Swoosh! Businesses that score big on March Madness niche

On Michigan State University game days, chants of "Go green, go white" reverberate through Blondies, a Manhattan sports bar.

A Spartan helmet, the team's logo, hangs on the wall of a back room where green and white-clad fans gather. About a dozen Michigan State alumni watched Sunday's Big 10 basketball championship game there, cheering and chanting as the Spartans beat Purdue University to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, known as March Madness.

Michigan State's New York City alumni expect much bigger crowds at Blondies for the national tournament, which started Tuesday. And it's just one of many sports bars and restaurants nationwide that will enjoy a sales boost throughout March Madness, which runs into next month.

"I think it's a really big boon for anyone who owns a restaurant or bar," said Andrew Wimer, a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Kentucky fans celebrate watching the NCAA tournament in a bar in Lexington, KY. (File photo).
Pablo Alcala | Lexington Herald-Leader | AP
Kentucky fans celebrate watching the NCAA tournament in a bar in Lexington, KY. (File photo).

Blondies is among the bars in New York City, and in major cities across the country, where alumni from specific schools gather to watch sports. Football and March Madness attract the largest crowds at Blondies, one of two New York bars where Michigan State fans gather, said Roni O'Connor, treasurer for the Michigan State University Alumni Club of Greater New York.

"They are wonderful, and we're very good to them. We bring them a lot of business," said O'Connor, who noted that Michigan State fans have watched games at the bar for roughly 15 years.

College basketball fervor drove crowds to other New York City bars over the weekend, as well. At least 50 people packed into a floor of Jack Demsey's in Manhattan to watch the University of Kentucky beat Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference championship game Sunday.

New York's Kentucky alumni chapter gathers at the bar to watch basketball games. On Sunday, the blue-clad fans stood and sat around several TV screens, flanked by Kentucky flags.

The bars' owners and managers were not immediately available to say the specific sales increase they receive from basketball games.

The NFIB's Wimer said March Madness boosts small businesses not only because it lasts for weeks, but also because the events take place in a wide geographic area. Philadelphia, Chicago, Dayton, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky and Anaheim, California all host early-round games in the tournament.

The Final Four, meanwhile, will take place in Houston. The city will get an estimated $300 million economic boost from the games, according to a WalletHub report.

"Restaurant and bar owners appreciate the extra business that comes with having a March Madness event in their town," Wimer said.