Another NBA season was getting underway last fall when my students were launching their final capstone papers based on issues and trends in their beat neighborhoods. As a wannabe sports connoisseur, I took enormous delight in suggesting to one of my students that she tackle a project examining how sports bars benefit from broadcasting the games of popular pro teams – perhaps rousing a speck of envy among future sports journalists in the classroom. Here’s a snapshot of the sports bar scene amid the fledgling NBA season:
By Cristina Alvarez
Coming off another wildly successful season, the Golden State Warriors are off to a favorable start. With the ball in the team’s court, their fans are curious to see how each game unfolds, which has led to a boost in revenue at local sports bars.
With the convenience of sports bars in San Francisco’s Richmond District, locals have found that it is cheaper and more entertaining to watch a televised Warriors game in a bar than at home. Easy access to food and alcohol makes watching the game at a bar effortless. This allows people to worry less about hosting sports parties and just enjoying the game. The atmosphere is an inviting experience for customers and bar owners. The accessibility that bars provide has encouraged people to cut back on their TV viewing at home.
“I don’t own a TV or have cable so I like going to the bar to watch the game,” said frequent bar-goer Anibal Lara-Ramirez.
With streaming websites like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go, many people have moved toward cutting the cord on their cable packages. In recent studies, 22.2 million adults will be cutting their cable service by the end of 2017. While eliminating monthly cable bills, viewers are seeing games for free at local bars, which have become a sanctuary for sports fans.
Steins on Clement Street is a family-owned bar known for catering to the community in the Richmond. “Our business is geared towards locals and sports,” said Steins co-owner Veronica Steiner. “We have a lot of regulars but during the playoffs, we have a bigger crowd.”
Overtime Sports Bar and Restaurant on Geary Boulevard has proven to bring a sense of community for those who come into the bar as well. Many go to the bar regularly to watch a Warriors game or to simply enjoy the camaraderie that has developed. Although the atmosphere in local bars has played a role in the growth in bar patronage, so has the success of the sports teams that play games that are televised there. The Warriors have now become even more popular than football, which has increased the presence of bar goers.
“The 49ers haven’t been doing so well, so mostly on the days they play, we have a smaller crowd,” said Heidi Hamm, general manager of Overtime Sports Bar and Restaurant. “But Warriors games are always packed.”
Hamm recommends that people make a reservation on the nights that Warriors games are televised.
Meanwhile, local cable providers show only the local games, so sports bars provide opportunities for people to watch out-of-state teams without having to subscribe to multiple sports channels.
Not only sports bars draw locals, but people visiting from out-of-state have also taken advantage of the easy accessibility that the bars offer. “We get more out-of-town people from the East Coast, like New Englanders,” Steiner said. “They mostly come into the bar because we provide more game options to watch.”
As sports bars grow in popularity, ESPN has taken a hit for the loss in home subscribers. ESPN lost 3.8 percent of its subscribers this past May, according to the New York Post. But because one of the pluses about ESPN is that it shows game highlights, viewers often miss out on many enjoyable aspects of a game. With competing, online streaming sites gaining popularity, viewers have lost interest in paying for the cable channel.
“With DVR, people can record the game but streaming the game isn’t the same,” said Benny Evangelista, technology reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. “Live drama of sports is better than recorded.”
Given that the Warriors were NBA champs last season, it’s easy to assume that ESPN would broadcast a majority of their games. But out of the 71 games left in the season, only 16.9 percent will be televised by ESPN. With the ultimate coverage coming from NBC Sports Bay Area, even the local bars are moving away from ESPN.
However, it’s not as simple as sports fans gathering at a neighborhood watering hole around big screens. For instance, some diehards would prefer a virtual reality experience such as eSports, a highly competitive slice of the video gaming industry that’s sometimes an obsession among professional gamers.
“ESports has given sports fans a new way to interact with their favorite sports firsthand,” Evangelista said. “They provide a new experience that watching the game doesn’t.”
ESports has ushered in a new way of entertainment inside the comfort of your own home and also participating in an online community. The growing passion for eSports means that the number of fans flocking to sports bars might decline and ultimately result in losses in bar revenue.
Altogether, sports bars have hit an all-time boost in bar revenue due to convenience, comfort and affordable prices. Cutting the cord has become a trend that is still growing and can sooner or later lead to more viewers pulling the plug on cable providers and ESPN subscriptions because of more alternatives now hitting the market. Although eSports hit the entertainment scene offering a new perspective, sports bars provide fans a unique reality that can only be lived and enjoyed in person.