconsin Fan Base - WBAY

2014 World Cup's Growing Wisconsin Fan Base

Green Bay - Billions of soccer fans around the world will be glued to their televisions as the 2014 World Cup kicked off Thursday. It's the biggest single event sporting competition in the world and it only happens once every four years.

The quickest growing group of soccer fans in the United States is young professionals and a lot of them ducked out of work to catch the opening game at 3 in the afternoon.

It's Croatia versus Brazil and the start of the most exciting few weeks of the year for Yerzhan Nauruzbayev. He grew up in Kazakhstan, near Russia. Six years ago he moved to Wisconsin.

"Futbol, which here is called soccer I understand, but you know it's futbol," he says, smiling. "
I think this is the one thing that unites us all, you know, futbol. Especially during the World Cup!"

He's one of many soccer fans who ducked out of work early to watch the opening game.

"I was excused because my boss is Italian and he did exactly the same thing that I did, sneak out of the office and go and watch the game," says Stefania Iannone, who moved to Green Bay from Italy a year-and-a-half ago.

"I heard Yerzhan had invited some people, but I didn't expect so many people to be here right now," says Emil Haque. He moved to De Pere from Sweden 4 years ago.

There were people from Italy, Sweden, Denmark, England and plenty of native Wisconsinites, too.

"Kids growing up playing soccer are now older professional adults," says Kurt Cornell, general manager of Hagemeister Park in downtown Green Bay.

He says the growing crowd of young professionals watching the 2014 World Cup's opening game is a sign of a growing city.

"Obviously downtown is changing, a younger clientele and there seems to be interest with the world's most popular sport, so we wanted to invite them down," says Cornell, "It's a good turnout so far. We had a couple people call and reserve some tables."

"We all have our favorite nations, right," says Yerzhan Nauruzbayev, "but at the end of the day what we share is a passion for the game. That's what unites us. At the end of the day we all are one nation, futbol nation!"

A number of World Cup soccer games will be aired on WBAY, starting this weekend. Click here for the complete schedule.

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