On the Line / Marketing / How to Create a Sports Bar Marketing Strategy

How to Create a Sports Bar Marketing Strategy

Here’s a guide to creating a sports bar marketing strategy that attracts customers, and how to create the ideal restaurant marketing budget.

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DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

Sports bars first gained prominence at the end of the 20th century. Since then, owners and managers have worked hard to drum up crowds and feed off of the excitement of live sports culture. 

Former L.A. Rams offensive lineman, Dennis Harrah, opened Legends in Long Beach, California in 1979. It was the first modern American sports bar, and countless others have followed. Popular sports bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings represents the growth in demand for places to gather for game day — they have over 1,200 establishments globally and a thriving social media presence and brand.

So what does it take to successfully market a sports bar? While some adhere to that ancient sports bar saying, “put on the game and the fans will follow,” seasoned owners know that attracting customers takes more than mounting a few flat screen TVs and pouring cold drafts. Creating a sports bar marketing strategy takes creativity, passion for the industry, and a love of the game.

To get started, here’s everything you need to know to create a sports bar marketing strategy that excites customers — as well as how to determine your restaurant marketing budget.

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

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What is a sports bar marketing strategy?

Marketing a sports bar includes everything from branding to social media to online presence to interior design. Investing in marketing helps attract new customers, bring past guests back in, and establish your brand in the community.

Your marketing strategy will guide strategic decisions and help create awareness for your bar. Whether you’re unveiling the newest location of a well-known sports bar franchise or are promoting the grand opening of a brand new local joint, the goal of your marketing strategy is to generate interest in your establishment, so it becomes a go-to game day staple.

How much should I spend on a sports bar marketing budget?

Depending on your exact marketing needs, existing brand awareness, and available resources, your budget will vary.  Are you marketing a franchise location or a new bar? Will you be using organic methods or paying for advertising?

On average, the typical business spends between 3-10% of their sales on a marketing budget.

The good news is, you can always rely on scrappy, data-backed tactics to lower your marketing costs. For example, never underestimate the power of word of mouth. And if you have friends or family with marketing skills of their own, leverage those personal connections. Play your cards right, and a video of your customers celebrating an England over Wales rugby win could get shared like crazy, and put your bar on the map. Much like this viral video did for the Ashton Gate sports bar in Bristol

Sports Bar Marketing Ideas

As long as sports events continue to be televised, hordes of fans will flock to their neighborhood bars to cheer their favorite teams to victory. However, this is also true of competing sports bars down the street. So how are you going to market your bar so it sticks out from the competition?

Here are five sports bar marketing strategies to try.

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Pick a Team, Any Team

Source: Seattle Times

Sports bars differentiate themselves from beer gardens, breweries, and dive bars by showcasing their love for the game loud and proud.

To transform your sports bar into a mainstay of the community, embrace your local sports teams and players. Decorate your bar with sports memorabilia, like jerseys and autographed pictures. To really go the distance, consider repainting your bar to reflect home team colors and naming drink specials after local sports legends and hometown heroes. Check out local consignment and vintage shops for unique decorations. By embedding the local sports scene into your bar’s identity, you’ll endear yourself to the community in no time.

Take The Angry Beaver in Seattle, Washington. It’s the city’s first and only hockey bar, and fans flock to the bar every game day to cheer for their favorite teams.

Televise Pay-Per-View Events

Source: Jack Demsey’s

One of the most common ways sports bars pack ‘em in is by hosting pay-per-view events. Customers will turn out in droves for fight night, instead of shelling out hefty pay-per-view fees themselves. To take these event nights to a more exclusive level, consider charging admission or making them reservation-only.

Thanks to their primary eight foot screen and twelve additional televisions throughout the bar, Jack Demsey’s in New York City is known for streaming the hottest sporting events.

Sponsor a Local Team or Host Sports Leagues and Events

Whether it’s an elementary school tee-ball team or adult bocce league, sponsoring a local sports team is a great way for a new bar to get their name in front of their target audience. 

