- For those who don’t have tickets to the 2018 FIFA World Cup but are in Russia, FIFA’s Fan Fest zones provide a fun place to watch matches with fans from all over the world.
- The Fan Fest zones have a ton of games, activities, swag, and giant screens to watch the games.
- I recently visited one of the biggest Fan Fest zones, at Moscow’s Vorobyovy Gory, where tons of fans partied all day while watching the World Cup matches.
Every four years, the world comes together for a festival of football (soccer for Americans) that promises to make us forget all about the world’s troubles as best we can for a few weeks and unite in our collective humanity.
That spirit of global togetherness has certainly been on display in pubs and city squares around the world during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
But nowhere is it more evident than at events FIFA is putting on in this year’s World Cup host country of Russia.
For those who don’t have a ticket to the games, Russia’s 11 Fan Fest sites, spread across the country, promise to be a place where fans can join together and share in each game’s triumphs.
With massive screens, entertainment, and activities, the Fan Fests are like the world’s biggest sports bars for the duration of the tournament, which began Thursday and runs through July 15.
One of the biggest Fan Fest sites this year is at Moscow’s Vorobyovy Gory, a park overlooking the city and Luzhniki Stadium. It holds a whopping 25,000 people at peak capacity.
I recently went to check out the fun while visiting Russia for this year’s World Cup. Here’s what it was like:
Since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, FIFA has set up official Fan Fest zones for visiting fans and citizens of the host country to watch World Cup games together. To get to the one in Moscow, you have to walk past Luzhniki Stadium, Russia’s national stadium and one of the focal points of the tournament.
It’s about a 30-minute walk from Luzhniki. You have to cross the Moskva River, which passes through central Moscow. When I went on a Monday afternoon, it was bright, sunny, and warm.
The Fan Fest is technically in Vorobyovy Gory, a park that overlooks Moscow. Literally meaning Sparrow Hills, it’s one of the highest points in the city. It seemed to me a bit like Moscow’s Central Park.
The security is tight around the Fan Fest. There were tons of police officers, soldiers, and barriers to manage crowd control. With a capacity for 25,000 people, it’s not surprising. FIFA estimates that 30 million people have visited the zones.
Right after you come through security you have to pass through FIFA’s official fan shop. I wasn’t complaining. The air-conditioned bubble of the shop provided a nice respite from the sun and the heat.
All of the countries’ official World Cup jerseys were on display. They cost $70 to $100 a pop.
There was a ton of other swag to buy, including World Cup-themed ushankas, or fur hats, T-shirts, socks, soccer balls, and stuffed animals of this year’s mascot, Zabivaka, a wolf whose name means “the one who scores.”
I was particularly fond of the Zabivaka-themed set of matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls. But at $110, I wasn’t buying.
Once you get out of the shop, the fun begins. There are a ton of activities and games to take part in, like this bounce-house football match. I’m not sure what purpose the blowup football pads served, but it looked like fun.
How about a football-ized putting green?
Or test your accuracy at this tire-goal penalty shootout. I don’t think you win anything except your dignity.
There were also a bunch of trampolines and bounce houses for kids. I was wishing that I could jump around in there, but I think I’m a bit too old for it these days. No one wants to be the weird 28-year-old in the bounce house.
The core of the Fan Fest is the massive screens to watch the games. There’s also a stage in front of the center screen where local bands play in between the matches.
Just about all attendees were decked out in their country’s gear. Except for me, of course. Maybe next time the USMNT will make the tournament. These Brazil fans at the Saint Petersburg Fan Fest went all out.
- REUTERS/Henry Romero
I thought this activation was a cool idea. It encouraged people to take photos with fans from a rival country and hug it out. It may be cheesy, but that’s what the World Cup is all about.
Few things go together as well as beer and football. At least, I think that’d be the opinion of most football nuts, anyway. There was a lot of beer sloshing around.
Like these England fans enjoying Monday’s win against Tunisia.
- REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
There was also a nice area to buy food and drink and enjoy it under umbrellas at some picnic tables. Surprisingly, the prices at the Fan Fest were lower than they were at the street-food stands nearby. The building in the background is the historic main building of Lomonosov Moscow State University.
Things get pretty wild when a team scores a goal. “It is a real party atmosphere, I guess because of the mix of people from all over the world who are there to celebrate their love for football in a very relaxed and friendly way,” Beatriz Andrade, a Brazilian fan attended the first three Fan Fests, told FIFA.
- REUTERS/Henry Romero
A ton of fans were gathered in a circle testing our their football skills. Each person took turns trying to dribble it past another person in the circle who acted as a defenseman.
There was also a virtual-reality station to test your hands at being a football goalie. The game was a bit wonky — I always felt as if I were going to knock into something — but a ton of fun.
If VR isn’t your thing, there were air hockey (football?) tables. This Russian dude was a tough opponent.
There was a stand selling traditional Russian handicrafts.
And plenty of places to take cool photos, like this wall with pegs so you could make it look as if you were doing a bicycle kick. I’m not that good at football.
There were, of course, a lot of corporations offering free swag through marketing activations. Coca Cola had a big presence.
They were giving out free World Cup hats and inflatable No. 1 fingers.
For those wanting face paint representing their team, Coca-Cola had makeup artists on hand.
McDonald’s had a strange human foosball area, where you strapped into ropes to play a match. These kids looked to be having a good time.
And a spot to play a real-life version of Angry Birds. It was not as easy as it looked. That slingshot didn’t have enough elasticity to get a ton of force.
Qatar Airways had a big lounge in front of one of the screens to chill on beanbags and watch the game. It also had a photo station to superimpose visitors over different backdrops.
Hyundai had the best photo station. The goal was on its side so you could make it look as if you were diving for a save. Again, I am not that good at football.
There was also a Goalkeeper Reaction game, in which players must hit the circles when they light up. The faster you hit them, the more points you get. Not to brag or anything, but the volunteer said I was one of the best he’d seen all day.
The Fan Fest was about half full during the day, but as the 6 p.m. game got underway (11 a.m. ET), it started to fill up. I decided to head out. Until next time, Fan Fest.