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March Madness
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Sports bar owners unsure what to expect from March Madness, but happy games are playing

(The Break West Valley. Credit: Paul Nelson, March 18, 2021)

SALT LAKE CITY – The beginning of March Madness is usually a big day for sports bars across the state, and bar owners are hoping this year’s tournament will bring out the fans.  However, some restaurant owners say they’re just happy that the tournament is being held at all.

There’s something different about the opening week of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament, according to Gracie’s Bar owner Deno Dakis. He said there’s high energy and excitement surrounding the tournament, especially when there are so many teams battling to advance. 

Even if someone’s favorite team isn’t involved, Dakis said, they’re still excited since their brackets haven’t been busted yet.

“It’s just chaotic seeing all these teams playing at once,” Dakis said. “All the TV screens are filled with different games.”

However, COVID-19 cancelled last year’s tournament at a time of the year when sports bar owners usually see a huge spike in revenue. Dakis said March is a springboard into summer activities. The money they would normally get is a huge part of their yearly bottom line.

 “You have March Madness, you have St. Patrick’s Day, you have a bunch of stuff going on in March,” he said. “Then, within a week, all of it vanished.”

Trying to estimate how many customer will come out for the games is extremely tricky this year.  Some restaurant owners say they’re not seeing as many customers on the occasions they would normally expect them, and they’re seeing more customers on nights that have traditionally been “slower.” 

For instance, Dakis said they had a full restaurant on Valentine’s Day — which isn’t normally one of their busier nights.

The Break West Valley owner Ryan Oliver said business would pick up on a Tuesday, mid-day, for no discernable reason.  However, Oliver said that doesn’t bother them at all.

“Any business is better than last year’s business,” he said. “That’s how we’re looking at it.  Last year, there was zero business.”

Will Salt Lake County residents be interested in watching the games considering the University of Utah isn’t playing?  Again, it’s hard to say. 

Oliver expects it could have a negative impact.

“It’s going to hurt us, not having the U [playing] and having those fans, here, but, we’re happy to have what we can get,” Oliver said.