See it as an opportunity to endear your establishment to the surrounding community. Offer drink specials for team members who come in wearing their uniform, or half-off apps if they win the big game.

Host sports events in partnership with local leagues. Boston Ski and Social Club (BSSC) teams up with Banners Kitchen & Tap at TD Garden to host a Virtual Top Golf League. By offering prizes and encouraging teams to sign up, they bring new business to the bar every week and establish more regulars.

Offer Drink and Menu Promotions During Big Games

Source: DCist

For big sporting events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics, patrons have their fair share of sports bars to choose from. To attract fans to your stools, offer special drink and menu promotions.

Ted & The Bully Bar in Washington, DC is all about promotional drink parties. For the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in 2016, they offered food and drink specials each day — kicking things off with a special Brazilian cocktail to celebrate the opening ceremony.

How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Marketing Strategy and Make Adjustments

Failing to continually monitor your marketing strategy is a missed opportunity. Don’t wait until the end of each initiative to determine its success.

Set marketing goals

Determine your goals for each marketing activity. Do you want to add more social 

followers? Bring in new customers? Add email subscribers to your mailing list?

Collect data + analytics

Most modern marketing tools—like email providers, website hosting platforms, and social media apps—include built-in analytics. More advanced marketing platforms aggregate data or integrate different apps. The Toast restaurant platform and POS integrates with dozens of marketing and business apps to make data even more powerful. Imagine seeing how actual sales relate to website searches or discovering how your top paying customers originally found you.

Update and optimize

Which marketing efforts are consistently underperforming? Which campaigns are going unacknowledged by your target audience? Weaker aspects of your marketing strategy will benefit from ongoing monitoring.

Once you’ve determined the success rate of your ongoing campaigns, revisit your initial marketing goals. By comparing sales and bar performance to campaign success, you can see the return on investment (ROI) of your marketing activities.

What are the most common restaurant and sports bar marketing strategies?

Restaurants rely on ongoing conversations with their patrons to make the most of their marketing efforts. A well-timed “we miss you!” promotion via email, or social media contest to promote your new drink special during a snowstorm might be the difference between an empty bar and a full house.

If your marketing strategy hasn’t been as effective as you’d like it to be, consider revamping your efforts using one of these common sports bar marketing methods:

  • Invest in online targeted ads and local advertisements.

  • Improve your organic reach by following current SEO trends.

  • Find out where your target audience hangs out online and join them.

  • Partner with local businesses to cross-promote events and specials.

What are effective marketing strategies for new sports bars?

The biggest challenge facing new sports bar owners is effectively integrating yourself into the community. As the new bar on the block, you’re tasked with attracting customers familiar with competing sports bars in your neighborhood. So, how are you going to make a good first impression?

Being the new bar on the block isn’t necessarily a bad thing. New establishments bring out locals, and can lead to a slew of regulars if you make them feel welcomed and learn what the area needs from your bar.

When designing the marketing strategy for your new sports bar, remember to:

  • Infuse every campaign with your unique brand identity to set yourself apart from the competition.

  • Establish which sports will most regularly be broadcast in your bar.

  • Go big for your grand opening, to establish your bar as a hip, happening spot.

  • Engage on social media and keep your website and hours updated online.

What are effective marketing strategies to increase revenue?

After you’ve celebrated the success of your grand opening and initial marketing campaigns, it’s time to focus your strategy on retaining customers. 

Here are a few ways for sports bar owners to keep attracting patrons week after week.

Host Private Parties

Allow guests to rent your space (or part of it) for private events such as birthday parties or college reunions. 

Offer More Than Sports

On game-free evenings, why not host a trivia night or karaoke? You can also broadcast non-sports events like award ceremonies or streamed concerts. 

Are you ready to put your marketing game face on?

Now that you have everything you need to craft an effective marketing strategy, it’s time to put your game face on. By showing passion for your community and a love of the game, you’ll find yourself attracting fans from far and wide in no time.

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