Scott Maitland’s restaurant and brewery Top of the Hill sits just 10 yards from the University of North Carolina’s campus in Chapel Hill, so during March Madness, he’s never needed to resort to special deals or promotions to sell his beers.
Take the UNC-Duke game on March 3: With the NCAA tournament still a week away, more than 200 people camped outside the Franklin Street landmark to reserve one of the 800 seats inside.
Rather than selling tickets for the viewing party, Maitland stipulated that those hoops fans lucky – and determined – enough to secure a coveted spot to watch the game at Top of the Hill spend at least $20.
And, usually, that means a lot of beer.
“We can see anywhere from a 25 to 35 percent increase in beer consumption,” Maitland says.
For many restaurants and sports bars, the fervor around the tournament, which runs from March 11 to April 2, can jolt beer sales. In fact, an analysis of millions of transactions across the U.S. by restaurant management platform Upserve has found that March has historically had the highest beer sales of the entire year.
Unlike Top of the Hill, the restaurants and bars located farther away from major college basketball programs take advantage of the tournament by pairing cheap grub with even cheaper draft and bottled beers. For instance, in Scottsdale, Arizona, you can get one pitcher of beer for a penny at Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row if you buy three sliders ($4 each).
Last year, Buffalo Wild Wings, which bills itself as “the official hangout” for March Madness games, rolled out an entire ad campaign for the tournament, including a commercial that aired whenever a game went into overtime.
At the Buffalo Wild Wings in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, general manager Michael Gardner has worked through the last five tournaments. Gardner expects the restaurant, which has 50 beers on tap, to see an overall jump in business during the month.
“All in all, we sell about as much craft beer as we do domestic,” Gardner says.
Though pricier, craft beer does well during March Madness.
In Chapel Hill, Maitland only offers the beers he brews at his 20,000-square-foot restaurant – about 1,800 barrels a year – including two that pay homage to UNC basketball, the Assist IPA and the Rams Head IPA.
On average, Top of the Hill does anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 in beer sales a day. But when big games tied to March Madness come along, sales skyrocket. During last year’s UNC-Duke regular season finale, Maitland saw about $17,000 in beer sales. And for the Tar Heels’ Final Four game against Oregon, the restaurant netted about $16,400 in sales.
Craft beer sales tend to increase overall during the summer months, but March also shines, likely because of the excitement over the tournament and St. Patrick’s Day, according to Bart Watson, an economist for the Brewers Association.
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“With the basketball games, we increase somewhat on craft sales like IPAs, but it’s the domestic beers – Miller Lite, Bud Light – that really sell. When you throw in St. Patrick’s Day, it creates a whole new level of sales.” – The Beginning II owner Mike Krajacic
Last year, overall craft sales, including on-premise and off-premise, jumped from $14.2 million in February to $17.1 million in March, Watson says.
“March Madness is built into American culture, and it’s an out-of-house event: You want to be at a place that has four TVs,” Watson said. “The Super Bowl is a big beer-driver, but a lot of it is in-house. March Madness strikes me as a little different; it’s more of a communal event.”
When trying to sell more domestic beer, restaurants and bars often turn to special deals tied to March Madness.
At The Beginning II, a sports bar in Syracuse, New York, known for its wings, patrons can get a bottle of Miller Lite or Coors Light for $3 during tournament games.
“With the basketball games, we increase somewhat on craft sales like IPAs, but it’s the domestic beers – Miller Lite, Bud Light – that really sell,” says owner Mike Krajacic. “When you throw in St. Patrick’s Day, it creates a whole new level of sales.”
Beer sales during the weekday also increase, as many of the early tournament games tip off in the afternoon. Krajacic said for afternoon games involving Syracuse University, he can see anywhere from 75 to 100 more people come through his doors.
“They will often come in during work,” he says. “It’s almost expected by the businesses around here.”
The Beginning II also has 60-cent wings during games, Krajacic said, which helps sell more beer.
“They can have that second or third beer because they’re eating a dozen wings,” he says, proving that it’s game time for restaurants’ kitchen and bar staff as well.