March Madness in Wolverine Country: Do Ann Arbor restaurants do big business during the big dance?

March Madness is huge around the country, but Michigan gets a double dose of the fervor with both Michigan and Michigan State typically doing well in the tournament. And few cities love their NCAA basketball more than Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan Wolverines.

As you might expect, March Madness brings big revenue to restaurants across the country, which see a significant boost. (Click here to read our detailed report.) To analyze the effects of March Madness on restaurants, we analyzed transaction data from 42,000 small, local businesses across the country in 2018, using revenue performance during the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

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Do Ann Arbor restaurants bring in more daily revenue during March Madness than during a typical weekend day?

If we start by looking at the daily revenue for restaurants in Ann Arbor, we see they brought in an average of $1,343 on March Madness game days—a significant increase over the $1,077 average revenue on a typical day. However, because restaurants do the bulk of their business over the weekend, we see a more moderate bump when comparing March Madness to revenues over a typical Thursday through Sunday timeframe.

When comparing average daily revenue during March Madness against what restaurants would ordinarily expect on a Thursday through Sunday, restaurants nationwide generally made about 2% more. But restaurants in cities with teams in the tournament brought in about 4% more (double the national average).

Statewide, Michigan restaurants saw a 3.82% boost in daily revenue throughout the tournament, nearly on par with college towns who had teams in the tournament. Ann Arbor itself did better still with a daily March Madness revenue more than 5% greater than the national average weekend day.

(Click here for our in-depth blog post detailing March Madness’s effect on restaurants in college towns.)

Do Ann Arbor restaurants do better the farther the Wolverines progress in the tournament?

Now let’s look at how Ann Arbor restaurants performed throughout the tournament.

As you can see, Ann Arbor restaurants saw a HUGE boost for the second round in 2018. These were the biggest days of the tournament for restaurants across the country, which may have been influenced by the fact that it was the first Saturday game of the tournament (Saturdays are usually restaurants’ biggest earners) AND it fell on St. Patrick’s Day.

Regardless, local restaurants in Ann Arbor saw one of the biggest single-day revenue boosts of any team in the tournament.

To get a more detailed look, we next compared how restaurants in Ann Arbor performed for each day of the tournament against what they would normally expect on that day of the week.

In this graph we can see specifically how Ann Arbor restaurants performed during each round and on game days versus non game days. The green lines indicate a game day and a win, and the red line indicates a game day and a loss (since the Wolverines made it to the championship game in 2018 but lost to Villanova).

Interestingly, the Thursday game day during the first round performed well below a typical Thursday in Ann Arbor, and the Thursday Sweet 16 game barely beat a typical Thursday. Perhaps a lot of Michigan fans were in class on Thursday? We can only speculate.

We can also see more clearly that for the championship game, restaurant revenue fell well below comparable days in Ann Arbor.

Interestingly, the general trend is for restaurants in cities whose teams were eliminated to see better numbers on championship day than those in cities with teams playing in the championship. One possible reason for this might be that for the most important games, people prefer to watch them at home or at friends’ houses, rather than in a restaurant.

How did Ann Arbor restaurants compare to the rest of Michigan as the tournament progressed?

We next examined how restaurants in Ann Arbor performed as compared to the rest of the state.

Here we can see the general trend toward smaller boosts over average the further the tournament progressed. While restaurant revenue for the Elite Eight and Final Four rounds was still greater than comparable non-tournament days for Ann Arbor restaurants, it seems fewer fans go out to eat on game days for the last few rounds and the championship game.

What can Ann Arbor restaurants expect if Michigan progresses to the final rounds again this year?

Finally, we dug even deeper and compared Ann Arbor restaurants’ revenue to other cities whose teams either did or didn’t progress in the 2018 tournament.

Here we see that restaurants in cities with teams that played into the Final Four saw a higher bump in revenue than restaurants in Ann Arbor, where revenue nearly mirrored that of cities whose teams were eliminated, while still remaining above the national daily average.

But, as we previously highlighted, Ann Arbor restaurants experienced a significant slump on the day of the championship game.

Of course, every March Madness is different, and it’s hard to predict whether a deep run in this year’s tournament would again translate into big gains for Ann Arbor restaurants.

However, looking purely at the national trend from last year’s tournament suggests that the longer a team remains in the tournament, the better it is for local restaurants in their area—the exception being the Championship game (not that many Ann Arbor restaurant owners would complain if the Wolverines made a repeat trip this year).

How to get the most out of March Madness if you own a restaurant in a college town

If you own or manage a restaurant near Ann Arbor, you should make the most out of this yearly craziness—whether Michigan goes all the way to the championship game again or not.

If you typically see a nice increase in revenue during March Madness, consider ways to capitalize on the increased business and extend those gains until well after the tournament. Take advantage of the increased foot traffic to boost your online reputation, for example. Read our article on how to get more reviews for your restaurant for ideas and tips.

On the other hand, does your restaurant struggle to see the same kind of extra March Madness revenue we discussed in this article? Think about ways you can drive extra customers to your restaurant. If you have TVs, you might encourage fans via social media to come watch the games there. If you don’t have a place in your restaurant for diners to watch the games, think about running takeout or delivery specials. Read our 4 key elements to building an effective marketing strategy for your restaurant as a good overview of a better marketing plan.

Also, consider using loyalty marketing software to help you build customer loyalty. With automatic offers, emails, and reminders, you can get more loyal customers with just a few clicks. That way you can get the most out of March Madness long after the winners have cut down the nets.

Womply has helped restaurants like yours get 20% more revenue, 22% more repeat customer visits, and save 10 hours per week. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!


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