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How to Open a Sports Bar (2024 Guide)

Marcel DeerAuthor

As you may know, the bar and nightclub industry took a major hit during the pandemic. It’s now bouncing back and is expected to continue growing at a rate of over 5% per year for the next five years. That means that the current 69,485 registered bars in the US will swell to over 72,000 by next year. One of those new establishments could be your very own sports bar!

When you’re planning to open a sports bar, you need to have all the best resources at your disposal. One of them is certainly this “Starting a Sports Bar Checklist” guiding you through the process. We’ve created it to show you all the stages and challenges along the way, from your first planning to opening day, and we hope this will help you turn your sports bar dream into a reality.

In this article, you will learn how to:

  • design a sports bar concept and business structure,

  • make a business plan and acquire financing,

  • plan out a menu, staff team, marketing strategy, and more!

How to Open a Sports Bar: Your Complete Checklist

The checklist you’re about to look through is here to show you the major steps needed to bring your sports bar idea into reality. We’ve also provided a lot of links here to point toward resources that will give you more details and help along the way. Ready? Game on!

1. Choose your concept

When you decide to open a sports bar, you usually start out with a name and a concept. This should be something different to help you stand out in this competitive market, and because it’s a sports bar, you should think about a logo, too. Think about the atmosphere, style, cuisine, and services you want to provide. You’ll need something that makes you unique and encourages consumers to choose you over the competition – something that no one else is currently providing. Need help with your concept? You can find a whole host of ideas in this article.

2. Set up your business structure

Deciding on ownership is a big next step. As a sole owner, you’d have full control but also full responsibility for the bar. If you choose a partnership with one or more people, you’ll have more heads to put together to solve problems but also more competing opinions. In both cases, you’ll also take on unlimited liability for any legal issues or debts that the business might incur.

However, registering as an LLC (limited liability company) or a corporation can limit your personal liability. These business structures act as an entity of their own and take on the business' liabilities.

One thing to note — business structures can get complex due to strict requirements around tax treatment, liabilities, and owner/stakeholder restrictions. Make sure to consult an accountant or other advisor before getting started.

3. Write your sports bar’s business plan

It’s essential to have a business plan that includes an executive summary and covers your finances, operations, market analysis, and management team introduction. This document is really the result of an exercise in planning out all the different parts of your sports bar. It should be comprehensive, and this will take time. But conducting this exercise will also mean that you’ll have considered the business from every angle and can explain it to potential partners or investors in great detail.

Learn how to write a sports bar business plan here. 

4. Figure out funding

Where will your funding come from to start up and initially operate the sports bar business you’ve always wanted? Part of your planning should include figuring out how much your start-up costs will be, your fixed and variable operating costs, and your break-even point.

You can look for funding in the form of loans from friends or family, banks, or private investment institutions. 

To learn about the various loan and funding options available to hospitality businesses, check out our guide to restaurant financing and loans.

5. Follow the legal requirements

Your next move would be to register your business and start making it a real entity. To do this, you’ll need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, which is your business’s tax ID number. If your business will be taxed under a name that isn’t your name or the business’s, you’ll need to register for a DBA (Doing Business As). 

You might work with an attorney to help you trademark your name right from the start to avoid any future issues. 

Next, you should research all the necessary licenses and permits you’ll need to operate your business. This is the time to start working with professionals like attorneys and accountants so you can leverage their expertise.

6. Choose a location

People want a great location they can easily access and enjoy sitting in to watch their favorite sporting events. You can scout around for an ideal place to lease, buy a property, or build something new. 

Regardless of which option you choose, you need to consider what’s best for your customers. Look for a location with the style you’re looking for in the part of town that will attract your target demographic. Remember to also keep parking and transit in mind – you want to make sure your location is accessible to your customers. 

And, of course, ensure that the location is zoned for a sports bar. Every city and town will have its own zoning policies, so dig deep for information before falling in love with a location and finding out you can’t put a sports bar there.

7. Design your layout

A sports bar is like a giant clubhouse. Patrons want to feel comfortable and welcome in your establishment. They also want to have fun and enjoy the excitement of major sporting events – the whole point of a sports bar. Atmosphere is important!

To create the right atmosphere, you’ll need to create a layout that allows for lots of seating, efficient service, and ample room for back-of-house activities. You’ll need to plan for the equipment and technology you’ll need, like screens and sound systems, and you’ll need to focus on line-of-sight so that everyone can watch their preferred game. 

8. Build your sports bar menu

Without great food and drink, sports fans may as well stay in and watch the game from home. It’s the draw of camaraderie but also the opportunity to eat and drink their favorite foods that pulls patrons into sports bars. 

They’re generally looking for great taste, creative options, and of course, value. We’re talking about beers and bar food favorites that can fulfill your customers’ expectations, while still giving you a chance to turn a profit. You can have a look at a bar menu template here to help you plan out what you’re going to serve.

9. Choose your suppliers & vendors

Excellent suppliers and vendors are essential to the success of any sports bar. You’ll need to plan out where you’re going to get your ingredients from, and who will bring you the essential supplies to run your business. 

Developing strong relationships with suppliers will help you to ensure on-time deliveries and great prices that can help your sports bar survive and thrive. 

This article can help you plan out the suppliers your business will need.

10. Hire staff

Great staff people are the cornerstone of any business in the service industry, and this is certainly true for sports bars. Your first step should be to recruit the most important people to head the bar, like a bar manager, head chef, and head bartender. From there, you can interview and hire more people and fill up your staff with servers, cooks, hosts, bussers, and all your other much-needed team players.

11. Create your marketing plan

Leave “Build it and they will come” to Field of Dreams. If you want to successfully open a sports bar, you’ll need to get the word out. 

You need to be able to express how and why you’re different from the competition and make sure that people hear about you. A strong marketing plan can help you find the right direction to get your business off the ground and get bottoms on barstools. These marketing ideas can help! 

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Restaurant Marketing Plan

Create a marketing plan that'll drive repeat business with this customizable marketing playbook template and interactive calendar.

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12. Plan your soft opening/grand opening

When everything else is in place, it will be time to open your sports bar and get everyone to work. 

If you want the opportunity to test out your systems, menu, and more, try a soft opening as a sort of dress rehearsal. Then, collect feedback to see what you can improve to perfect your service for your grand opening. You can use a special opening promotion to bring people in, and coinciding with a great sporting event certainly wouldn’t hurt.

That’s How to Open a Sports Bar

Now that you can see all the steps, you’ll know if you’re ready to open a sports bar and make your dreams come true. There will be challenges and a lot of hard work ahead, but also a great opportunity and lots of resources to help you on your way.

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Restaurant Opening Calculator

This calculator lays out some of the fundamental financial costs of opening a restaurant, so you can start planning and bring your dream restaurant to life.

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