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Q and A with the Courtyard Hooligans

by Ty Shaffer

July 9,2010

Mark Krehbiel and Kristian Pedersen are the owners of Courtyard Hooligans, a soccer pub in Uptown Charlotte. Mark is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and came to North Carolina to attend Elon University. Kristian, who is originally from Norway, moved to the United States 16 years ago and played soccer at East Carolina University. Courtyard Hooligans, which opened in September 2009, is located in Brevard Court behind Latta Arcade.

What prompted you guys to open Courtyard Hooligans?

Mark: The two of us were sitting at another bar - I won’t mention which one - watching a soccer match, and Kristian said, “You know, we could do this.” We started to think about it, and eventually decided that it was something we could do right. Then we developed a business plan and started looking for locations and getting our costs together.

Do you find that there is a steady audience for soccer matches in Charlotte?

Kristian: Yes, we built up a lot of our business during the EPL [English Premier League] season by being open early on weekends to show the matches, and we had a lot of people coming in to watch those early games. In fact our business has consistently grown. We even grew in January and February, which usually are slow months for bars. But we didn’t market the pub very hard, because we really wanted to be a neighborhood bar. And we’ve gotten lots of our business from people who have referred us to their friends.

Okay, I have to ask—which clubs do you support?

Mark: Well, Kristian is a Manchester United fan. I don’t really have a club—I closely follow the U.S. National Team. But I never had that defining moment where I found a club and knew that it was the club I was going to support. That’s probably because growing up, those of us in the U.S. didn’t have much exposure to the sport on television. I find that I end up rooting for Aston Villa, but I can’t really claim them as “my club.”

Because you guys own a “soccer pub,” you’re in the unique position of spending a lot of time watching people who are watching sporting events. Do you notice differences in the ways that people respond to soccer, as opposed to the traditional American sports?

Mark: American football is a start and stop game. There are a lot of things that happen—whether it’s a first down, or a tackle, or a five yard gain—things that people can cheer and get into. With soccer, because you don’t have those same stops, there isn’t a release until there’s a goal. For example, when the U.S. scored to tie England, that was the loudest I’ve ever heard a pub. There’s also a lot of good natured ribbing among soccer fans, and that’s different. For example, I’m still a Bengals fan, and if a Steelers’ fan sits next to me, I’m probably not going to want to chat with them during the game. But with soccer fans, because it’s been such a small group in the U.S., I’ve found that they’re just happy to find people who are knowledgeable, someone that they can talk to about the game, regardless of which club they support.

Do you find that people come to the pub who want to learn more about soccer?

Kristian: We get both the casual fan and experts—lots of times the die hard fans will bring their friends who are casual fans and try to expose them to the game. We also get a lot of international travelers who are staying at hotels uptown, and people tell them that this is a good place to catch a match. All of this is great, because our goal is to bring soccer culture to Charlotte.

With the World Cup going on, it’s tough to pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without finding somebody talking about whether soccer is ever going to catch on in the US. Are you optimistic that there will be sustained interest in soccer after the World Cup?

Mark: It’s growing, and I think it has a great chance of overtaking hockey, at least. One of the things that helps is the ABC/ESPN coverage of soccer—with the World Cup, of course, but also with ESPN’s coverage of the [English] Premiership and La Liga [Spain’s First Division]. When it comes to support for the U.S. National team, part of the problem is that Americans like winners. We "know" that the U.S. isn’t going to win the World Cup, and that’s a reason that a lot of people don’t support the team. It’s no Jamaican bobsled team, you know—something to rally behind. There’s no pride in the U.S. just qualifying for the World Cup, or just making it out of the group stage. The U.S. probably is going to have to win a major competition for soccer really to pick up in the United States.

Do people come in to watch MLS [Major League Soccer, the U.S. domestic league], or are they only coming to watch the European clubs?

Mark: Yeah, we don’t show a lot of MLS, mostly because people don’t ask for it. Sometimes we have people who come in and ask to watch [D.C.] United or the [Seattle] Sounders—and because we’re a soccer pub, we’ll turn off the baseball game. But not many people are asking to watch MLS. American soccer fans still are much more likely to support European clubs, and they come here to watch the EPL, La Liga, or Serie A [Italy’s First Division].

Was there a particular reason that you opened in Brevard Court?

Kristian: This alleyway is the coolest part of Uptown Charlotte. There’s nothing like this in town—something this old. Everything around town—all of the buildings and all of the bars—are new. We wanted something small and old, something that looks and feels like a neighborhood pub. And it makes me really happy to say that while other people have bars, I have a pub. We may not be the best bartenders in the world—if you come in and ask for a Bahama Mama, or something made in a blender, I’m going to tell you no. But I think that people appreciate that and come here for the pub just the way it is.

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