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Big game business: Stores, bars look to cash in on football closer

The Camp owner Mike Wagner pours blue curacao into margarita mix to make the 12th Man Margarita, a drink he is making at his restaurant special for Super Bowl Sunday. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

The Camp owner Mike Wagner pours blue curacao into margarita mix to make the 12th Man Margarita, a drink he is making at his restaurant special for Super Bowl Sunday. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — In some senses, it’s just a football game.

This year, the two teams competing for the NFL’s top prize represent regional interests far from the Miss-Lou, and the local who plays with one of the teams is injured and won’t be playing.

But there’s something about the Super Bowl that makes people want to watch no matter who is playing.

And that gives local businesses reasons to get gear up for a sales blitz.

“Nationally, the Super Bowl is the number three holiday in the food industry,” said Barry Loy, director of retail operations for the Markets. “If it’s not that way here, it is probably close.”

Alcohol sales in the Natchez area don’t slow during the winter months as much as they do in other places, but the period around Super Bowl weekend usually represents rise in sales, said Stephanie Hutchins, vice president for public affairs at Southwest Distributers.

“We see a sales boost around that time, especially around that weekend, because good friends are getting together to have good times and hopefully enjoy our products responsibly,” she said.

While stores offer sales on party foods and restaurants try to lure people in with drink specials, the driver of the Super Bowl economy is the NFL’s marketing  and cross-promotional campaigns to make the game a part of the national conversation each year, said Mike Wagner, owner of The Camp, a sports bar located at Natchez Under-the-Hill.

“I think it is less driven by our industry and more by Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch, where you will have people who don’t even watch football but do want to watch the commercials,” he said.

“It’s a big party, and I think the NFL has done an amazing thing of creating a big event — it’s no loner just a Super Bowl at ‘X’ stadium, it is an event. It’s social in that case where you can find a way to have some sort of rooting interest and make it fun. It’s the last football game of the year and we have to wait another six months before we see it again, so we have that send off.”

Getting ready for that sendoff sometimes takes more than a couple of weeks of promotions.

“We have to plan it pretty early on because we have to book product,” Loy said. “A lot of paper cups, napkins and stuff like that, you have to book in advance, and we try to promote the football theme during the month of January, throughout the playoffs.”

Hutchins said beer distributors will work with retailers to capitalize on the cultural moment.

“We have a lot of point of sale display material we would put out in a retail venue just to draw attention to the display itself, and it is specifically Super Bowl oriented,” Hutchins said “We encourage the retailer to give a space to make those displays because it does make a difference for them and us.”

When the New Orleans Saints and even the Dallas Cowboys are doing well, sales are better, Loy said. But even without the local market draw, the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are good ones.

“It is one of the better party times of the year,” he said.

“In our environment, in the South, a lot of people do a lot of cooking out. They will barbecue out a lot prior to the big game, so we’ll also feel a lot of impact in our meat department, also.”

But even stores that don’t necessarily push the Super Bowl party theme expect people to pick up a few extras for the big game.

“We get things like Pizza rolls, chicken wings, picked up some extra inventory, the normal backing up of those products that people would want for football,” Cash Saver manager Thomas McGahey said.

A few bars and restaurants are likewise trying to take advantage of people’s urge to gather communally to watch the game. Wagner said while he’d like to see the Super Bowl make for a big weekend, he’s thinking of the event as an extended Happy Hour.

“We are just going to have some fun with it, and since there are a lot of places closed on Sunday, we felt like — since we are a sports bar — we wanted to offer that place for people to gather,” he said.