Depending on what their favorite sport happens to be, fans may be winding up or winding down energy and excitement for their preferred team and players. But for sports bar managers and employees, the season is never over. Sports bar marketing and business planning is a year-round event, and the financial success of your establishment may depend on getting a little creative once in a while.
After all, what kind of a game do you have without throwing in a few surprises along the way?
Your ability to consistently pack your bleachers (so to speak) can mean the difference between maintaining a stable cash flow and having to work around the ebb and flow of a down season — not to mention providing an even more fan-worthy experience for your customers than ever. Here are seven big ideas for your sports bar marketing that can take any business from rookie to Hall of Fame.
1. Lean into the heart of fandom.
Number one rule of sports bar marketing? Get local sports fans excited. They are your core customer base and their excitement translates into more visits and strong word of mouth for your business. And the key to getting fans excited? Speak their language.
Name drinks or dishes after local sports teams or players. Number your menu with the hometown team’s jersey numbers. Print disposable menus or drink lists with stats charts on the back, so fans can track how their team is performing over the course of a game. In short, lean into the minutiae of what it means to be a hardcore fan. If you give customers an outlet for their excitement, they’re more likely to return again and again to have that special experience.
2. Consider LTOs.
Limited time offers typically draw in returning customers eager to try something new, but also tend to encourage other spending alongside the offer itself. Creative appetizer and small plate specials can encourage customers to stay longer, bring friends, and order more drinks along the way — capitalizing on alcohol sales that likely drive some of your largest profit margins.
A limited time offer doesn’t have to just be a menu item, however. Purchase a jersey or sweater with a local hero player’s name and number stitched in. Or a limited edition cap for the big team drawing your crowds. And then advertise a raffle for it on a special night or weekend afternoon. Hand out a ticket with every drink purchase and raffle the prize off at the end of the night. Not only will it draw a crowd (everyone loves a contest), but it should drive up drink purchases — a win-win for a likely investment on your part of less than $100.
3. Rent out a party room or patio.
Dividing out some space in your establishment to host private parties is a natural avenue for additional profits. What sports fan wouldn’t want to host their birthday party, Father’s Day celebrations, or graduation event at their favorite bar?
Renting out party rooms also gives you an opportunity to crowd control a bit during big events, plan and divide your staff responsibilities more thoughtfully, and guarantee a minimum amount of revenue for larger crowds. Customers won’t have to worry about being crowded out by other fans on their special day and will be able to enjoy your facilities and the big game without distraction.
Beer gardens and outdoor patios are also a huge attraction for customers looking to enjoy the good weather and avoid being cramped inside a dark bar space. Even if you don’t rent the space out separately, having an outdoor portion of your venue can drive up interest — and bar tabs, as summer temperatures rise. If you’re in a particularly humid or hot part of the country, however, consider appropriate shades, open air latticing, and/or misters to keep your clientele from dehydrating and possibly getting sick from the heat.
4. Pay for pay-per-view.
Put those big screen televisions to work for a special event you can plan with a single click. Ordering a special program — like a boxing match or a popular, out-of-market game — can be a tiny cost to you, but a big driver of interest for lots and lots of sports fans. Customers that can’t afford or choose not to subscribe to a particular pay-per-view event will come out and spend money on drinks and food with you. Your sports bar becomes their home-away-from-home for a night and you may even draw in new customers if you advertise the event in local free papers or in your online profiles and Facebook page.
5. Sponsor a sports team.
Whether it’s an adult softball or kids’ baseball team, sponsoring a team in a local, amateur sports league ties your business closer to the community you service. It’s a great thing to do to show you care about the neighborhood you live and work in, but it’s not 100% altruistic. This kind of sponsorship earns you a lot of appreciation from families and local leaders (not to mention relatively inexpensive advertising) — which translates into customer loyalty and more business, particularly for adult teams after the big game! Where else would players go to unwind and celebrate (or commiserate) than the sports bar printed on the back of their t-shirts?
6. Host live appearances.
Bringing in local bands or performers for special events can draw customers who wouldn’t normally have considered stopping in to your sports bar. You just have to be sure you have both the space for the band (plus equipment) and the appropriate sound system to support them.
But live appearances don’t just have to mean performers. Hosting classic sports figure signings can be a huge draw, particularly for lifelong sports fans who are willing to pay a special cover or upcharge for the autograph of their favorite local player — active or retired. You’ll have to do a little research on where to book particular athletes (or which athletes available booking agencies have access to) and rationalize the cost of the appearance with your potential profits. But if it all seems to line up, a special autograph session could be the highlight of a year’s worth of sports bar marketing.
7. Make it about more than sports.
Sports bar marketing doesn’t need to be 100% about sports. Particularly during down times (although, if the interests of your bar visitors are eclectic enough, there never truly is down time between sports seasons), special events like trivia nights, games, and poker nights can fill in the gaps on a week night without a game or event. Trivia can be either sports-related or about pop culture, depending on the age and interests of the crowd you expect to draw.
If you do host a poker night, however, make sure you do so without any money stakes! Federal and state gambling laws are strict and unyielding, particularly for businesses that serve alcohol. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it! Playing for chips and bragging rights (or even door prizes) can be just as exciting and energizing for your customers as their usual big game.
Just make sure to check with your local chamber of commerce, alderman, or state statutes before planning anything. You don’t want to assume even money-free gambling is OK if your state prohibits that. You could be putting your liquor license at risk.
Want more tips on drawing a crowd that go beyond typical sports bar marketing? Download our free ebook, “5 Ways to Market Your Restaurant During Slow Times,” today!