How can restaurants win over sports fans?

10/4/16 7:00 AM Natalie Appleton


When it comes to sports fans, we know this much:

  1. They like to watch the game live.
  2. They like to drink while they watch the game.
  3. They like to eat while they watch the game.

In short - sports fans are good for business.

What do you need to know about getting more sports fans in your door?

To give you a sense of who your sports fans are, the impact they can have on your restaurant, and how you can best prepare for them, we’ve profiled four unique sports species: NFL fans, fans of that other kind of football, MLB fans, and NHL fans.

1. National Football League [NFL]


The games: Sunday and Monday nights for regular season; playoffs start in January. Games typically start at 5:30 pm local and often last three to four hours. If you’ve got TV’s and/or a lounge, keep this block of time in mind when you’re using your restaurant scheduling software, because, outside football season, Monday nights aren’t typically the busiest night of the week in the restaurant industry.

The fans: Football fans are among the most die-hard in the world. By the time they’re in your lounge, they’ve probably been cheering for their team for 20 or 30 years, probably since about the time they lost their baby teeth.

There are teams (typically older, better teams) with more rabid fans than others, though. Teams like the New England Patriots (The Pats), the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers.

Forbes’ list of ‘The NFL’s Best Fans’ ranks the league’s most-loved teams according to stadium attendance, television ratings, merchandise sales, social media reach and fan club presence. Here are the top five:

  1. Dallas Cowboys (stadium rank 1, TV rank 8)
  2. Green Bay Packers (stadium rank 6, TV rank 3), tied for second place with
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (stadium rank 11, TV rank 2)
  4. New England Patriots (stadium rank 6, TV rank 9)
  5. Indianapolis Colts (stadium rank 6, TV rank 12)

Why do you want to know these numbers?

Because these are the teams that draw crowds into bars and restaurant lounges to watch the game.

Find out when the top 10 teams are playing this season, and those are apt to be busy Sunday and Monday nights, if you can appeal to the NFL crowd.

As guests they…

  • Are likely to be in groups of four or five.
  • Prefer tables or booths with their crew.
  • Are apt to be there for a few hours, and they’ll continue ordering throughout. Since they’re there for such a long time, they’ll probably all order meals, possibly at different times, as well as appetizers like…you guessed it…wings, and they’ll likely share pitchers of draught.
  • Will wear their jerseys, possibly face make-up

How can you win over the NFL crowd?

Fantasy football is kind of massive right now (the Fantasy Sports Trade Association recently announced fantasy sports participation had risen to 57.4 million players).

Almost every NFL fan out there is playing fantasy football daily or through the season, so look for a way to create your own fantasy contest. You could ask guests to pick a fantasy squad for tonight’s game in the early slate and fill out a ballot when you come in; use Yahoo Fantasy (or a similar platform) to tally the points, and give the winner a free pitcher or wings. You’ll probably have a fan for life.  

Also, when it comes to the NFL, don’t forget about the ladies. According to a Sports Business Daily article, the NFL has seen significant and consistent growth in its female fan base:

“Overall, women represent about one-third of the NFL’s viewing audience throughout the regular season and playoffs, a figure network executives say they expect to hit 45 percent in the next few years. Women already account for about half of the league’s Super Bowl viewing audience.”

So, when you’re thinking about an NFL promotion, remember the ladies!

2. The other kind of football (known in these parts as soccer)


Yes, in North America we call it soccer, but people from across the pond call it football. And they love their teams with all their English or Brazilian or Argentinian hearts. What’s even better, for you, is that fans don’t always have access to these matches at home.  

The games: Since the matches are played overseas, they’re sometimes on at ungodly hours, like dawn on Sunday. Again, factor these odd times in when you’re using your restaurant scheduling software, which might indicate that normally on a Sunday at 10 am you’d need one server, but with a block-full of soccer fans in the house, that could be different.

The fans: Like NFL fans, European, African and South American football fans began cheering for their team in utero. They will do anything to watch. In this case, you’re also not just bringing fans together, you’re also bringing expats together, and there’s something very cool (and profitable) about becoming their place.  

If you’ve got a decent British expat community in your area, be sure to look up Premier League matches, and if you can, show Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Man City—some of the league’s most popular teams.

