If you walk into a New York City bar during baseball season, you shouldn’t be surprised to see Yankees or Mets fans watching a game. But what about a large group cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals? Or, heaven forbid, a bunch of folks decked out in Boston Red Sox gear?
Neither would be an unusual sight at Foley’s NY Pub & Restaurant, which is located across the street from the Empire State Building. That’s because Foley’s has become a destination not only for New York sports fans, but also for the city’s many transplants, who still root for their original home teams.
During hockey season, for example, Foley’s is a favorite of Pittsburgh Penguins die-hards, even though the bar is a short hop from Madison Square Garden, where the New York Rangers play.
“We’re a place where everybody is welcome,” explains Foley’s owner Shaun Clancy. In fact, although he’s a Yankees supporter, the bar hosts meetups for fans of the team’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox.
Clancy recently shared a few tips for appealing to sports fans of all stripes with the Intuit Small Business Blog.
1. Encourage patrons to be good sports. “Rule No. 1 when you come to Foley’s: You can root for your team, no matter who your team may be,” Clancy says, “but you don’t root against the other team.” That keeps things lively but respectful. If you’re intent on shouting “Jeter Sucks!” or other negative cheers, you’ll be shown to the door.
2. Sports fans are customers, so treat them well. Like most successful small-business owners, Clancy boils everything down to customer service: If you take good care of fans, they’ll return, often in greater numbers. Keep it simple, too. “They’re not looking for anything but to watch the games,” Clancy notes. However, don’t mistake lots of flat-screen TVs for good service. “If you don’t have friendly service and they don’t feel comfortable, they’re not going to come back.”
3. Encourage organic growth. Foley’s became a sports destination almost by accident. Clancy says he didn’t actively set out to establish a home for different groups of fans, but he embraced them once they found Foley’s on their own. Of course, he could have engaged in activities such as developing relationships with university alumni associations looking for places to host game-watching events. But Clancy advises fellow bar owners to be wary of large groups that demand big discounts and other incentives. In his experience, the best results come when fans find you, rather than vice versa. There’s a bit of luck involved, too: Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Cardinals won championships in the years that their fans began watching games at Foley’s. Clancy now likes to say that if you watch your team at Foley’s, you’re helping them win a title. He jokes that he should contact the Chicago Cubs franchise, which hasn’t won a World Series since 1908, about becoming its New York headquarters.
4. Give fans something synonymous with their team. A good way to reward fan groups and encourage repeat business is to offer items that represent their team or city on game days, Clancy says. For example, he stocks Iron City Beer and pierogi — both Pittsburgh staples — for Penguins fans and toasted ravioli for St. Louis Cardinals supporters.
Whatever you do, don’t forget about service. Want to become a destination for Baltimore Ravens and Orioles fans? “Just putting out a sign that says you have crab cakes isn’t going to do it,” Clancy stresses. “The most important part of the experience is how they’re treated.” Fans need to feel welcome and be able to watch games comfortably, or they’ll move on.