Screen Play

Watching the Big Game at the Bar is Fun for Fans and Helpful to Your Bottom Line — If You Have the Right Systems

From the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl to the buzzer-beating shot in the NBA Finals to the hometown MLB star slugger knocking one out of the park, there’s something to be said for watching the big game on the best television systems, surrounded by fans equally invested in the outcome. The infectious atmosphere sports create for your guests, fueled by state-of-the-art video entertainment systems, transforms your establishment from a run-of-the-mill sports bar into a profit boosting go-to destination for sports fanatics.

Finding What Works
Most owners know that to run a successful business, it takes more than a comprehensive menu and established clientele. To ensure high check averages, you need to keep your guests entertained long enough to appreciate the venue’s ambiance. Having the right video entertainment system helps you do this, a fact bar owners such as Patrick McClure know well. In order to keep customers coming back to the four restaurants and bars he owns with his brother Andy in Charlottesville, Va., — The West Main Restaurant, The Biltmore, The Virginian and Three — McClure installed flat-screen TVs in each bar area.

McClure’s establishments use Comcast cable on LCD and plasma high-definition televisions. And though the four locations aren’t primarily sports bars, they do get plenty of fans in to watch games and interact with one another and the staff. This leads them to spend more money than if they just stopped in for a drink and a bite to eat without any visual attraction keeping them entertained. “The average consumer will want to take a glance at a TV during their meal or during drinks,” McClure says. “We make money by having a good ambiance and setting to watch the game.”

Leo Lesh, owner of Leo’s All Star Sports Bar in La Crescenta, Calif., works with NTN Buzztime to promote its QB1 strategy game in which guests predict the next play as the live college and pro football games happen on TV. QB1 keeps guests interested in the big game and gives them an incentive to stick around: to see if they predicted the play correctly and, ultimately, beat their competitors playing QB1 in other venues across the country. Lesh’s 150-capacity bar has 20 of these systems; the football game is played on his big screen while a smaller monitor displays QB1.

Leo's All Star Sports Bar
Leo’s All-Star Sports Bar features 32 HD TVs of varying sizes, which pleases the fans in the Southern California area.

Lesh, who installed QB1 in his venue nearly six years ago, says these systems are important to building guest relations and profits. “It’s another thing that’s an asset. It’s a thing that adds to the mix to entice people to come in.”

In fact, Leo’s All-Star Sports Bar features 32 high-def televisions of varying sizes: a 104-inch projector, a 72-inch screen in the back, 42- and 32-inch monitors, two 27-inch screens in each bathroom plus a 62-inch screen on the outside patio. With this many television screens, the big game is always center stage. “For the most part, the games bring people in, and we serve them as much food and drink as we can,” he says, noting that his sales noticeably increase when local teams do well.

Advertising Made Easy
Venue operators depend on video entertainment systems not only to please guests but also to get them buying more, especially when in-house advertising is part of the mix. By displaying food and drink specials as ads on TVs, guests are tempted to order that second round or extra basket of fries while cheering on their favorite team.

In Beaverton, Ore., Malone’s Ale House owner Larry Houk learned the importance of a good video system through trial and error. In fact, Houk struggled and even floundered in the early days of opening Malone’s five years ago. “When I first opened my doors, I had a couple [standard-definition] TVs in here — just to open the doors. I was paying everything out of my own pocket. It took me three months to figure out that it wasn’t working out, so I went to high-def immediately,” he explains.

From a marketing standpoint, though, Houk assuaged any cost hemorrhaging by using those “couple TVs” that weren’t generating any profit in an innovative way: He created his own internal advertising system, which he calls mybiztv, to display on the standard-definition TVs. Houk likes mybiztv because it’s 100 percent in his control: “It’s just text and pictures. I basically took PowerPoint and created a 20-minute scrolling movie from it. It’s a proprietary system.”

Additionally, Houk uses Barfly from TouchTunes on his high-def TVs, which is an L-shaped interactive advertisement that runs along the side and bottom of the TV screen. “The sporting event might bring them in the door, but those [advertisements] are going to get them to purchase food and drink while they’re here.”

The benefits of having onscreen advertising, he says, are numerous. “It takes pressure off sales staff, and it directs [guests] to the server in a colorful, flashy manner. Plus, the server becomes more interactive from that advertising.”

At Leo’s All Star Sports Bar, Lesh couples his QB1 gaming system with custom advertisements from NTN Buzztime during game day. Buzztime supplies the backgrounds, but Lesh is able to create the ads on and control when ads appear, changing them depending on what’s happening in the game. During commercials, he’ll advertise hourly specials, offering different food and drink specials throughout the night. “The TV is revenue for the sports bar. The NTN [advertising system] just adds to it; it’s a complement.” Another benefit: “You can interact with the game, the people and the place,” Lesh says, and that keeps customers intrigued enough to purchase more.

Promotions That Work
Using HD TVs to advertise your specials can prove lucrative to your business, but first you must know how to get people through the door, which starts with proper promotion of televised sporting events.

The NBA playoffs this past season were a coup for Leo’s All Star Sports Bar, with Lesh offering promotions throughout the night like beer and food specials. And on NFL Sundays, the early games start at 10 a.m. on the West Coast, so Lesh serves breakfast to excited pigskin fans.

This year, Lesh knows the popularity of soccer and hopes the FIFA World Cup will lure customers into his establishment for the final games. Lesh uses social media to determine customer interest in games, especially first round games that had start times at 4:30 a.m. After all, operating those extra hours could have been cost-prohibitive if the bar sat empty. He uses Twitter and Facebook to gauge interest in events and says with 140 characters — a quick tweet — he can pack his bar for any game, match or tournament.

Though Lesh has seen increased sales through pay-per-view boxing and NFL packages, other venues might not reap the same benefits. Owners should be careful when selecting sports packages, and be sure to select the right one for the clientele. McClure learned this lesson at one of his establishments, Three, when he purchased NFL Sunday Ticket, in an attempt to capitalize on the wide geographic range the students in Charlottesville, home of University of Virginia, call home.

“People’s allegiances here are so widespread and [we assumed] to provide those extra games would be such a big boon for us, but it didn’t catch on like we hoped,” he says.

From putting up fliers before a big game to letting your TVs do the talking for you, every bar must find the formula that works and what makes guests’ tabs go up. As long as there are sports on TV, people will seek out the closest watering hole to watch the game. Appease them with the best technology you can afford so they’ll stick around for a few drinks. NCB

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