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I not only grew up in a household surrounded by sports, but I grew up in a city unusually obsessed with their teams. Being born and bred in Buffalo comes with a set of “obligations.” Despite the nearly 20 year gap since our last victorious season, it’s simply sacrilegious to not be a Buffalo Bills fan – same goes for the Sabres. But as much as I love my hometown, I have explored and lived in various cities such as Boston, Syracuse, London and now, New York. So imagine my frustration when I realized I could no longer simply flip on the TV every Sunday or stop by the neighboring bar to watch the game and cheer frantically with fellow fans.
Clearly, one of my first tasks upon moving to New York was locating a Buffalo sports bar (the same process will ensue for my Alma mater, Syracuse, once basketball season begins). I was excited to discover two, yet surprised there were not more in such a large city. It got me thinking – how does one dedicate a bar to a specific team or city and how does it help and/or hurt their business?
The first Buffalo bar I checked out was a small, hole-in-the-wall place in the Lower East Side. Barely any bar stools, zero tables and absolutely no food – who has time to eat when you’re busy jumping to “Shout” and yelling at refs for their unbelievable calls? Things this bar was not lacking in: Bills paraphernalia, beer and people – the place was packed. While the neighboring pizza & wings restaurant reaped the benefits during halftime, I wondered how this beer-based bar lasted beyond the Bills and Sabres games without any seating or servers. I was shocked by my discovery – the Soho spot also considers itself home to the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, Florida Gators, and Tottenham Hotspurs.
With lockout after lockout and seasons stopping short, marketing yourself across non-competing teams and sports is a very intelligent tactic. The current NHL lockout has many local businesses across the country concerned. A local Capital’s bar in D.C. told the Washington Post that they “need about 10 fewer serving staff shifts and about six fewer bartenders” while losing out on 500 customers before each game. A brewpub owner in St. Paul, Minnesota told Fox News that the devastating economic effects of the lockout go beyond his business and hurt the local food vendors and their suppliers as well.
Sports bar and restaurant owners across the country are beginning to realize they can no longer market themselves selectively towards one team. One bar owner in St. Paul declared his spot as solely a hockey bar, and the lockout has put his business down 70%. While bars and merchandise suppliers in Pittsburgh are losing 20-30% of their business, Philadelphia spots continue to push through with other teams to cheer on, like the Phillies and the Steelers.
But as much business as professional sport games attract, youth, high school and college tournaments attract major business to cities across the country as well. Each player often brings along a personal family and friends entourage. For one city in Missouri, hosting national, state and regional high school soccer tournaments brings in anywhere from $12 to $13 million every year. Not a bad boost for a small city economy.
One thing is for certain – sports bring people together. Whether it’s at a bar or in a backyard, people enjoy the comradery. But when seasons suffer, these sports bars need a new marketing tactic to keep their customers coming and spirits and business soaring. Not every bar can count on the undying devotion of Buffalo Bills fans to be at a bar for every win, loss and bye.