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MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL IN PRAGUE SPORTS-BAR OWNER SCOTT OTTO FOUND A NEW GROWTH MARKET: EXPATRIATE U.S. FANS

Nov. 13, 1995
Nov. 13, 1995

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Nov. 13, 1995

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NBA 1995-96

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL IN PRAGUE SPORTS-BAR OWNER SCOTT OTTO FOUND A NEW GROWTH MARKET: EXPATRIATE U.S. FANS

You're an expatriate. You drink yourself to death. You become
obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working.
You are an expatriate. See?
--Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises (1926)

This is an article from the Nov. 13, 1995 issue

Expatriates rarely change; they just shift cities. These days
they can be found--still sipping absinthe and shooting the
breeze--in Prague, Czech Republic. But in this former Iron
Curtain country, sex is easier to get than, say, a Chicago
Bull--Orlando Magic game. The city has only four TV stations,
all Czech-language. Thus Scott Otto's Sport Bar Praha, one of
the few sports bars in Eastern Europe, is as seductive as
anything Papa encountered in Paris's red-light district.

Craving an NBA game? Pop into Otto's on Saturday afternoon.
Monday Night Football airs on Tuesday evening. NHL highlights
are on Friday night, and Seinfeld packs the joint on Thursdays.

"This is my second home," 24-year-old English teacher Andrew
Pullen said last February, sipping Czech beer as he watched
European soccer highlights on one of Sport Bar Praha's five
color TVs, which receive 52 satellite stations. Added
31-year-old computer distributor David Holy, "I'm fluent in
Czech, and most of my friends are Czech, but Monday Night
Football still makes me very happy."

Football jerseys, baseball caps and pennants adorn the walls
behind the 20-foot bar. In the back room fierce games of eight
ball are contested--except on hot nights such as the final
Friday of the '94 Winter Olympics, when more than 100 Americans
jammed into the bar to watch the Tonya Harding--Nancy Kerrigan
figure skating showdown.

"I just got back from Turkey," one patron said recently.
"Someone there told me, 'You have to go to the sports bar in
Prague.'"

For Otto, a bespectacled self-described "financial guy," Sport
Bar Praha represents an entrepreneurial comeback of sorts. His
first venture, when he was a Davidson (Va.) College senior, was
the 1984-85 Davidson Gentleman's Calendar, for which athletes
and fraternity studs modeled. Only 30 of 1,000 copies sold, most
of them to a school librarian, says Otto, who took a $1,000 bath
on the project and promptly enrolled in Duke University's Fuqua
School of Business.

By 1989 Otto was speeding along the fast track as a
corporate-finance consultant in New York City. Refueling on
weekends at a cavernous sports bar on the Upper West Side, he
"realized that watching sports is a way for Americans to escape
our work and our lives." Meanwhile, thousands of Americans had
discovered Prague, whose burgeoning capitalist economy had
earned it the moniker Second Chance City. Otto thought he would
give entrepreneurship another go after reading that Prague was
home to anywhere from 4,000 to 30,000 U.S. expatriates. "I
figured a sports bar would be an immediate attraction to them,"
Otto says.

Otto hopped a plane for Prague in October 1991. Living in a
$70-a-month dorm room at a local university, he slogged through
a Czech-language course that, to him, more closely resembled
boot camp. "We had class from 8 a.m. to noon every day for four
months," he recalls. "I lasted three."

But gaining fluency in Czech proved easier than negotiating
Czech red tape. Otto had to search a full nine months for space
with sports-bar potential. He found it in an old company
cafeteria just 100 yards from historic--and
tourist-crowded--Wenceslas Square. But before he could tear up
the cafeteria's grimy linoleum floors and repaint its
industrial-yellow walls, the law required Otto to secure 24
different permits from "everybody from the water department to
two different historical societies," he says. "It took months."

By the end of May 1993 he had obtained the last signature, and
three months later Sport Bar Praha opened. Sure, there were the
usual hitches: His Czech cooks had trouble getting the hang of
Sunday-brunch pancakes, and on Thanksgiving the pumpkins Otto
had ordered for his much-anticipated pies got held up at the
German border, gravely disappointing the Americans who gathered
for dinner.

But the play's the thing for sports-loving expats, and Otto drew
crowds by staying open until 6 a.m. to air all six games of the
'93 World Series live. His Super Bowl party in January '94--9
p.m. to 6 a.m., all you could eat and drink--was such a success
that Otto jacked the ticket price from $5.88 to $30 this year.

That caused outrage at the U.S.-owned-and-run Prague Post, which
accused Otto of monopolistic business practices. Is profiteering
on pigskin conduct unbecoming an expatriate, as the article
implied? One ticket holder at the party thought not. "Hey,
Scott," he yelled across the bar at halftime. "You're kickin'
butt!"

Yankee expat Lucinda Hahn lives in Prague, where she plies her
trade as a freelance writer.

COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE KLUCKHOHN Otto saw a slam-dunk opportunity in Second Chance City. [Scott Otto behind bar at Sport Bar Praha]