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Super Sized Profits

Posted on  | December 31, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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No matter the teams, the Super Bowl is a money maker. On-premise or off-, be ready to get a slice of the pie.

Eric Tschetter, who owns two Pour House sports bars in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has two pieces of advice for anyone getting ready to serve the hordes of customers who will show up when the Super Bowl comes to New York City in February.

First, even though the Super Bowl promotes itself, that doesn’t mean those customers will show up just because you want them to. Marketing, even for the Super Bowl, is crucial, if only because the competition will be promoting their efforts. Second, always have a Plan B, because you’ll never know when you need one. In Tschetter’s case, it was the freak ice storm followed by five inches of snow a couple of days later, both of which snarled the Dallas area during the week it hosted the game in 2011.

“We should have had a backup plan,” says Tschetter, whose 24,000-square foot location in Fort Worth’s cultural district was the focus of the company’s efforts for the Super Bowl. “I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but Super Bowl week was kind of a bust. People didn’t venture out, and that left us with our pants down. I’m not sure we could have come up with something, but we needed a backup plan.”

In this, the Super Bowl has evolved into a lucrative, week-long event that requires a surprisingly sophisticated approach to both planning and operations.

“It used to be, when I started in the restaurant business 25 years ago, the Super Bowl was a slam dunk,” says Brad Miller, an operations associate for Synergy Restaurant Consultants in Laguna Niguel, CA. “You put in a big screen TV and everyone came in and watched the game. That’s not going to work any more.”

KNOW THE LAW

One reason for that is the National Football League doesn’t make it easy on on-premise operators. You know that thing the announcers always used to say? “This telecast is for private, non-commercial use…” The NFL takes that seriously, said several people interviewed for this story, because a big screen in a bar or restaurant is not about private non-commercial use. There are restrictions on TV size and charging admission to watch the game, says Miller, and if the league doesn’t aggressively pursue violators these days, it’s still not unusual for an NFL lawyer to call an operator who boasts in an ad, on social media, or in a media interview that they’re using a TV that’s bigger than what the league allows.

The other reason? Because the Super Bowl has become more than just a game, says Paddy McCarthy, who owns Nevada Smiths, which just moved to its new location in Manhattan on Third Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets—and where, not coincidentally, the slogan is “Where football is religion.” His point? That the Super Bowl is not about a football game on just one day, but an event that lasts the entire week preceding the game.

“The phone is already ringing off the hook,” says McCarthy. “People are looking forward to it so much, and are really excited about it. It’s going to be unbelievable for New York City.”

That means operators need to know how the system works, and that the system includes more than ordering extra chicken wings. One of the most important examples of this are corporate and celebrity parties, which have become even more important as the Super Bowl has changed from a one-day game to a week-long event. In 2013 in New Orleans, for example, the Maxim and Patrón Tequila party featured Victoria’s Secret models, while Lil Wayne performed at the GQ, Lacoste and Mercedes-Benz event.

Not all parties are created equal. The A list events are one thing and involve paperwork and contracts and doing business; the rest can be as simple as paying a celebrity to attend, all the while knowing there is a decent chance the celebrity will show up just long enough to say he or she was there. That happened to a fellow bar owner in Dallas, says Tschetter, and the owner had to mostly grin or bear it. In all of this, say consultants, consider the return on your investment, both in time and aggravation: Will the celebrities boost business enough to pay for getting them in?

BIG GAME IN THE BIG APPLE

This year’s event—Numero XLVIII, in the NFL’s traditional grandiose style—is already destined for history. It will be the first-ever Super Bowl in an open stadium in a cold-weather city, and the first to toggle between two states, New York and New Jersey. NYC’s ability to accommodate an influx of visitors is not so much in doubt (the city is used to handling large overlapping conventions with aplomb), but the weather wild card is certain to add a dose of excitement—or anxiety, as it were. On the other hand, with Super Bowl festivities estimated by the NFL to bring a fresh $600 million into the metropolitan area, inclement weather is a risk businesses are happy to take.

Most of the corporate parties are expected to take place in Manhattan, and the city is already planning to shut down a section of Times Square. Anheuser-Busch is going to dock a luxury cruise liner next to the Intrepid and operate it as a “Bud Light Hotel” entertainment and lodging venue. The 50 Yard Lounge, a grand pop-up complex at 1 Penn Plaza, will feature 15,000 square feet of heated roof decks, tented plazas and restaurants. Lonny Sweet, creator of the project, is counting on it being a true showcase for NYC: “The week leading up to the big game will be historic for New Yorkers, as we show why this city is the center of the food, sports, and entertainment worlds.” With dozens of NYC chefs, mixologists, musicians and athletes on board, the 50 Yard Lounge is hoping to draw an equal mix of tourists and locals.

