A few days before the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers both hit the road last month to start their Eastern Conference finals, Paul Maurice mused about what this must be like for people in other walks of life across the region.
“The only thing better than coaching one of these two teams,” the Panthers coach said, “would be owning a sports bar because you are on a roll right now.”
He was right.
“We have never had an NHL and an NBA playoff like this,” Sports Grill COO Christine Marques said.
“It’s really incredible,” Duffy’s Sports Grill president Joe Webb said.
“The energy in our locations are unlike anything else during these games,” Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill marketing director Jennifer Pierce said, “so we’re just happy to be a part of this history.”
Flanigan’s, Duffy’s and Sports Grill are three of South Florida’s biggest chains of sports bars, and all three are seeing a usually quiet season turn into a boom time.
Profits are up — although none of the three shared specific figures — and employees are working more hours. Usually, the spring and summer months after the NCAA Tournament end, and before football begins, are devoid of the events these businesses lean on for revenue. This year, there hasn’t been a break.
In the first 19 days of June, the Heat and Panthers could combine to give local sports bars 14 days of big business, with the 2023 NBA Finals and 2023 Stanley Cup Final taking place on mostly alternating days. They also did the same for 11 of 13 days at the end of May — and it would’ve been more, if Florida hadn’t swept the Hurricanes out of the NHL Conference Finals in four games.
While most Miami fans were freaking out about the Heat nearly blowing its 3-0 lead to the Celtics in the NBA Conference Finals, the the Miami metropolitan area’s sports bars had a silver lining.
“You couldn’t have asked for it to be better with the Heat. They went seven games and they won,” Webb said, laughing. “We’re happy and the NBA [was], but it was tough because you want them to win every game.”
The extended postseason runs have forced at least one Sports Grill manager to postpone a vacation and meant there are hardly any lightly staffed nights during a time when workers’ hours typically might get cut.
It’s all good for the companies’ bottom lines, but also their employees.
“All of our folks, this is so good for them. It’s good for the entire economy of Florida. It really is,” Webb said, “so when you see a ref make a bad call — like I think they did in Game 6 for the Heat — it’s like, Hey, c’mon, man. You’re hurting everybody’s pocket book out here, but it’s really a windfall for our employees, for our company. It’s really going to make June a much better month than it would’ve been.”
At the Sports Grill Palmetto Golf Course, the company is installing new televisions on its patio after an outdoor Panthers watch party at Kendall Ice Arena for one of the games of the East finals got rained out and chased the crowd to the nearby restaurant. The Sports Grill Kendall also just installed new outdoor seating and is hoping to put a projector screen out there for games this month.
“The energy of being around other people,” Marques said, “is amazing.”
Said Webb: “It’s like hosting a party every night.”
Flanigan’s, which is typically still busy in the quieter sports months, actually has seen some Miami-area locations lose profits during these twin runs because they can’t turn over tables as quickly as they usually do, Pierce said.
We’re definitely playing into memes and stuff that are happening on the game, on social media and trying to make that connection,” Pierce said, “trying to use this opportunity to create even more long-term guests in the future.”
With the NBA Finals tied at 1-1, this party still has at least another week to go and will hit peak insanity later this week when the Heat plays at home Wednesday, the Panthers play at home Thursday, Miami plays another home game Friday and finally Florida plays again at home Saturday.
“When you work at a sports bar and grill, generally you’re a sports fan, so this is fun for all of our folks who live and breathe the Panthers and the Heat,” Webb said. “You’re working, but you’re having a great time.”
David Wilson, a Maryland native, is the Miami Herald’s utility man for sports coverage.