SAO PAULO – The city of Sao Paulo was ripe with anticipation leading up to Brazil’s opening match against Croatia in the 2014 World Cup. Arriving in the host city only a few hours before the first match began, I expected to walk off the plane into a circus scene similar to that of Brazil’s annual Carnival festival.
Instead, the taxi ride into the world’s fifth largest city felt more like a stroll through a Texas football town on a Friday night in fall. Silence echoed across the deserted city streets as an entire populace held their breaths inside their homes, waiting for the first whistle to kick off the month of madness to follow.
Originally, my plan for watching the opening match was to buy something yellow and venture to the closest bar to root on the Brazilian team with the locals.
“For that . . . ” the woman at the hotel front desk pondered, “maybe you can try somewhere closer to Arena Corinthians (Sao Paulo’s World Cup stadium); but almost all places are closed for the day.”
I’ve heard of small businesses shutting down at noon to support the local high school team, but I’ve never seen the Lakers shut down the entire city of Los Angeles during the NBA finals. On the contrary, U.S. businesses would extend hours of operation and offer drink specials during those games to maximize revenue.
Such is the U.S. way of business, but more accurately, the U.S. way of consumerism. It’s common practice in U.S. culture for families and friends to meet at a bar or restaurant to watch a World Series or Stanley Cup game. With a guaranteed increase in profits on game days, it would be impractical for business owners to close their doors to a crowd of willing consumers.
Well, when Brazil is playing at home during the World Cup, the consumer base is non-existent. It’s almost as if an entire nation decided in silent agreement to a 24-hour business hiatus. While the city lay rest, Brazilians gathered with families and friends in their homes to cheer on their nation’s team.
About 28 minutes into the Brazil-Croatia match, I began to wonder whether all the stories of World Cup hooliganism and fanaticism were just overkill. But moments later Brazilian forward Neymar twisted a shot off the right goal post into the back of the net, and the city woke in universal roar.
Something tells me the bars in Sao Paulo will be open late tonight, but not until the final whistle blows.
When it comes to football in Brazil, some things are just bigger than business.