Dirk Smith, president of Sports Destination Network, a meeting planning company, has owned sports-themed restaurants in high-profile locations and is the former travel director of the San Francisco Giants, so he knows a few things about running a successful baseball promotion. His advice for bar owners trying to cultivate a baseball following at their bar is simple. “It’s not about converting someone (to the sport). That’s not your job or role. Convert them to like your restaurant,” he says.
Creating the right environment is the hard part, but Smith advises owners not to get discouraged. “Some ideas are going to work and some aren’t. Some may work over time. Let things grow. Don’t throw a promotion against a wall and expect 1,000 people to walk through the door,” Smith says.
Here are five more tips from Dirk on running a successful baseball season promotion:
1) Take advantage of opportunities. “Baseball presents so many varied opportunities,” Smith says. Even before the season starts, fans are creating fantasy leagues, and he says venues can host draft parties to get more guests through the door. If the home team is on the road, Smith suggests having “road-game watching parties” at your bar. “What’s beneficial is that you have the whole schedule laid out in front of you. You can target specific days, weeks, months that you want to develop around,” he explains. “But whatever you’re creating, it shouldn’t be tied to the success of the team. Your promotions are about fun, regardless of the outcome of the game.”
2) Knowing the audience creates the right experience. Smith says the first thing you have to do is figure out what you want for your guest. “Let’s say you want to bring more women to your location, then build a 'female-friendly' event,” he says. For example, Smith created a Baseball 101 promotion. When women came in, they learned about baseball and were treated to a wine tasting from a local wine company. “And for the die-hard fans who watch all the games, all the time, we created some exciting promotions that were built around what transpired during the game.” For example, if a player from the home team hit a home run in the final three innings, any new drink order received a discount, he says.
3) Establish your goals. “Are you trying to draw traffic in general or a specific day of the week, raise awareness of your business, get a 'buzz' going about special food or drink items?” Smith asks. Once you identify what you’re trying to do, then you can build the promotion. Recurring promotions on a consistent day of the week will build clientele the whole season, he advises.
The problem with baseball season is its fickle schedule. Games can be on TV at prime time, or the team can be on the road and not on TV until later at night. Maybe they’re not playing at all. “Some of the best baseball promotions are done when the home team is not on TV, as you are providing a 'fix' to fill that void,” Smith says.
4) Keep it simple. One of the biggest challenges is not knowing what the event's turn out will going to be. Smith says operators can overcome this issue a sign-up sheet that offers a discount or a complimentary food item for those indicating their intent to attend. “You don’t want a promotion that requires a lot of manpower or up-front costs. You can test the waters with smaller promotions and see what the reaction is, then you can build from there,” he says. “Don’t be discouraged by a small turnout because any number of factors could have played into that,” including weather or a time conflict. “If the people who do come have fun and provide positive feedback, then word of mouth will assist you moving forward.”
5) Star planning early. “I know from experience that it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘working in’ your business instead of ‘working on’ your business. The day-to-day demands of the restaurant often preclude planning. The focus is on ‘today’ rather than ‘tomorrow,’” Smith says. “So take advantage of any free time to start preparing, or just force yourself to carve out time. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself just making ad-hoc plans.“