Thatas (March) Madness

Sports are cyclical. Even after the darkest defeat, another season emerges to provide that endless hope for a more prosperous year ahead. Most sports, in fact, feature an annual tournament that captures a nation’s attention. And March Madness is one of those events.

The G.R.E.A.T Grille Group, a parent company of four sports bars throughout the country, understands this, which is why the company is capitalizing on those locations by hosting its March Madness bracket challenge when the tournament starts March 13 with stakes unlike any other: a $10,000 prize.

“Hopefully (the $10,000 prize) will blow people away,” says Adam Bianco, director of entertainment at the Columbus, Ohio-based G.R.E.A.T Grille Group.

The G.R.E.A.T Grille Group is a national sport restaurant chain with four locations including the Eddie George’s Grille 27 in Columbus, Ohio; Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 in Pittsburgh; Indianapolis Colts Grille in Indianapolis; and the Houston Texans Grille in Houston, Texas.

Because the grand prize is $10,000, the G.R.E.A.T Grille Group is using to host the brackets for all of the participants. Those who play, no matter what location, will compete against each other for the big prize.

A grand prize of that caliber is no easy feat. In the past, individual restaurants would host March Madness tournaments with prizes that were gift certificates for a dinner for two. Creating a $10,000 purse required each restaurant put $2,500 in the pot.

Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis' Grille 36 in Pittsburgh is one of the restaurants participating in the March Madness bracket challenge.

Having four restaurants participate provides a more stable environment with “more streams of revenue,” Bianco says. “It gives us the option to do something like this. It’s a big ‘wow’ factor.”

Joining the tournament is free, but it does come with one caveat: The Great 8 card. Bianco says the business card, which requires patrons to complete a number of requirements, is an incentive for customers to come back to the restaurants, cultivating a group of regulars via social media.

To be eligible to win, a patron is required to complete four of the eight objectives of the card. Four of those are check-in requirements on social-networking sites. Guests have to check-in three times on Facebook or Foursquare, and the fourth check-in requires patrons to upload a picture of themselves in the restaurant on the restuarant's Facebook fan page and their own page, Bianco explains.

Once a participant completes a requirement, a manager stamps the GREAT 8 card. Other objectives include things such as “buy a draft beer,” “order an appetizer,” etc.

Because many brackets are done after the first day, Bianco and his team decided to host a secondary contest using the GREAT 8 card to attract guests to continue playing.

“If you complete the GREAT 8 Card 100%, then during the National Championship game, we drop your card in a bucket, and that person wins $500, all in cash,” he explains, noting the winner must be present to win.

Planning started toward the end of December 2011, when Bianco, Bob McCarthy, vice president of the group, and the restaurants’ general managers began meeting on conference calls once every couple weeks.

It’s been an evolution ever since that first meeting, Bianco says.

“We added the GREAT 8 Card, the $500 cash prize. I like where it is, and we’re putting the final touches on it,” Bianco adds.


The Houston Texans Grille in Houston, Texas, hooks customers with prizes and a sports-like atmosphere.

Even though the monetary prizes are exciting and enough to entice even non-basketball fans, watching the games at the restaurants is where the actual fun begins.

“During the games, it’s a stadium- and arena-like experience in the restaurant,” Bianco says. “We start playing music during the commercials. We have interactive games and contests during halftime and commercial breaks. We’ll purchase a portable hoop outside and inside the restaurant for free-throw contests.”

Keeping guests around for the whole tournament is the objective. With a bracket that offers a large amount of money, a GREAT 8 card that requires participants to become regulars and a sports-like atmosphere that is unparalleled, Bianco and his team are creating a winning formula — a true slam-dunk.

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