group of friends at a sports bar drinking beers

Recently, I went to happy hour in an Irish bar in midtown Manhattan. It was 5 p.m., the market now closed, and people beginning to wind down from a long day. Above the bar were no fewer than 12 50-inch televisions, each showing some form of European sporting event.

And not one of the loosened-tie crowd was paying attention. Instead, this jam-packed bar was congregated in clusters, discussing Yankees baseball, Giants football, and the never-ending saga of Knicks basketball. And, after one drink each, most of these guys went home, replaced by another slew of single-shot warriors.

But maybe they would have stayed longer if the bar catered to their needs. Maybe put a few TVs on CNBC. Maybe the local news. Maybe anything other than club rugby from Scotland.

Had the owners been paying attention to their crowd and applied the insight they accrued, they might have seen opportunities to improve customer experience and turn visitors into regulars.

Here are a few sports bar marketing strategies you can try.

group of friends at a sports bar

*If you pay attention and track the following things about your crowd, you’ll not only keep the sports fans you have, but also garner new ones from busy streets and waiting audiences.

1. Cover all sports.

If you have the means, be sure to use your TV array to show as wide a breadth of local and national sports as possible. Local teams are easy to show, but if there’s a national college football game getting some back page press, it had better get some real estate on your flat screens.

Many bars do well by posting weekly televised sports schedules on chalkboard signs near the bar, so people can easily see what’s coming, and perhaps set your bar as the destination for the big game that coming weekend.

What does it take to be an effective restaurant marketer? The strategies you need (and everything you ever wanted to know) are in one place.

Download The Guide

2. Make things “interesting.”

Now, now, we would never encourage gambling in a legitimate establishment. It’s against the law and could pose serious consequence. However, there’s nothing against running sports-based wagering for a bar-sponsored prize or reward. All that would be required is that customers be in attendance to claim a particular prize.

Sports bar owners: you’d be surprised to learn how much insight you’re really missing out on.

Entry fees could defray the costs, while everyone in the contest would be there, interested in the game (and your bar menu) the entire time. Before long, your bar will win over new customers, simply by being a great place to watch sports.

3. Bar POS software = data!

You’d be surprised to learn how much insight you’re really missing out on when you’re not looking at your restaurant analytics. Bar POS software analytics can tell you what things attract people most during game time.

If your POS data indicates that you sell three times as many chicken wings during football as you do during other times, be sure to plan specials and promotions around this fact. Perhaps a “basket and a beer for 8 bucks” or some other gesture that ensures by the final whistle, you’ve gained a long-term customer.

Likewise, if you notice drink sales rise during a specific team’s games (as a Mets fan, I can attest to this) similar specials or promotions would apply.

Written by   |  
Brad Bortone is a writer, editor and content marketer, published in areas ranging from content strategy to music reviews, and seemingly everywhere in between. Brad's love of the food industry began during his tenure with Johnson & Wales University's web team, writing countless pieces about - and enjoying countless lunches from - the school's esteemed culinary program.