Sports bars are a couch potato’s nirvana -- a place where fans can simultaneously watch multiple games without having to fumble with the remote or rush to the fridge for another brew.
Among their proponents, such bars are an oasis, an escape from chores and distractions that might spoil their fun. Some purists see little room for improvement in the basic model - a room lined with TV sets tuned to as many sporting events as possible - but many of the more profitable establishments have found new customers by embellishing on the sports bar concept.
Limited appeal and increased competition among bare-bones sports watering holes have given rise to expanded features -- sort of a sports bar on steroids -- where football fans can dance to a hip-hop DJ, perform their favorite songs in a karaoke contest, or boogie to the sound of live bands. Some bars have musical entertainment several nights per week, while others add it only on non-game nights or between sports seasons. Their web sites offer even more music, so customers know right away these businesses have more than television entertainment.
Randy Filner, who operates three Time Out Sports Bars in the Houston area, learned quickly that it takes more than television to keep customers coming through the door. “I’ve been doing this 11 years, and it became apparent during the first year there are only 40 nights per year that TV will bring customers into the bar,” he said.
Filner relies on a combination of music and games - including pool, shuffleboard, darts and video games - to entertain his customers. The bars often advertise live cover bands on Thursdays and Saturdays, and the customers keep the jukebox going on other nights. “Saturday nights are a real problem in this business,” he says. “Nobody goes anywhere unless there’s something to do.” He usually gets a packed house on Fridays to watch sports programs.
Filner said the target demographic for Time Out locations is a male in the 25-40 age group, and he considers women “another breed” of customer. “We get a lot of women, but they want two things - they want a dance floor and they don’t like to pay for much. We don’t market to them."
Champps Americana, which operates 28 Champps restaurants and 13 franchises throughout the U.S., puts the emphasis on food without overlooking entertainment. “First and foremost, we’re a restaurant that happens to have sports viewing,” said Sharon Banta, Director of Marketing. Restaurants may or may not have their multiple TV sets tuned to sporting events, she said, depending on the season and popularity of specific events. “Sports bars have a certain connotation that we try to avoid. We also have music, deejays, late-night promotions, karaoke, and trivia games for our customers.”
Sports bars -- like other businesses -- are required by U.S. Copyright law to obtain permission from songwriters for the recorded and live music they use, and may need a license for TV and radio. Most of them obtain a blanket license through performing rights organizations such as BMI, which represents approximately 4.5 million songs. Most of these businesses find the increased profits from music well worth its cost.
“Music is crucial to your ambiance,” Banta said. “It sets the mood. Often, people don’t notice music until it’s wrong. It has to be at the right volume, and should match the day-part. Happy hour is different from lunch, which is different from late night.
The diversity of entertainment offered by Champps is designed to reach a very broad demographic as the business day progresses. Their youngest customers often are the last to arrive in the evening, and that’s when karaoke is popular. “People forget how to have fun,” said Banta. “Karaoke is a way to cut loose.”