Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bars Suit Up for Football Season

By Joseph Kellard

For Long Beach sports bars, the football season offers a profitable segue from the busy summer months. When the NFL kicks off in September, establishments are quick to fly Jets and Giants flags, dress employees in team jerseys and serve drinks in football-shaped cups, all while showing a dizzying variety of games each Sunday on multiple high-definition or plasma flat screens.

“We try to recreate the stadium atmosphere,” said Tom Corning, who has owned Minnesota’s on West Beech Street for 15 years. “And people will come off the beach in flip-flops and their beach chairs, wearing a football jersey.”

Last Sunday featured two top early-season matchups, Jets-Patriots and Giants-Cowboys. “Having those two biggest rivalries on the same day, it’s just going to be a very good crowd for the whole day,” said Ben Fraiser of the Beach House on West Beech Street.

Both Corning and Fraiser, who managed sports bars for many years before opening the Beach House three years ago, said the crowds at their bars on Sundays are diversifying, as more hard-core male fans come out to watch the games with their girlfriends or wives. “Not anymore is it just guys coming out to watch the game,” Fraiser said. “The crowd now includes couples and families — it’s groups of girls in their Jets jerseys.”

While buffalo wings, sliders and other finger foods are the rage on Sundays, Minnesota’s looks to tap into the growing number of female fans by highlighting brunch and more health-oriented foods, with 30 new items, including Latin lettuce wraps with sautéed chicken. “The whole menu is geared toward women because they’re becoming just as big fans as their boyfriends and husbands,” Corning said.

On Sundays, the Beach House offers beer and wings samplers, quesadillas, fried calamari, slider burgers and crab cakes, and runs drink specials all day. “Football skyrockets the brunch business, and brunch really brings the women out,” Fraiser said.

Meanwhile, at Billy’s Beach Cafe on West Park Avenue, owner Billy Romm estimates that about 25 percent of his football Sunday business is takeout. “A lot of food goes out on Sundays just to homes,” Romm said.

The owner of his establishment for 23 years, Romm said his average patron is middle-aged or older — and that the greater affordability of flat-screen TVs has put a dent in his business. “It’s not like it was 15 years ago,” he said. “Now it’s a lot easier for the public to do this in their own home.”

Romm also believes that stricter DWI laws and the ban on smoking in bars, as well as the ailing economy, have negatively impacted his business. “The crowds have diminished, and I’m really caught for a way to bring them out again,” he said.

Beside the food, Romm said, he believes that one reason people still come to his bar is to watch all the games at once, which some home television packages don’t offer. “That’s an advantage for some crazy sports fanatic degenerate gambler,” he said.

With mostly 20-somethings populating West End bars, fantasy football, in which fans form their own leagues and teams and draft pro players, also factors considerably into their crowds.

“They’re not just watching their teams anymore; they’re watching to see which ones of their fantasy players are scoring points,” Fraiser said.

Changes in the NFL’s television schedule have also affected bars. This season marks the third year that the premier nationally televised game takes place on Sunday night, starting at 8:30, instead of the once more highly rated “Monday Night Football,” which kicks off after 9 p.m. “Go back 15 or 20 year ago, people on Monday would stay out to 1 a.m. if the game was still going on,” Romm said. “It’s not like that anymore.”

In an effort to make up for the drop in business on Mondays, Fraiser runs all-you-can-eat wings specials during the game, and Corning keeps most of the same Sunday specials on Mondays.

As winter approaches, bar owners keep their fingers crossed that the Giants and Jets will be playoff contenders. But even if those prospects are dim, the fans still come to watch the games.

“It’s not as if you see less people,” Fraiser explained. “You see less people coming in dressed in their jerseys and really chanting.”

Of course, if the Jets and/or the Giants make it to the postseason, business will reach a cold-weather peak. “So by December or January, it’s crazy,” Corning said. “It’s like being at the stadium each Sunday.”

Photo Courtesy Arthur Findley

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