Lockout looms over local sports bars

Bartender Kate Anderton’s most profitable days working in the Wild Wings bar in Mount Pleasant are Sundays during the NFL season.

Kate Anderton works about 60 hours per week -- 30 at her job as an office manager and 30 more as a bartender at Wild Wings in Mount Pleasant.

"I don't sleep a lot," said Anderton, 27, who works at the Wild Wings on Coleman Boulevard.

The prospect of an NFL lockout wiping out the 2011 season is not doing much to help the sleep patterns of Anderton or her colleagues in the Lowcountry sports bar business.

"I'm definitely worried about it," said Anderton, who like many in the food and beverage industry relies heavily on tips. "I need the money I make here to make sure I can pay my bills."

Though the start of the NFL season is still months away, the dispute between NFL owners and players over how to share some $9.3 billion in revenue is starting to wind its way down the economic food chain, from sports bars to suppliers of chicken wings and beer.

Even in a non-NFL town like Charleston, pro football is big business, especially for bars and restaurants that rely on big Sunday and Monday night crowds. There are at least 20 establishments listed as "sports bars" in the Charleston area, and probably many more that rely on NFL games in one way or another.

"Sunday is normally a slow day," said local radio personality Bobby Hartin, who has spent almost 25 years in the sports bar business. "But during football season, it turns into your biggest day of the week."

At the Centre Point Bar and Grill in North Charleston, owner/manager Mark Hamilton said the NFL lockout is a "do or die" situation for his business. Centre Point employs about 26 people on average, with many more part-time workers during football season.

"During football season, we get a lot of students looking for part-time work to make some change," Hamilton said. "We're packed to capacity on Sunday and Monday nights. But if we don't have a football season, we won't be able to hire anybody."

Hamilton said he and his partners already are taking steps to make up for any losses that might be sustained in a lockout.

"We're trying to amp things up right now," he said, "to bring in some other revenue. Hosting private parties and things of that nature, to try to survive until football season comes back around … In this economy, I don't think anybody wants to see the football season suspended. If it is, we might have a do-or-die situation on our hands."

Walter Pickering, bartender and manager at the Dog and Duck in Mount Pleasant, said his business would survive without an NFL season this year. He estimates the restaurant makes $1,000 to $2,000 more on an NFL Sunday than a normal Sunday.

"Sales would be hurt, definitely," he said. "We have NFL Ticket on our screens during the day on Sunday, and that costs a lot of money to get. Our main focus during NFL season is to have people come in and enjoy the games here.

"But I think we would survive without an NFL season. We are more of a social neighborhood gathering place than just a sports bar."

Other establishments might not be so lucky, Hartin said.

"It's hard to say, but it would make it very difficult," he said. "I know at my place, Saturday and Sunday during football season was your busiest time of the year. If you save up some money to pay your bills at the start of the year, to renew your license and all that, you'd be all right. But I would think it would make it very difficult for some places to stay open."

Zach Hearn, the general manager at Wild Wings in Mount Pleasant, said corporate officials with his company have begun thinking about strategies if there is no NFL season.

"The home office is trying to figure out what we could do to help the situation," Hearn said. "Maybe steer more toward college football. But basically, we all have our fingers crossed that it will go in the right direction."

So does Anderton, who estimates that she makes $100 more in tips on an NFL Sunday night than on a normal night.

"It's too much money at stake, too many advertising dollars," she said. "No one wants to not get paid, so I think they will get it worked out."