by: Lorena Incl\u00E1n Updated:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Soccer fever has taken a firm grip on Jacksonville, and it's not letting go. Meanwhile, businesses are raking in the cash.
The enthusiasm is evident anywhere you go in Jacksonville Beach on game day. Bars rolled out their red, white and blue game announcements on marquees and there was even a line outside of Lynch's Irish Pub, in Jacksonville Beach.
Inside Lynch's, "I believe we will win" chants took over the room. The bar reached capacity at noon on a Thursday. Down the road at Sneaker's, there wasn't an empty seat.
Downtown Jacksonville also got in on the action. The Jacksonville Armada held a watch party at the Omni Hotel. Lynch's general manager, Keith Doherty, said the cash register hasn't stopped since the send-off match at EverBank field.
"For example, our game on Sunday when we played Portugal, we probably did the same type of business as we would on a New Year's Eve or a Florida-Georgia weekend," said Doherty.
Groups like American Outlaws, which dedicates itself to gaining support for the United States national soccer teams, are adding to the growth in popularity. The Jacksonville chapter president, Matthew Calise, said since the start of the World Cup this year, they've gained 4,000 new members nationally.
He and about a dozen other members head to local bars every time there is a game.
"Four years ago, we couldn't have imagined that this is where we'd be. There were people waiting outside to get in the bar," said Calise.
Doherty said if there was any doubt before, this year's World Cup has proven Jacksonville is a soccer city and he hopes the craze is here to stay.
"Next year we have Copa America. If we can get games here in Jacksonville, it's definitely a benefit to the city and obviously there's a trickle-down effect to the businesses," said Doherty.
According to the director of the Gator Bowl, Alan Verlander, it's possible Jacksonville could throw its name in the ring for the opportunity to host a Copa America game.
Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Daniel Davis, said he's confident the Jacksonville Armada will keep the soccer craze going.
"We have thousands of people come to our community and spend money in our community and enjoy a really exciting time, so we look at all our different sporting events to be able to do that. We've seen history of being able to do that, and we know that the Armada is going to do the same thing," said Davis.
Commercials promoting the team have aired during World Cup matches in the hopes of it translating into ticket purchases.
"We've always known that soccer is a hotbed here in Jacksonville; a lot of people are participating and getting involved in it," said Steve Livingstone, president of the Jacksonville Armada.
Verlander said this year's World Cup solidifies Jacksonville not just as a soccer city but as a soccer sport destination. He said they're working to attract Major League Soccer teams to hold their spring training in Jacksonville and bring more friendlies to the area. Leaders are working to bring more women's soccer matches, as well.
Adding more to the local soccer excitement is the Real Madrid Foundation. The organization is hosting soccer clinics in Jacksonville through August. At the end of the clinics one young soccer player will have the chance to travel to Spain to watch the team play in-person.
In the meantime, the U.S. Men's National Team advances to the round of 16, giving local businesses yet another opportunity to shine.