Of the six major American sports, college football is by far the most overrated one for sports bars. Not because it doesn’t drive traffic — it does! Not because there isn’t enough coverage — there is! Not because there aren’t enough fans — there are! No, college football is overrated because there isn’t much your guests can’t get at home on their own TVs.
Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to leverage this business; you definitely should. The trick is to make sure your efforts aren’t on strategies that don’t deliver results.
It all started 11 years ago when the Big Ten Network launched. As a result of their success, the PAC12 network, SEC Network and the ACC Network have all been born. Essentially, these proprietary networks exploded the number of games on easily accessible in-line channels. This caused the ultimate demise of ESPN Gameplan, which aired all those extra games in a season PPV package.
Of course, the expansion of the ESPN Network and the launch by FOX, NBC and CBS of sports-specific networks didn’t help. Now these major rights holders were able to deliver their content to existing viewers. All this network expansion means that unlike the NFL, NCAA football isn’t behind an expensive individual package. This makes the games your guests want far easier for them to access without your help.
College Football Fan Clubs
This should be a no-brainer to market, but it takes real work. Traditionally, the fan clubs have come to you, and operators then give them a package/discount of some sort. That is fine if they come to you, but you need to be proactive and find or create them.
Finding college football fan clubs is as easy as asking your existing guests who they support and inviting them to join you for a watch party. You can enhance that by also calling the major schools and working with their alumni relations department. If they know you are hosting a watch event for their teams, they will want to promote it with you.
Content is a very direct way to prove to your guests that your joint is the best one for watching live NCAA football. Streaming sports content is a demonstrable point of differentiation that all of you should be leveraging. All it takes is a very inexpensive web-enabled device and a place to hook it up. This way you can access any live streaming only NCAA Football game all season.
There are typically 20+ streaming-only games every Saturday (you can find a comprehensive schedule of streaming-only games with the SportsTV Guide). Accessing these streams will also enlarge the number colleges that might be interested in building a watch event with your team. There are 255 total FCS and FBS institutions in the NCAA. That is a target rich market that just needs you to nurture it a bit and this content ensures that is possible.
Frequency Rewards/Football Loyalty Programs
Your existing guests are the best place to promote a frequency rewards program (aka loyalty program), and college football makes that easy because it’s regularly scheduled.
For this, you can use your restaurant’s social media and email to invite guests to view any games they want because you have them all (by implementing streaming, of course). Each time they visit you give them credit. Traditional punch cards work find here. Make the reward easy to understand, realistic to achieve, and something guests want.
For example, don’t give away a $0.50 key chain for 20 visits. Your vendors will be happy to give you decent premium items and guests will love earning them. Give them a reason to come to your place that your competitors are not. Frequency rewards are the most straight forward way to reward good guest behavior.
No matter how you approach it this year, NCAA Football can be a disappointment if you don’t apply yourself to it. It requires you work a bit harder than the NFL, but the rewards can be amazing. Whether you reach out to colleges and arrange watch events or rely solely on your existing guests now is the time to get rolling. But don’t just sit on your chair and watch another football season slide past with no real growth.
For more football marketing tips, register to watch our on-demand series The Football Marketing Bootcamp.