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Football season is prime time for sports bars' bottom line

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Baseball may be “America’s pastime,” and basketball and soccer reign as the most popular sports globally, but for sports bar owners in Hawaii there is no dispute: Football reigns supreme.

“Football is crucial for us,” says Mike Kawazoe, owner of Rivals Sports Bar and UltraLounge. “It raises our revenues anywhere between 25 and 35 percent. We rely on football season to ensure profitability for the year.”

Once upon a time, college and professional football games were played on Saturdays and Sundays, with an added National Football League contest on Monday nights. Today, televised games are shown live almost every day of the week. NFL Thursday Night Football, which began airing on the league’s own network in 2006, has only added to the allure of Hawaii sports bars. Says Kawazoe, “The NFL Monday and Thursday night games basically double our revenues compared to normal Mondays and Thursdays.”

“[The added games] are a big help to us,” adds Don Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bar & Grill in downtown Honolulu. “I wish they’d play [NFL games] every night!”

Henry Loui’s in Mapunapuna takes advantage of the gridiron season by opening at 7 a.m. every Sunday. Like most sports bars, Henry Loui’s subscribes to the NFL Sunday Ticket, an out-of-market TV package that shows every NFL afternoon game televised by the CBS and FOX networks.

Photo: Courtesy of Rivals SportsBar and Grill

“My feeling is, you’re paying lease rent for 24 hours a day, so if you can, you should be open 24 hours a day,” reasons Ron Lokar, who took over Henry Loui’s in 1993 with his partner and general manager, Anson Kaneshiro. “Opening early on Sundays brings us a significant amount of business – we bring in about 40 or 50 people – that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Henry Loui’s also provides a breakfast buffet and free WiFi for fantasy football enthusiasts. “They all come in with their computers and iPads,” says Lokar. “They watch all the games and follow their fantasy teams.”

For the most part, says Kawazoe, special promotions aren’t necessary during football season. “The biggest thing is having the NFL Sunday Ticket, which costs about $2,500. That’s absolutely crucial to have,” he says. “At Rivals, we have a first-come, first-served policy. Other places might break up their areas before the games and say, ‘This area is for Steelers fans, this area is for Packers fans …’ We leave everything open, which gives people the incentive to come early to get their favorite spots.”

While not as popular as the NFL, college football brings in its share of revenues. Various alumni groups regularly meet at their favorite watering holes to cheer on their alma mater. “The annual Army-Navy game is huge for us,” says Murphy. “We’ll get close to 300 people, and half the group would sing the Army song and the other half would sing the Navy song. It’s great fun for everybody.”

University of Hawaii football is also a big attraction, says Murphy, a longtime supporter of the program. “UH football makes an impact [revenue-wise] no matter what,” he says. “And when the team is doing really well, they’re as much of a draw as the NFL games. Unfortunately, they haven’t done very well the last couple of years.”

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