The Sports and Social Club in Louisville, Kentucky -- dubbed one of the “29 Greatest Sports Bars in the Known Universe” by ESPN in 2011 -- is a sprawling pub buzzing with HD televisions, surround sound and enough space for neon-lit bowling lanes. This Saturday, the joint in the city's downtown district is expected to be packed wall to wall with mingling bodies, so packed the staff has had to lay flooring over the bowling lanes to squeeze in an additional 100 revelers.
“It’s a huge weekend for us, arguably the biggest day of the year,” said operations manager Cameron Mansfield. “It’ll probably be a record night.”
For bars across the United States, Saturday’s myriad sporting events -- especially the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao superfight and the Kentucky Derby -- will be an opportunity to collect a financial windfall. The kegs are prepped, the deep-fryers cleaned, the wait staff scheduled, the tickets sold and the pay-per-view ordered. The huge weekend is a chance for major dollars. All that’s left is for the patrons to rush in and the party to kick off for an impossible-to-avoid bottleneck of athletic endeavor.
Just a small sampling of the scheduled events includes the ever-anticipated megafight, the Kentucky Derby, Day 3 of the NFL Draft, the NHL playoffs, New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox, Game 7 of an NBA playoffs matchup and (for the golf fanatic out there) the high-stakes WGC Cadillac match play tournament. At the end of that sports lover’s rainbow sit bar owners, hoping to collect lots of coins from the weekend's pot of gold.
"It’s all excitement," Mansfield said. "The servers are excited to make more money, we’re excited for more sales."
The Sports and Social Club’s convenient location -- about 5 miles from the Kentucky Derby’s Churchill Downs -- makes the horse race perhaps its biggest event. The bar probably will draw in heat-soaked patrons directly from the track once the race is finished. But in reality, the entire day will likely be busy, with the boxing matchup serving as an anchor and capstone to the day for bars across the country.
Saturday’s welterweight title fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao -- perhaps the most anticipated matchup in a decade -- may be worth about $400 million in revenue worldwide. The anticipation for the fight -- the pugilists have hemmed and hawed over it for years -- has built a market eager for the showdown. Tickets for the fight on the secondary market are selling for north of $3,000 at a minimum. The buildup to May 2 has been a slow crawl to a big payout.
“Promoters are salesmen, and if it’s not being called the fight of the century, it’s the fight of the year,” boxing commentator Larry Merchant told the Wall Street Journal. “But these are the two best fighters, and best-known fighters, of the last 15 years. And the money that they will generate is certainly the biggest boxing event of the century.”
A lot of people will be watching the fight, but it’ll cost them. For the normal pay-per-view buyer, the price of buying the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is $89.89 ($99 for HD), but bars have to pay about $21 to $25 per patron, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported. That’s a cost that led some sports pubs to pass on showing the fight, but those that embrace the bout (and its steep cost) could see a big payoff.
“It can do a lot of big things and a lot of bad things,” said Frankie Stavrianopoulos, events director at Society on High in Boston, which will show the fight. A bar can take a significant hit financially if it doesn't cover its formidable costs. “There’s a big financial burden to have the fight at all,” Stavrianopoulos said.
He committed Society on High to a viewing party for the fight immediately after the bout was announced in February. It was a somewhat risky move, but the restaurant sold out of tickets, priced from $35 to $50 per person, by last weekend. Stavrianopoulos even had to turn business away, referring potential customers to neighboring Boston bars.
Society on High even had to spend an extra few thousand dollars to show the fight, after the cable company told Stavrianopoulos that the bar didn’t have enough bandwidth for the pay-per-view bout. The party must go on, so the call for satellite TV was made immediately. Despite weeks of hiccups while planning the major event, it's still a day that has staff excited, if not a bit anxious.
"We can’t wait," Stavrianopoulos said. "There’s a level of angst and anxiety to get it done and get it done right."
Turn And Face The Change
The wait for May 2 wasn't a period to relax. Many bars planned parties and sold tickets (or at least set a cover charge) for the big fight, like Society on High. The tickets help alleviate some of the initial pay-per-view cost, especially with prices as high as $100. But such an event involves a good bit of planning and preparation, which is an added headache.
Even before bars perhaps transition to an end-of-night fight party, Saturday is going to be a day of continual change, moving from one event to the next. Jack Demsey's bar in New York City sits right by Madison Square Garden, which adds even more curveballs to scheduling. Vinnie Connors, the bar's general manager, rattled off the schedule he's planning for: Rangers around noon, Kentucky Derby preliminaries beginning at about 3 p.m. and Mayweather-Pacquiao to end the day. Peppered in will likely be the NFL Draft and NBA matchups.
Demsey's has a Derby party every year, complete with fans dressed in floppy hats and sharp suits. It likely will be a sight to be seen as the different crowds funnel in and out: hoarse Rangers fans in crisp blue sweaters, then Southern belles and gentlemen, and finally boxing fans ready for a brawl. It should be a distinct experience for sports bars compared with the usual big events, like the Super Bowl, which do not typically last a full day.
"It is different -- the Super Bowl, they come in and stay for the game," Connors said. "[Saturday is] a lot of transition."
Nearly every sports bar across the country will be fully staffed Saturday, especially if they show the fight. Boston's Society on High, for instance, will have triple its normal amount of staff. Sports bars are accustomed to hectic days with tumultuous peaks of activity, and establishments have expressed confidence in their ability to handle the day's stress. “We’re not worried about burning out,” Mansfield said.
Wally Waheed, events director of Tonic Bar in Times Square in New York City, said the fight will be shown on all three of its floors. That means it will be all hands on deck to keep everything churning across three distinct levels. "We want to make sure the bars are OK," he said.
All 12 Rounds
To keep everything smoothly Saturday, the ordering had to be done a while ago. Bars had to be sure they didn't simply order a mess of beer, liquor and food -- it had to be the correct beer, liquor and food. Jack Demsey's happens to be the home turf of the University of Kentucky's NYC alumni association, so it should have the Derby well-covered. Its annual party will have a Southern, Kentucky-themed menu and mint juleps at the ready. And extra bourbon, of course.
For the fight, "all of the beer will be in," Vinnie Connors said, adding that extra Tecate beer (which sponsored the fight for $5.6 million) was ordered. Stavrianopoulos said he couldn't begin to project alcohol sales for the day, but the chefs planned a menu weeks ago. Having taken small steps in the weeks leading up to Saturday should help places keep their head above water when the day comes.
The swell rising toward Saturday's sports has nearly reached its full height. Stavrianopoulos called it "Sports-aggedon," adding, "there's never been a day this big."
Projecting the day's schedule, the NFL Draft and the NHL playoff game begin around noon Eastern time. Post time for the Kentucky Derby is 6:24 p.m. EDT. The fight, from Las Vegas, likely won't begin until at least 11 p.m. EDT. If the bout lasts about an hour for all 12 rounds, that's 12 hours of peak activity for the bars -- and 12 hours to rack up some serious business.
Sports bars across the country will be hoping the fight lasts as long as possible so they can rake in cash on one of the biggest days in memory. Fans may want a spectacular finish to the fight, a big knockout punch. But whenever the fight ends, sports bars will be finishing their own 12-round struggle -- a long slog through a tough day. But they'll likely be looking for the fight to go the distance, a grind to a judge's decision perhaps, so the day's payout keeps ticking upward.
“If it’s a knockout ... people leave,” Waheed said.