Back in my bartending days, I spent a couple of years working at one of the biggest sports bars in New England. It had more than 60 TVs, three separate bars, a billiards room, darts, video games and killer hot wings: It was a sports fan’s dream come true. On game night (no matter the game), the place was a zoo, and we all made a killing. But when there weren’t any games happening, the bar was a ghost town. The summers were downright desolate. For whatever reason, the bar’s operators weren’t overly concerned about the disparity between game days and other days — that’s just the way it was. Staff members planned schedules and incomes around game days.

But just because there’s nothing on the flat screens doesn’t mean your sales should suffer. You don’t have to settle! You have a star player just waiting in the wings: beer. It’s your number one game-day commodity, so max it out when the teams are playing and put it to work to drive sales when there’s no action on the big screen!

The Tavern Downtown

Game day crowds gather at Denver’s Tavern Downtown.

Keep ‘Em Wanting More

On game nights, you’ve got a captive audience. Customers are sitting at the bar, happy to drink some brews as they cheer on their favorite team. The goal is to make sure they come back on game-free nights. More than ever, customers are considering specials as incentives to frequent a bar.

“Every month we highlight one of our 27 draft beers as the ‘Beer of the Month’ at a discounted price in a 20-ounce glass,” says Bob McCarthy, vice president and partner at Eddie George’s Grille 27 in Columbus, Ohio. “This allows our distributors to focus their marketing efforts on that product in our venue. By institutionalizing this beer promo as a 365-day event that changes 12 times a year, people know that they can always get a discounted beer — even on game days.”

Happy hours are always appealing, but why not diversify them?

“Monday through Friday we feature a 2 to 7 p.m. happy hour, a twilight happy hour and a late-night happy hour, each offering various specials on beers and other drinks,” says Frank Schultz, owner of The Tavern Downtown, which is located a stone’s throw from Denver’s Coors Field. “Customers know they can come in virtually any time and find a great beer deal.”

Don’t forget to target the local industry crowd with beer specials. Late-night happy hours and Sunday deals are a great enticement for bartenders and servers eager to go out after their shifts or have Sundays off.

“We run something every day of the week [for all guests] — from half-price wings and a pitcher special on Mondays to $2.25 domestic drafts all day on Sunday — even during football season,” says Gary Allen, owner and operator of Champion Billiards Sports Café in Frederick, Md. “We also have a late-night happy hour on Tuesdays and Wednesdays offering specials on both imports and domestic beers.”

Put Reps on the Field

Beer distributor reps should be more than happy to help with promotions, especially considering the state of the economy. You know who your team players are; reach out for an assist. As always, bear in mind local rules and regulations about what items and support you can accept from your beer distributor.

“We expect our reps to come in and move a new product,” Allen says. “The good ones always show up with glassware, T-shirts, key chains, etc. People love walking out with something free.”

“We work with a variety of beer reps both for game and non-game nights,” says Kelly Thomson, marketing manager for The Greatest Bar, located across from Boston’s TD Garden, home of the Celtics and Bruins. “Coors Light, for example, does the promos for Bruins games. They might do giveaways or set up a tab and have a bar spend. We’ll also work with companies like Molson, Corona and [Pabst Blue Ribbon] throughout the year to promote concerts, Cinco de Mayo, March Madness and other events.”

Thomson also says pairing beer-bucket specials with an appetizer, such as wings, is a big hit.

Greatest Bar

The Greatest Bar, Boston, promotes beer all the time, not just on game days.

Catch Up With Your Home Team

Locally brewed beers have a lot of cachet these days, and chances are you’ve got a craft brewer in your vicinity. Hosting a tasting is mutually beneficial for you and the brewer and is a great way to build business on non-game nights.

“Flying Dog Brewery is right in our town,” Allen says. “We’ll do events with specials or feature tastings on their new products.”
Tastings can range from simple beer offerings to food pairings.

Score With the Right Equipment

Pitchers and buckets of bottles often are sold (where legal) on game day; be sure to promote them effectively when sports teams are on a break, as well. Beyond the usual standbys are unique systems that merchandise brews, such as table taps. Westwood Tavern in Schaumburg, Ill., features table taps at six of its booths. The two-handle taps record how many ounces are dispensed and are popular no matter what’s on the tavern’s multiple big screens.

Who needs pitchers when you can have a towering beer tube at your table? Meant for parties of four or more, beer tubes — test tubes large enough to hold at least 100 ounces, come with their own tap and stand in a plastic base — also are popular at Champion Billiards Sports Café. sells versions of the tubes with various sports-themed bases, including football helmets, baseballs and hockey masks.

Hit a Home Run With Theme Nights

When you’re a sports bar in a town like Boston, competition is stiff. The Greatest Bar has established itself as more than just a sports destination, and Thomson often uses beer to bring in crowds.

“We’ll do themed nights and reach out to a beer company to sponsor the event,” Thomson says. “Wednesday nights are country [nights], and on Thursdays we’ll have a live band and karaoke. [The beer companies] might do signage or run a special. We ran an ’80s-themed night that [Rhode Island-based] Narragansett Beer sponsored. They’re very good to work with on promotions.”

It may sound a bit cliché, but there’s nothing wrong with marketing to a specific demographic. Champion Billiards Sports Café runs a Ladies’ Night every Thursday, featuring deals on wines, spirits and import beer for women and $2 Miller Lite bottles for everyone. As we all know, where women are drinking, guys soon will follow.

Spread the Word

Social media offers limitless opportunities to spread the news about everything from beer specials and promotions to tastings and contests.

“We want to get our promotions in the minds of the customers, so we’ll tweet about it beforehand, post it on Facebook and put it on our Website,” Thomson says.

In this digital age, it’s critical to take full advantage of these simple and efficient marketing tools when putting your brews to work for you in drawing a crowd.

The Dog Days of Summer

For a sports bar, the summer season can be long and dry. Don’t suffer through a drought!

“We have a great relationship with Anheuser-Busch,” Schultz remarks. “During the summer months, on Fridays we partner up with a local radio station on our giant rooftop patio. [Anheuser-Busch] is there as a sponsor, and the radio station brings a band. It always draws a huge crowd.”

Beer always comes through in the clutch. There are ample ways to pump up your sales when the game buzzer goes off. Don’t be held hostage by the sports lineup — be proactive every day and watch your profits soar. NCB

Pay it Forward: Charity Events

Charity events are always popular, especially when they have a beer/sports connection. Consider working with a beer vendor and hosting a public charity event on an off night.

“Sometimes we’ll host a charity event and the beer companies might donate beer, promote it with giveaways or raffle off tickets to games,” says Kelly Thomson, marketing manager at The Greatest Bar in Boston. “We get a lot of people contacting our events manager to hold charity events at our venue. We did a fund-raiser last summer to kick off our Country Night and to raise money for the Nashville flood victims. I thought it would go hand-in-hand: We were kicking off our Country Night, Nashville is the capital of country music and it would be a great way to support those affected by the floods. We teamed up with Corona on this fund-raiser, and the proceeds we raised at the door went to the American Red Cross.”

Gary Allen, owner and operator of Champion Billiards Sports Café in Frederick, Md., says charity events are a great way to give back and bring in a crowd. Look for local charities or causes to sponsor or work with a national program.

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