For soccer fans, there may be nothing better than watching the first match of the World Cup.
Except this: Watching the first match of the World Cup on a 40-foot screen. In extremely comfortable chairs. With food and drink at the ready. Accompanied by a few professional soccer players.
The quadrennial soccer tournament kicked off in Russia last week, and, outside of the stadium itself, there may have been no better venue to enjoy it than at Harrisburg’s Whitaker Center.
Seated before the towering Select Medical Digital Cinema screen, the crowd could see every pass, every shot, every penalty in the inaugural Russia vs. Saudi Arabia match – very, very up-close.
As fans entered the lobby, players from Harrisburg’s professional soccer team, Penn FC, greeted them. Young fans barely could contain their excitement as they took their seats, anticipating the ups and downs, the blowouts and upsets, during the month-long tournament. Though the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup, attendees still enjoyed the game, screaming with each goal, as Russia defeated Saudi Arabia by a score of 5-0.
Under new CEO Ted Black, Whitaker Center increasingly is positioning itself as a regional center for watching sports. This may be no surprise, as Black has a deep bench of experience in professional sports, serving previously as the president of the Buffalo Sabres, a professional ice hockey team. So, going forward, you may be just as likely to visit the downtown arts and culture center for a major sporting event as for a big concert or movie.
“Soccer is a community sport,” said Bob Ancharski, the director of events and ticketing, commenting on the choice to bring the World Cup to the very big screen.
The World Cup isn’t the first—and certainly won’t be the last—sporting event at the center. Past events have included the Super Bowl, and the future includes showing eSport tournaments.
Last year, Black announced a plan for eSports to be added to the center in collaboration with Harrisburg University. ESports, also known as electronic sports, are competitive video games, which are quickly building a passionate fan base. The sport has been rapidly gaining in popularity globally and is now a $900 million industry just in the United States.
With a theater that seats 200 people, Whitaker Center looks forward to hosting more sports viewing events. In fact, on Sunday, July 15, the venue will show the World Cup final, accompanied by more family-friendly activities. For more details, visit whitakercenter.org.