Bars bustle during annual NCAA tournament scramble

Businesses say fans spend plenty to follow teams

3/23/2013
BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Walls of TV screens occupy patrons of Fricker's downtown who watched the first games of the NCAA basketball tournament. Businesses such as sports bars count on March Madness, which began Thursday, for a financial boost during the doldrums of late winter and early spring.
Walls of TV screens occupy patrons of Fricker's downtown who watched the first games of the NCAA basketball tournament. Businesses such as sports bars count on March Madness, which began Thursday, for a financial boost during the doldrums of late winter and early spring.

To Ron Brock, the most wonderful time of the year is March Madness.

Al Luna, manager at The Buckeye Store and More! in Sylvania, says his store gets a boost from March Madness, but it is not as large as the sales jump it gets during football season.
Al Luna, manager at The Buckeye Store and More! in Sylvania, says his store gets a boost from March Madness, but it is not as large as the sales jump it gets during football season.

The Ohio State fan was perched atop a stool at Fricker's downtown on Thursday afternoon as the NCAA men's basketball tournament tipped off. Mr. Brock makes an event out of college basketball's biggest month each year and clears his schedule.

Jerry Reiter of Toledo shops at The Buckeye Store and More! Manager Al Luna said his store sees a 10 to 15 percent increase during March Madness.
Jerry Reiter of Toledo shops at The Buckeye Store and More! Manager Al Luna said his store sees a 10 to 15 percent increase during March Madness.

The Toledo man said he easily could drop $500 during the tournament: The drinks, food, and time spent with friends add up, especially with games starting in the early afternoon and stretching into the evening.

“It's a $500, four-day event,” he said.

People like Mr. Brock are a boon for businesses that count on March Madness as a boost during the doldrums of late winter and early spring. Although the National Retail Federation doesn't track sales related to the NCAA tournament, some Toledo-area businesses said it's a sure bet it will be a moneymaker.

“We have a full house every year come March Madness. It’s a great deal of business, actually,” said Kelly Bohland, a manager at the Fricker's downtown. “It is a huge influx. Normally, our lunches this year haven't been as crazy busy because of the weather, but it is a huge increase.”

The sports bar was moderately packed Thursday afternoon with fans sporting University of Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State gear. Ms. Bohland couldn't quantify how much money the NCAA tournament makes for Fricker's. The bar, however, is a destination for tournament buffs, she said.

Buffalo Wild Wings in Sylvania also is common ground for fans who want to watch basketball all day, said Bobby Olashuk, an assistant general manager of the restaurant. March Madness is Buffalo Wild Wings’ busiest time of the year, he added.

“We will see crowds that will come in all day. We'll actually have our first people coming in before the games tip off at 11:30 a.m. and generally they're there all day into the afternoon and evenings,” he said. “We stay busier than usual all evening long.

“In terms of an increase, it's really hard to say because it's a steady crowd all day long.”

Chris Vargas was eager to see the first major matchup of the tournament between Michigan State and Valparaiso University on Thursday afternoon. He and some coworkers from Cellular Central Inc. headed to Bar 145 in Sylvania for tip-off and and lunch.

Mr. Vargas, an OSU fan, said he’d be watching the rest of the games on his phone while at work and turn them on as soon as he got home.

The patrons of Bar 145 usually come to watch a specific game, but they tend to stay for drinks, appetizers, and meals, said Jake Guthrie, director of operations. Toledo seems to be split between Michigan and Ohio State, he added.

Those fans help boost the bar’s revenues by up to 150 percent on select days, Mr. Guthrie said.

Fans who want to watch games need the proper swag to represent their teams and hit up local shops to buy jerseys, T-shirts, and hats.

Sales at The Buckeye Store and More! in Sylvania typically increase 10 to 15 percent during March Madness, manager Al Luna said. The store mainly offers Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State merchandise, he added.

“We'll get some people in looking for some jerseys or shirts that have basketball on them,” Mr. Luna said. “It's nowhere near the sales tool that football is.”

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.