Penguins fans like to eat, drink, be merry
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An hour before the Penguins game Tuesday, tables at the Saloon of Mt. Lebanon were already brimming with fans clad in Sidney Crosby jerseys keeping an eye on overhead TVs.
On a hockey playoff night in Pittsburgh, "Tables fill up much quicker, much earlier," said bartender Jenny Martin.
Given the devotion of this community to its sports teams, it's no surprise that sports bars and restaurants report benefitting from the hockey team's run at the Stanley Cup. Business boomed, too, when the Steelers went all the way in the National Football League playoffs earlier this year.
Which playoff structure -- and which fans -- have a better economic power play? That's where the debate gets interesting.
Rick Porado, owner of Rick's Sports Bar & Grille in Murrysville, estimated Penguins games have boosted his profits by 30 percent. When asked whether he preferred the hockey or the football season for its impact on business, Mr. Porado replied, "The Penguins for sure. There are more games."
Judee Henderson, manager of Sports Rock Cafe in the Strip District, sees it a bit differently. Penguins games definitely increased sales, she said, especially due to the bar's proximity to Mellon Arena.
But from a business angle, Ms. Henderson said the football season is better.
"Sales are higher with Steelers fans than they are with Penguin fans," said Ms. Henderson. "Steelers games bring a different crowd. Football people are more party-type people."
While any major sports game acts as boon for restaurants and bars, owners and managers judge the economic payment by different measures.
While some say that it all comes down to numbers -- more Penguins games translate into more busy nights -- others point out that Steelers games typically draw a greater number of customers, due to the team's popularity and the social tradition of watching football.
James Nai, manager of Fox & Hound English Pub & Grille on McKnight Road, took the latter stance. He said his bar is always more crowded for Steelers games than for Penguins games.
"As a sports man, I prefer both teams," said Mr. Nai. "But from a business perspective, I would prefer it if the Steelers played 20 games a season. The season wouldn't end."
According to Mr. Nai, the restaurant is busy for the entire football season -- not just the playoffs. For the hockey season, on the other hand, business doesn't pick up until the playoffs.
Keith Sheppard, manager of the Saloon, saw it differently. "The Pens draw more people in per week than a once-a-week Sunday game," he said, adding that the scheduling of hockey games, which occur at night, versus Steelers games played in the afternoon, is more favorable for restaurant business.
Even within the same establishment, views can differ.
Ken Butya, owner of All Star Sports Bar & Grill in Robinson, said business is relatively the same no matter which team is playing and, as a bar owner, he did not prefer one season over the other.
"Pittsburgh loves winning teams," said Mr. Butya. "Football and hockey go hand-in-hand in this town."
His wife and co-owner of the bar, Cassie Butya, couldn't let that one go by.
"Honestly, I think the Steelers bring more business even though there's fewer games," said Mrs. Butya. She just thinks the Pittsburgh market is more devoted to football than to hockey.
Perhaps the statisticians would have a more clear-cut ruling?
VisitPittsburgh, an agency dedicated to promoting tourism in Allegheny County, shows that game-for-game, the Steelers have a bigger economic impact for the region.
The organization's model found each Steelers game generates $20.3 million in spending, as opposed to $4.9 million for each Penguins game.
But Craig Davis, vice president for sales and marketing, said the difference is largely a function of the disparity in the number of tickets available for each sport. Heinz Field holds four times as many people as Mellon Arena.
In the end, Mr. Davis' conclusion was as indeterminate as the multitude of opinions from business owners.
"It's a tough question," said Mr. Davis. "Both teams have a significant impact on spending in local bars, restaurants and hotels."
First Published June 4, 2009 12:00 am