Fantasy Football Restaurants

© 2012 Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

Area bars ramping up to tackle fantasy football league business

On fall Sundays, beer, Buffalo wings and draft boards are king — especially if you are a fantasy football fan.

To entice those fantasy players to leave the comfort of their couches and PCs, Southwest Florida restaurants and sports bars are ramping up freebies and other gimmicks, all in an effort to build customer loyalty and boost business before the winter tourist season kicks in fully.

Analysts say fantasy leagues can reap benefits that last long after the first pick of the NFL draft.

“These leagues continue on throughout the year, providing the perfect reason for repetitive business for restaurants with multiple televisions and an atmosphere for the games,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Technomic, a Chicago-based food consulting firm. “There is great opportunity for restaurants to benefit from this.”

Fantasy football is a mostly online game, with supporting mobile apps, in which players create virtual leagues and “draft” actual professional players from NFL teams to form their own franchise.

With a team in place, players go head-to-head with each other every week, collecting points based on how well their drafted players perform in the actual pro games that week. Just like in the NFL, the fantasy team with the most points wins.

In this region, restaurant and bar owners estimate there are thousands of fantasy football participants, who tend to be rabid fans with more discretionary income than typical sports fans. To win their loyalty, venues have begun leveraging the innate advantage they have by offering multiple televisions for viewing multiple games simultaneously — together with NFL-related food and drink specials. The trick is to show as many games as possible, all at once, so fantasy participants can keep track of as many of “their” players simultaneously.

These guys are serious

At Siesta Key Oyster Bar on Oyster Boulevard, customers sit at tables based on the game of their preference each Sunday, said owner Keith Cipielewski. It is so serious that seating charts are coordinated a week in advance, so staff can coordinate which games will play on which of the restaurant and bar’s 15 televisions.

“It keeps us in touch with the locals,” Cipielewski said. “Plus it starts at a time that is traditionally slow for us, around the end of the summer, and brings more people in.”

SKOB, which is known for being a Chicago Bears fan hangout, also invites fantasy football players to a draft party every year.

Cipielewski said participants have received free merchandise, too, such as a punch card that rewards frequent customers with free beer.

Fantasy football benefits restaurants through the loyalty a fan feels to a certain establishment,” said Tristano, the Chicago consultant.

“For fans, there’s a reason to go back there now on a more repetitive basis for games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday,” Tristano said, referring to expanded NFL playing days throughout the season.

Restaurants have a really great opportunity to build on that loyalty through relevant promotions to keep them coming back.”

Gecko’s Grill & Pub, a Sarasota restaurant in the Landings, has done just that to capture repeat business. Fantasy football fans can win prizes such as free grills, deluxe tailgating chairs and club- level Tampa Bay Bucs game tickets every week, general manager Mike Ferrara said.

The restaurant also hosts its own football pool, in which participants have the chance to win free beer for a year by picking the most winners during the course of an NFL season. For the fantasy football draft itself, Gecko’s offered bottomless chips and salsa to all league participants.

“We try to amp it up all the way to Super Bowl Sunday,” Ferrara said. “It seems like everyone is on a fantasy football league these days, so we want to entice them to keep coming back.”

Chains in on action

Local bars and restaurants are not the only ones trying to capitalize on fantasy football.

In 2010, pizza chain Papa John’s hosted a contest on its Facebook page, asking players worldwide why they thought their league was the best.

The contest winner received an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2011 NFL Draft in New York City. This year, adult arcade chain Dave & Buster’s hosted league parties that included a free pro football weekly fantasy football guide and a free CBS network draft kit. Buffalo Wild Wings, likewise, gave away draft kits that contained league championship pennants, draft boards, player stickers and koozies. Sandwich maker Quiznos offered free fantasy draft boards on its Facebook page that leagues could use during at-home draft parties. The chain also included coupons, like 20 percent off catering purchases of $50 or more, and $5 small sub combinations.

A declining fan base?

But it is sports bars that have really gone after fantasy football leagues as a way to boost business.

At FinnDaddy’s, a sports bar on Beneva Road, the fantasy football crowds have thinned this year, but the bar still draws a decent crowd, owner Mark Lapidus said.

“It could be my competition is cheaper or more people are just staying home,” he said. “We still have good locals, though, that come in every week to watch all of their players.”

Each year, Lapidus hosts draft parties for local leagues, where he offers less-expensive prices on beer and food and gives out complimentary draft boards. But with the success of fantasy football has come a flood of competition, making it more difficult for bars and restaurants to keep regulars coming back.

“There are so many kinds of players trying to get in on the big- screen business that it is causing the crowd that’s looking for the games on Sunday to be splintered up through all the alternatives,” said Michael Terry, a professor with the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality.

“It’s not just local sports bars anymore, but the buffalo wing chains and even the newer craft beer bars,” he added. “They are all taking a piece of this pie.”

At the Gecko’s on Clark Road in Sarasota, NFL viewing has fallen victim, somewhat, to demographics. General manager Mark Stewart says more people come in now to watch college football games on Saturdays. His theory is that fewer people in Southwest Florida have a pro team to cheer for.

“The problem is that no one in Sarasota roots for the home team,” he said. “No one is from Florida, so they’re fans of teams in other states. But for college football, people are ready to root for Florida or Florida State.”__

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