As guests they…

  • May not drink as much, due to the odd hours of the games, or they may drink more, due to the odd hours of the games.
  • Will wear their jerseys.
  • Are apt to become a loyal lot. Show the game, and they will come.

How can you win over the European football crowd?

Show their club’s matches. Carry their beers. Serve their comfort foods they love. That’s all. (Oh, and let them know about all of the above in house, advertise using jersey images on posters on the window for passersby, and use team hashtags on social).

3. Major League Baseball [MLB]


The games: The regular season generally runs April through early October with games taking place on random weeknights, and also on weekends. The MLB playoffs have kicked off with evening and weekend matinee games almost daily.

The fans: Baseball fans tend to be either not young, or not white. A recent USA Today article says, “…the average age of baseball TV watchers is over 50—and draw the interest of more than 50 million Latinos in the USA.”

MLB TV ratings during prime time are pretty strong. According to a Forbes article about MLB prime time TV ratings, citing Nielsen research data on the league’s 29 US clubs, “…nine clubs had the No. 1 ranking across all TV networks in prime time (Royals, Tigers, Orioles, Pirates, Indians, Red Sox, Mariners, and Giants).

The trick is, baseball fans don’t feel the need to gather in groups to watch the game like their NFL counterparts. It’s a drawn out game. Less hooting and hollering. Watching is more of a solitary act. More nodding, smiling, and sighing. Perhaps a clap here and there. And fans are quite comfortable to do it at home. Save for playoffs.

As guests they:

  • Are probably alone, and you may not even know they’re watching their game, or that they’re even there
  • Will likely drink their domestic beer of choice, and/or the draught on special

How can you win over the MLB crowd?

It’s hard to say if old school baseball men (and women) don’t go out to watch the game because the pubs don’t have it on, or if the pubs don’t have it on because the fans don’t come out to watch it.

So, first things first: Show the games, even on one of the smaller screens in the corner. They won’t mind. Second, let them know you’ll be playing the game. Don’t use social media to do it. Remember your 50+ crowd might not be on Twitter. But they do have wallets. And time. The Latinos simply love the game and want to watch their countrymen on the field—you just have to encourage them to do it at your bar instead of your living room.

So the baseball crowd, while less sought-after, is one to go after. Show the games. Serve their beer. And, fingers crossed, they will come. Especially during playoffs.

4. National Hockey League [NHL]


The games: Saturday nights (for Canadians, that’s Hockey Night in Canada to you) and other evenings with typical start times of 7 pm local. There are occasional weekend matinee games, and playoffs don’t start until late spring.

The fans: Hockey fans, albeit passionate and sometimes spirited, don’t necessarily live and breathe their sport like NFL fans. And they aren’t always as motivated to go out to watch the game, and/or go out with a group. Certainly if there’s an NFL team located in your city, you already know the potential of game nights.

Since NHL games have a later start, this gives you a chance to bring in another group after the typical dinner rush.  

As guests they…

  • Could be alone or in a group
  • In a group, they’ll probably go for pitchers
  • Are a bit less likely to order a meal (because of the typical 7 pm start time, they’ve probably already eaten by the time they come in)

How can you win over the NHL crowd?  

Since these fans can go either way when it comes to watching the game at home alone or out with a group, you might have to work a little harder to bring them in. Give away swag or invite guests to predict the games outcome (tried but true promotions for sure)

Given the later start times, build specials around appetizers rather than meals, as well as draught. Or, if you’ve got a local team in your city, encourage them to come in for a late-night meal after the game. The Loomis Agency’s article Get Your Restaurant in the Game suggests ticket stub discounts: “When a customer brings in a ticket stub from a local game, offer a discount or free drink or appetizer.”

Keep the NHL fan before/after game approach in mind when you’re creating your schedule, especially if it’s a home game in your city as these crowds can bring rushes at unusual times.

Last, remember that while meal counts in house can surge on game days, food delivery service could also see a spike for all the fans who prefer to watch the game in their own palace. If that’s a trend you’re thinking about tackling, check out our post How food delivery impacts restaurant guests.


Don't be understaffed for the big game!  We can help you create better schedules for sporting events that ensure your guests will be well taken care of.  Contact us to learn more about how we can help.

Topics: Restaurant Scheduling, Guest Experience