For the Miami Heat season opener against the Boston Celtics, John Todora and his business partner Bob Hartley had an idea that would likely increase business at their bar.
They'd promise to pay the bar tab if the Heat lost.
Fans must come into the bar, Whiskey Tango in Hollywood, Fla., located about 20 miles from Miami, and sign up on a list at least 30 minutes before tipoff. If the Heat lost the game, that fan would earn a $25 credit towards his or her alcohol bill.
The Heat lost the game, played on Oct. 27, 80-88. And although the bar lost $4,000 in lost beer and liquor sales, Todora and Hartley decided to extend the offer for the rest of the season.
"We figured, why not make our bar a home for Miami Heat games," Todora told CNBC. "As a fan, you can't lose. If they win, you go home happy. If you lose, we've at least compensated you in some way."
But Todora couldn't have foreseen that he'd be paying out so many bar bills. The Heat, stacked with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, were predicted by some to give the 1995-96 Bulls a run for their record 72-game win season. But through the first 17 games, the Heat have collapsed. A loss against the Mavericks on Saturday, made their record 9-8.
So how have eight losses hurt Whiskey Tango?
"We've refunded about $30,000 worth of drinks," Todora said.
Does he regret that he promised to do this for the season? Did he take any sort of insurance?
The answers are no and no.
"We're pretty much unprotected from an insurance standpoint, so we're kind of at the mercy of the Heat," Todora said. "But we're happy we did this. It has given us so much publicity."
Todora said that people have come from miles away, passing plenty of sports bars to come to Whiskey Tango. Some Clevelanders visiting Miami even decided to watch a game at the bar.
"I asked where they found out about us and they told me that they read about our losses in the Cleveland Plain Dealer," Todora said.
So how are the losses "worth it?" Well, first consider that while the bar has paid off $30,000 in bills, Whiskey Tango paid less than $10,000 for the alcohol itself — the rest is the standard markup.
In exchange, Whiskey Tango has been talked about on networks from ESPN to CNN and Todora says he has done more than 60 radio interviews.
"I couldn't buy that for $10,000," Todora said.
Todora said $25 typically covers all a person can drink in the three hours it takes to watch the game, including getting there 30 minutes before. Beers average about $3 each and there are bucket deals. Fans must stay until the end of the game to receive their $25 rebate, which only comes off the alcohol bill and is given in the form of a gift card.
While Todora is happy about all the publicity, he says as a converted Heat fan, he'd rather not see the team lose. He's actually worried that even with the promotion, people will stop coming into the bar if the team loses too many games.
Said Todora: "In New York, they'll keep watching the games so they could boo you and get angry, it's not that way here. People will jump off the bandwagon as quickly as they jumped on it."
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