One of the longest-running Super Bowl events is the Taste of the NFL, made possible through the generosity of partners including E. & J. Gallo. Additional supporting sponsors include Pernod Ricard. The annual strolling food and wine event pairs 35 of the country’s best chefs, each representing an NFL city, with 35 of the NFL’s greatest players. It is the single most successful NFL-sanctioned charitable event at the Super Bowl, having distributed in excess of $14 million to food banks since1992. This year’s event will take place on Super Bowl Eve at Pier 12 of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal; 3,000 guests are expected, and special hosts will include Ted Allen, Gina Gallo, Andrew Zimmern and Miss America.

DO WHAT YOU DO BEST

Even for those who don’t want to deal with a party, there are plenty of options. Because “every bar in New York is after the same person,” notes restaurateur Martin Whelan, who owns Stout, among other establishments in New York City.

A sports bar has an advantage here, since that’s its reason for being, and probably won’t have to do as much as other bars or restaurants. Having said that, no one should wait until the last minute to start marketing:

  • Promote, promote, promote. Social media has made this much easier for operators, says Miller, because it’s mostly free to use. “Leverage your customer base,” he says, “using your Facebook page, email blasts, and newsletters.” The idea, says Whalen is to emphasize why your customers come when it’s not the Super Bowl, and to remind them how much fun they have when they do come.
  • Be creative. One of Brad Miller’s  Synergy clients hired a manicurist one year; wives and girlfriends had their nails done while their husbands and boyfriends were watching the game. Nevada Smiths, which sells NFL merchandise anyway, will feature the two teams playing in the game.
  • Step up the menu. This is a tricky area; no one wants to do something that won’t work on a day like the Super Bowl. But given how many chicken wings will be eaten during the game (1.25 billion by one estimate), it’s at least worth considering adjusting your usual fare. The keys are simplicity and quality—can you add an appealing item without wreaking havoc on the kitchen? One possibility: Name two dishes for the teams playing, and work a promotion out of that.
  • Focus on takeout. This can be particularly effective for bars and restaurants that aren’t sports-themed, allowing them to reach customers who might go somewhere else.

Two things not to do, says Miller: Forget about a cover charge or raising prices. Your customers are too smart for that. In addition, they’ll see through a promotion that isn’t creative or done on the cheap, or a special menu that isn’t particularly special. “The freebies you can get from a distributor probably aren’t enough for the Super Bowl,” he says. Because the last thing anyone wants to do is disappoint customers on one of the most profitable days of the year.

OFF-PREMISE PLAY-CALLING

Bars, restaurants and events may score high on the glamour meter during Super Bowl week, but it is actually in family rooms from coast to coast where the real crowds will be hunkered down. The Super Bowl has now passed New Year’s Eve as America’s most popular party occasion. Fortunately, these viewing parties—the NFL considers it “homegating,” an extension of tailgating—provide ample opportunity for wine, beer and spirits purveyors to help party-goers stock up.

Ideally you can showcase products from the regions of the two opposing teams. Northern California or Washington wines would fit the bill if San Francisco or Seattle makes it to MetLife Stadium; otherwise, craft beer or spirits might be the right call. Even still, investing in some team regalia can go a long way. You can also post a daily trivia question in the week leading up to the big game.

Note that you should not expect a slew of official Super Bowl POS materials to be provided by distributors. NFL sponsorship is prohibitively expensive even for large wine and spirits suppliers. You may, however, be able to access materials that refer to the Super Bowl without mentioning it by name. Frontera, a brand in the Concha y Toro Chilean wine portfolio, for example, has a promotion with Mission Avocados to promote the “Big Game.”

Again, no matter who is playing, the appropriate focus for beverage merchants will be on the fans. Don’t just court the party hosts; think about all the guests who will want to arrive with an apropos host gift. Be ready to recommend specific “crowdpleaser” wines, and perhaps some “winter warmer” spirits. Above all, remember that for the vast majority of Americans whose favorite team will not be in the game, the Super Bowl is all about having fun. So don’t be afraid to have some fun with your promotions.

In Anacortes, WA, for instance, Compass Wines has for the past decade hosted a “Junk Food and Fine Wine Tailgate Extravaganza” on the Friday evening before each Super Bowl. Deliciously tongue-in-cheek pairings have included grower Champagne and microwave kettle corn; Cheetos with Aussie Riesling; canned chili and cocktail sausages with Syrah; even KFC extra crispy fried chicken with 1er Cru red Burgundy. It may sound crazy, but, come to think of it, if the game itself turns out to be a dud, the food and beverage menu items may turnout to be the Most Valuable Players of all.


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