PUBLISHED: 12:09 PM on Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Fans flock to bars for playoffs, Super Bowl
Every fall, all over the nation, football fans gather in stadiums, in front of televisions and in their favorite local watering holes to watch their favorite teams take to the field. This is also true in Alaska, despite the fact that the state doesn't have a team of its own, and that the games are often televised during the early morning hours.

"Nine a.m. is awfully early for a lot of people," said Ethan Billings, owner of Marlintini's, which opens at 8:45 a.m. on Sundays. "I think that East Coast bars probably do a better business because of the later starts. There's talk that the NFL might change game times to 2 p.m. Eastern, which would be 10 a.m. here, and I think that would definitely help us."

"I think that a later start would definitely make a difference in the number of people we see coming in to watch the games," said Reecia Wilson, owner of the Hangar on the Wharf, which opens at 11 a.m. seven days a week. "Still, we get a pretty regular crowd as it relates to specific sporting events - it's a pretty solid customer base."

Some Alaskan pubs, such as G.W. Teal, have adapted to this strange schedule, offering breakfast for the early-bird fans.

"We serve omelets on Sunday morning to bring more people in to watch the games," said co-owner Neil Atkinson. "A lot of people want to eat at 9 in the morning, and they want to watch football. This way they can do both and they don't need to go anywhere else."

While an informal poll of bar owners seems to show that hometown favorite, the Seattle Seahawks, attracts a lot of fans for the games, they may not be the largest, or loudest, contingent.

"While Seattle has a lot of fans, the biggest group we see every Sunday are Vikings fans," Atkinson said. "Our regulars also include a guy who comes in every week to watch Green Bay, as well as Kansas City and Denver fans."

"I'd say that Steelers' fans are our biggest core group," Billings said. "But we also get a good turnout for the Broncos, Seahawks, Raiders, Vikings and Packers. It really just depends on the games."

"We have Seahawks fans, of course, and though I don't know why, the Green Bay Packers are also a big hit," Wilson said. "There doesn't seem to be any one real favorite. Each game brings in its own group, and they're all fun."

With the playoffs right around the corner, local bars are expecting to see interest grow as teams vie for a spot at the biggest game of the year -Super Bowl XL.

"As the president of the Juneau-Douglas Seahawkers, I'm a huge fan of Seattle, and I'd love to see them in the Super Bowl," Billings said. "And as a revenue generator, based on fan base, I'd say the best match-up for bars in this town would be a Seattle-Pittsburgh game."

While some bars will be doing special promotions with their distributors during the playoffs, others are waiting for the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 to go all out for the fans. Product giveaways, drink specials and complimentary food are just a few of the items that will entice fans to watch the big game away from home.

"We're giving away authentic team helmets - one for each team in the Super Bowl," Billings said. "We're also giving away $1,000 if a team runs the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, or runs the second half kickoff back for a touchdown."

Of course, the biggest score of all will be if a fan's team takes home the Super Bowl trophy. And though some will leave the big day disappointed, there's still something to be said about hanging out with friends and enjoying another football season. Even if it starts pretty early in the morning.

"When I was down south, it was really tough to wait around for the games to start at noon and to watch all those pre-game shows," Atkinson said. "And it was even tougher watching football games that didn't even start until eight o'clock at night and lasted until midnight."

"Sure, it starts early here, but I think that's a good thing," he added. "You come in for the first game in the morning, and you can stay and watch football all day."