Pigskin passion can mean big business

Especially in the county, Friday nights provide a sizeable boost as local football fans hit the road

photo by Vincent Aiosa

Dan Hiestand
   By the time Friday night’s customers clear out of his bar, Brandon Bowden said he knows what is happening in the world of Whatcom County high school football.
   “By the end of the night, I pretty much know all the scores of all the games, “ said Bowden, 26, a bartender at The Original New York Pizza Place in Lynden. “It’s interesting to see. In the bar, we’ll get guys who are in the 21- to 30-age range who were just out watching the game, and stopped by to have a drink or two after the game.”
   At around 6 p.m. on a recent Friday evening in late September, Bowden said he was looking forward to a busy night: Both Lynden high school teams were in town for football contests against Whatcom County rivals.
   “It usually gets busier after the games, especially when the two (Lynden) schools play out here,” he said. “From 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., we see the most impact.”
   Football around Whatcom County is big — and for some businesses, the revenue it generates can be big, too.

Sue Remaklus, owner of 2nd Avenue Sports, prepares to order from Rita Garcia at Las Casuelas Mexican Grill on a recent game night in Ferndale. Remaklus said the rabid local following of Ferndale sports is an important economic driver for her business.

Friday night rush
   Bill Chrysler said he notices a distinct drop in business when football season is not on the docket. Chrysler, president of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce, is also the general manager at Homestead Farms Golf Resort in Lynden.
   “We feel it here at the resort when both teams are away,” he said. “When they are in town, we get a pretty good early rush.”
   On game nights, most diners come in before the games, he said.
   “We deal pretty much in two seasons: the season and the off-season. The football games extend the season — on Friday nights anyway — an extra couple of months,” he said. “It’s a little hard to quantify. Fridays and Saturdays, we’re typically considerably busier than we are on weeknights year-round. The difference is that the weeknights see a definite change from summer season to when you get into the fall season. The Fridays and Saturdays — really the change doesn’t happen until after Christmas. I think a lot of that has to do with the football season.”
   In his mind, the biggest benefactors of football nights, economically, tend to be businesses in the service industry.
   “I would think the restaurants are the biggest benefactor from the actual games themselves,” he said. “I think that the events offer pretty good marketing opportunities for local businesses via the radio broadcasts or sponsorships of things at the stadium and whatnot.”
   Farther west in the county, in Ferndale, business owner Sue Remaklus said business booms for her company during gridiron season.
   “Football has had a huge impact on my store,” said Remaklus, who owns 2nd Avenue Sports. She opened the sports apparel store in September 2005, as the Ferndale High School football team pushed toward its first state championship “Our team is very well supported by the community, and people like to show their support by wearing the school colors.”
   Her store sells an assortment of apparel — mostly Ferndale-sports related — including sweatshirts, hats and T-shirts.
   “We were really scrambling to keep up (with orders last year),” she said. “Last year, on days when kids were going to the playoffs in Tacoma, I had a line in my store all day long. It was a pretty wild ride.”
   To help market her business, she said, she paid for some radio advertising last year that was broadcast during football games, and she has signage at the Ferndale High School baseball field. She has since decided against radio advertising, depending instead on word-of-mouth.
   “The kids kind of create a frenzy,” she said. That excitement, has spread through all levels of the community.
   Businesses, she said, have jumped on board, too. For instance, the football team gathers at Babe’s Place, a local restaurant, on mornings before games; a local Mexican restaurant, Las Casuelas Mexican Grill, outfits its servers in Ferndale blue and gold on football Fridays; and Haggen Foods put up a billboard honoring the championship squad last year.
   “It was so fun,” Remaklus said. “I think everybody got caught up in it.”
   On game nights, The Original New York Pizza Place’s Bowden estimated that about half of his customers are going or have gone to football games.
   “People are already out,” he said. “Most people don’t feel like going home and cooking after they get home from a football game.”
   And unlike college or pro games, high school football customers don’t typically display out-of-control behavior, Bowden said.
   “High school football games are a lot different than college football games,” he said. “It’s not quite like going out after a Washington State University football game. It’s a lot more family oriented. There is no tailgating at high school football games that we know about.”
   Whatcom County’s concentration of high schools leads to customers floating in from outside areas, Chrysler said.
   “It’s definitely the local community members that are coming out. We get a little spillover from Nooksack and Mount Baker, too,” he said. Staffing can also be affected, he said.
   “We maintain our summer staffing on nights when there are football games in town,” he said. “If both Lynden and Lynden Christian are away, then sometimes we’ll staff one fewer person.”
   The restaurant atmosphere changes a little, too, he said.
   “The tables seem to get more pushed together a little more on football Friday nights, rather than this family sitting here, and this family sitting there,” he said. “There is a little more camaraderie and a little more social aspect to things.”
   His restaurant doesn’t offer football specials on game nights, he said.
   “The busy nights are not the nights you need to market for,” he said.



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