By Buzztime, partner for the Football Marketing Bootcamp

When football season starts, will you be ready? Expecting crowds without a marketing plan is a risky move. It’s like throwing a Hail Mary or relying on the receiver to run 98 yards on a kickoff return – at every game. Instead, be proactive! Plan for success with these marketing plays that will win over customers during football season.

Play #1: Create a Winning Schedule

Pull out your whiteboard just like a coach and create a calendar of important football dates. Start by identifying the “home” teams in your area, both pro and college. Then, plot out televised game schedules for each team. Include dates for games and events so big, it doesn’t matter which teams are involved: the “big” game in February, key bowl games, and even draft and signing days. Don’t forget high school! Many local TV networks televise Friday night high school games.

Then, think beyond scheduled events and create your own. Could you hold a Fantasy 101 event for those new to the fantasy craze? Or, organize a bar pep rally the night before a big game.

Play #2: Fuel Your Fans

Sports bars need to fuel their fans

You’ve got your schedule. Now, bring the fans. Putting the game on your TVs isn’t enough. Fans can catch the game anywhere – the competition, their own home, a friend’s house – why should they choose you? If you make your plays right, you might even draw casual fans away from going to the game.

First focus on the die-hards – including fantasy fans. With fantasy fans, they’re not driven by team loyalty, it’s about watching all the games and checking stats on TVs and their phones. Free (and fast!) wi-fi is a big draw for them as are appetizer and pitcher specials that they can share. For big fans of specific teams, mirror their enthusiasm with creative specials that riff on the home team.

NOTE: Never use trademarked names in your promotions or it will appear that the team or a player is endorsing your business. A safe bet is sticking with team colors, the animal used in the team mascot as long as it’s not trademarked, jersey numbers of popular players, or general football terms.

Don’t forget out-of-towners visiting to cheer on the rival team. Show sportsmanlike conduct to visitors and word will spread fast that your bar is a friendly spot. Your hometown fans will likely enjoy friendly banter with the rival team, too.

Play #3: Show Your Team Spirit

Both die-hard and casual fans gravitate towards bars with team spirit. Get your staff in the game by investing in gameday uniforms – ref shirts, or shirts in the color of your home team. Create a tradition that all staff will stop and do a quick cheer or shout such as “goooooo (team name)!” if a touchdown is made. Keep the energy up with interactive gameday specials.

For example, each time the “home” team makes a touchdown, offer $2 off appetizers or 2-for-1 pours of a specific draft for the next 10 minutes. Digital signage on your TVs makes this even more effective (see Play #7).

Play #4: Make Some Noise

You’ve worked hard to plan football events and promotions. Now shout about it! Get the word out using three types of media: earned, owned, and paid.

1) Earned Media

Earned media is the most coveted type of media – it’s free and comes from a third party source like a news station, blogger, another popular social media site – and even customers themselves. However, to earn media, your promotions, events, or contests must be worthy of press coverage.

Create a press release for anything buzzworthy you’re doing, like holding a competition to find your town’s biggest fan or offering a percentage off food purchases based on the home team’s score for an hour after the game.

2) Owned Media

Owned media refers to any media you control. For most bars, this will be your website, email campaigns, and social media channels. It also includes your TVs and any in-venue signage (see play #7). Be sure your website is updated with your football events for the entire season. Create a Facebook event for each event you hold. Facebook events can be promoted or “boosted” for a fee, turning it into paid media

3) Paid Media

Use the power of targeting to run an efficient, effective paid campaign to promote your bar as football headquarters. On Facebook and Instagram, you can target advertising to those who like specific teams and are located within a certain distance of your bar. If you cater to a college crowd, college newspapers are an affordable, targeted way to promote your bar. Also look into advertising in gameday printed programs or in-stadium signage if your budget allows.

Play #5: Recruit Now!

Football season is prime recruiting time for your bar. You want fans on your team – not that bar down the street. Woo them to you with in-venue and off-site recruiting tactics.

1) In-Venue Recruitment

While fans are at your bar, spur additional engagement after they leave by capturing their email and home address. To do this, you’ve got to incentivize them. The easiest way to capture addresses is with an enter-to-win contest like a catered tailgate or pre-game party for 10 guests. It should be something big enough that people will share their contact information. Create entry forms that ask for email and home address.

(NOTE: most states require an opt-out box that allows people to enter, but their personal information cannot be used for advertising purposes.)

Use the emails you collect to send regular emails about future football-related events, and the addresses to send postcards for bigger events. Snail mail is still very effective, don’t overlook it!

2) Off-Site Recruitment

Create a street team for your bar that heads out before and after the game to hand out business card or postcard size coupons good for one free appetizer per guest check. It may seem like a lot to give away but most fans come in groups to bars…so you “lose” one appetizer but gain a big group of fans who will likely order multiple appetizers and drinks. For more immediate recruitment, put a stipulation on your coupon that it’s only good for that day.

Watch the Football Marketing Bootcamp for sports barsPlay #6: Entertain Beyond the Game

Back to play #2, you’ve got to fuel your fans with fun beyond the games on TV. Promotions and specials are essential for attracting fans, but so is entertainment. One of the easiest ways to keep fans in game mode is with…actual games! Companies like Buzztime offer touchscreen tablets loaded with games and even football-themed trivia. During commercial breaks, guests can grab a tablet and stay engaged instead of leaving for another bar.

Another idea for easy entertainment? Create a photobooth. Turn a blank wall in your bar into a “Fan Photobooth” with a backdrop that has your logo (because these pictures will be shared on social media). For photo booth props, you can order a football-themed kit on line or create your own.

Play #7: Get Things POPing

Too many bars ignore the advertising space within their location during football season and throughout the year! This includes POP (point of purchase) items like menus, table tents, and posters, as well as TVs.

With the right technology from companies like Buzztime, your TVs can actually turn into digital billboards displaying gameday specials. Be strategic with POP promotions and you can alert fans of upcoming football-related events, any contests you’re holding, or gameday specials. If you have high-quality photos of your food, include them to visually show what you’re promoting. Don’t forget your window space and storefront, especially if you’re downtown.

About Buzztime

Trusted by thousands of bars and restaurants in North America since 1984, Buzztime integrates trivia, card, sports and live events with innovative tablet technology. While we don’t take ourselves too seriously, this is a pretty serious business.