Fantasy Football Restaurants

Article excerpt

Area bars ramping up to tackle fantasy football league business

On fall Sundays, beer, Buffalo wings and draft boards are king -- especially if you are a fantasy football fan.

To entice those fantasy players to leave the comfort of their couches and PCs, Southwest Florida restaurants and sports bars are ramping up freebies and other gimmicks, all in an effort to build customer loyalty and boost business before the winter tourist season kicks in fully.

Analysts say fantasy leagues can reap benefits that last long after the first pick of the NFL draft.

"These leagues continue on throughout the year, providing the perfect reason for repetitive business for restaurants with multiple televisions and an atmosphere for the games," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Technomic, a Chicago-based food consulting firm. "There is great opportunity for restaurants to benefit from this."

Fantasy football is a mostly online game, with supporting mobile apps, in which players create virtual leagues and "draft" actual professional players from NFL teams to form their own franchise.

With a team in place, players go head-to-head with each other every week, collecting points based on how well their drafted players perform in the actual pro games that week. Just like in the NFL, the fantasy team with the most points wins.

In this region, restaurant and bar owners estimate there are thousands of fantasy football participants, who tend to be rabid fans with more discretionary income than typical sports fans. To win their loyalty, venues have begun leveraging the innate advantage they have by offering multiple televisions for viewing multiple games simultaneously -- together with NFL-related food and drink specials. The trick is to show as many games as possible, all at once, so fantasy participants can keep track of as many of "their" players simultaneously.

These guys are serious

At Siesta Key Oyster Bar on Oyster Boulevard, customers sit at tables based on the game of their preference each Sunday, said owner Keith Cipielewski. It is so serious that seating charts are coordinated a week in advance, so staff can coordinate which games will play on which of the restaurant and bar's 15 televisions.

"It keeps us in touch with the locals," Cipielewski said. "Plus it starts at a time that is traditionally slow for us, around the end of the summer, and brings more people in."

SKOB, which is known for being a Chicago Bears fan hangout, also invites fantasy football players to a draft party every year.

Cipielewski said participants have received free merchandise, too, such as a punch card that rewards frequent customers with free beer.

"Fantasy football benefits restaurants through the loyalty a fan feels to a certain establishment," said Tristano, the Chicago consultant.

"For fans, there's a reason to go back there now on a more repetitive basis for games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday," Tristano said, referring to expanded NFL playing days throughout the season.

"Restaurants have a really great opportunity to build on that loyalty through relevant promotions to keep them coming back."

Gecko's Grill & Pub, a Sarasota restaurant in the Landings, has done just that to capture repeat business. Fantasy football fans can win prizes such as free grills, deluxe tailgating chairs and club- level Tampa Bay Bucs game tickets every week, general manager Mike Ferrara said. …

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