BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Football fans are not the only ones impatiently waiting for colleges to announce their plans for the upcoming season.
Sports bars across central Alabama have taken a hit throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, they’re preparing to possibly miss out on a huge chunk of their annual revenue due to the uncertainty of the 2020 college football season. While the future of football is still unclear, business owners are trying their best to plan for the unknown. This time last year, sports bar owners and managers were gearing up for a packed house of excited fans.
“Standing room only,” said Ryan Pryor, owner of Sleek in Five Points South, recalling the 2019 football season at his bar. “Every seat is taken. Standing at the bar. Standing outside, people standing on the outside of the rail watching games. It’s a festive time.”
Now, most bars have empty dining rooms, and the concern for owners is how long they remain empty.
“With the loss of all of the major sports, we have lost a good percentage—probably around 50%,” said Adam Finney, general manager of On Tap Sports Cafe in Liberty Park.
Bars like On Tap and Sleek have already been feeling the hurt of a global pandemic, but a canceled football season means canceled business.
“I’m confident we will survive, but we won’t be where we were last year,” Pryor said. “Football brings a lot of people in, a lot of money in. So, we need it.”
For sports bars in particular, after a quiet summer of no college students, football season is crucial to their bottom line.
“College football is one of our busiest times, you know? Saturdays, Fridays–People coming out wanting to watch the games here because they can’t go to Tuscaloosa or Auburn,” Finney said.
Many local bars are offering specials and discounts to encourage patrons to support their local restaurants and bars, hoping they can still serve customers, with or without football.