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Would you ditch your living room and potluck-style fantasy draft party for a restaurant booth? That's what some fantasy football leagues are doing.
American Express' Spending & Saving Tracker predicted more than 74 million Americans would participate in a fantasy football league last year, and put their expected spending at around $4.6 billion. This year, those numbers could be even higher.
"Fantasy football is essentially ['Dungeon and Dragons'] meets sports gambling," said Ken Tisch, a 28-year-old who participates in a league based in Washington.
For more than a decade restaurants have laid the groundwork for fantasy sports drafts, offering fans special promotions and reserved seating for their parties. As participation in these leagues have grown, so have the check sizes. Restaurants stand to earn quite a bit from the increased foot traffic and excess rounds of chicken wings and beer.
Hooters began informally hosting drafts more than 10 years ago, according to Carl Sweat, Hooters' chief marketing officer.
"Guys and women would show up to do their fantasy drafts, and it became a pattern where we started to see our most loyal customers calling the manager ahead of time [to book a table]," he said. "We started reacting to consumer interests and our customers' wants and put together first a log reservation system and then later we went digital, about four years ago."
The restaurant expects 12,000 to 15,000 parties will take place at Hooters this year. Hooters plans to distribute draft kits with $250 worth of freebies.
Leagues receive 17 weeks worth of Hooters coupons, a free Budweiser pint glass and will be entered to win a trip for two to the college football championship or a chance for 12 people to attend the NFL draft.
"You've got sports all around you. You've got your environment of the Hooters girls, who are ready to [take care of] whatever your needs are from a beer perspective to the occasional draft choice," Sweat said. "We've got quite a few knowledgeable Hooters girls on football."
Hooters isn't the only chain offering exclusive draft party experiences. More than 40,000 fantasy football draft parties took place at Buffalo Wild Wings locations last year, and the company expects that number to grow.
Buffalo Wild Wings has produced 57,000 fantasy football kits this year — packages that contain draft boards, stickers, coupons and football merchandise — and it expects to make 65,000 to 70,000 next year, according to Bob Ruhland, vice president of marketing.
"We had a great experience. They accommodated us with a long table, power strips, Wi-Fi, etc.," Ryan Doyle told CNBC. The 28-year-old participates in a fantasy football league with 11 other people. "They give you a draft kit which is pretty cool. It includes little pocket schedules, cozies, a coupon to come back, and the best thing is a license plate frame branded with Buffalo Wild Wings that says something to the effect of "Fantasy Football — I came in last place."
Groups of eight or more who register a draft party or spend at least $75 on takeout are eligible for the company's kit. Leagues will receive a "brag flag" for the winner of the season, turf-inspired drink sleeves and the chance to host their next draft party in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's boardroom.
"We all had a couple of beers and split four orders of boneless wings — the big order," Doyle said. "It came to $32 per guy for 11 of us. One person drafted from home. It builds a good league comradery. I think they have $100 minimum when we made the reservation but that was no problem since we spent over $300."
Of course, hosting a fantasy football draft at a restaurant isn't easy for all leagues.
"In a perfect world, a live draft at a place like Buffalo Wild Wings or another fantasy football friendly restaurant would be the way to go," Zach Grant, 28-year-old commissioner of a fantasy football league called the Pigskin Misfits, told CNBC. "Unfortunately, it's not possible in my league since some league members live in different states — myself included — and/or work odd hours."
Many leagues participate in digital drafts or have parties where some members dial in either by phone or video messaging.
Two team members of "Ramsey Bowl," a league composed of current and former counselors at a camp in Massachusetts, spent nearly four hours on FaceTime during their fantasy draft earlier this month.
Fantasy drafts can take as little as an hour or longer than four hours, depending on the league rules and participants. For draft parties with more than 10 people, eating out could be costly.
"Many restaurants have specials where they want you to come in and do your draft but, in my experience, that can get pretty loud and expensive quickly," Tisch said.
Big checks are good for restaurants like Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings, both of which can turn quite a profit from fantasy football parties. Sweat noted that Hooters can garner anywhere from six to 12 times a normal check during a draft party.
While major chains may have sponsored draft nights, not all restaurants are prepared for large parties.
"It depends on the group, but it could be disruptive," said Ashley Tougas, a general manager of a Massachusetts-based restaurant. "People take fantasy football very seriously. As long as people were eating and drinking, it would generate a big check. You figure 10 to 14 people over the course of two hours — not a bad check."