The cheers went up among football fans and the bars that host them as the news came that the NFL lockout would soon be over. The NFL Players Association finally reached a 10-year agreement, ending the four-month lockout. Each team should be reporting for training camp just two weeks before their first games.
The agreement must be ratified by a majority of the NFLPA membership, but leadership is reportedly confident of how members will vote. Historically, collective bargaining agreements agreed to by leadership have not been rejected by members.
For sports-oriented bar and restaurant owners, managers and bartenders, this is welcome news, as football is a huge traffic driver. And with the ongoing stagnancy in the economy, fall 2010 without a football season was a daunting prospect for most.
“We were very concerned about the potential NFL lockout. Football is such a huge part of our business so we definitely would have seen an impact,” says Helen Wood, director of marketing for The Tavern Hospitality Group, operator of venues including The Tavern Downtown in Denver, Colo.
“My reaction is total relief,” agrees Greg Newman, president of Baja Sharkeez, which operates five locations in Southern California. “Football for us in the fall and winter is so huge for our business -- it’s hard to put in words. Trying to go up against last year’s sales without pro football would have been a huge uphill battle.”
Buffalo Wild Wings actually took it upon itself to influence the NFL bargaining process: Its Save Our Season Facebook petition this summer was designed to sway the NFL to end the lockout. The Minneapolis-based company operates 765 locations.
Although many bars were working on Plan B promotions – non-NFL promotions, events and themes to drive traffic through their doors – most operators had fingers crossed that an agreement would be reached. “We were planning on doubling our efforts on all aspects of college football from promotions targeted directly at booking in more and larger alumni groups to all sorts of contests and opportunities to win clothing and gear from consumers’ favorite college teams,” says Newman of Baja Sharkeez. “Monday night we would have taken our current ‘Flaming Fajitas on Sizzlin Skillets’ promotion and made it way more aggressive, but who knows how far that would have went against [the business we usually do with] Monday Night Football.”
“This is great news for all of the businesses that rely on, or capitalize on the NFL,” says David Commer of Commer Beverage Consulting, which advises bars and restaurants on bar operations and menu development. “While many companies were busy making a ‘Plan B,’ they can now go back to ’Plan A.’ In fact, for many operators, taking advantage of Fantasy Football is the biggest opportunity.”
The Tavern organization is among those already on the move. “To get people excited, we're going full speed ahead to promote our Fantasy Football Draft Party special,” Wood explains. “We offer a pretty amazing deal that draws over 150 draft parties each year. For $100, a draft party will receive unlimited domestic and imported draft beer for up to 12 people for two hours. The draft parties themselves aren't big money makers for us -- we're betting on future business. Our goal is that once people have their draft party at one of our Taverns, they'll think of us as their football game watch headquarters and join us for every game.”
“Our planning and meetings for football start every year about now so we are not behind. We have some great stuff filed from last year and a lot of cool new ideas, too,” asserts Newman. “We’ll be ready!”
"Had the lockout continued, we would have placed an increased emphasis on college football," notes Patrick Kirk, marketing and brand manager of Buffalo Wild Wings. "We were going to simply concentrate our efforts on what we do best –- Wings, Beer and Sports. The good news for us is that we have been planning and preparing for an NFL season all along, so we are ready. We expect to kick things into high gear by mid-August with the start of our Fantasy Football Draft Parties. Then throughout the season, we will encourage our fans to 'tablegate' at Buffalo Wild Wings."
The excitement about the saved NFL season is pervasive. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar response to the news, albeit succinct, seems to encompass everyone’s feelings with a mere “Cheers!” stated in a company press release.
Adds Neman, “I am hoping after the taste of a possibility of no pro football the operators and consumers will be even more appreciative and fired up about the upcoming season!”