Sports Bars: The Halfway House Between Stadium and Home

By Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

If Rod Serling were to narrate the introduction of a Twilight Zone episode about sports bars, he’d probably say that they exist in a demimonde of their own, between the immersiveness of the live venue and the personalized environment of the living room, aspiring to emulate the best of both but putting most of their effort into differentiating themselves from each other. Even in a city like New York, with more than a half dozen major-league teams, every screen will likely be showing the same game at the same time.

“More screens, bigger sound — that’s what everyone’s asking for,” says Doug Purvis, owner of Spectrum Audio Visual Systems, who’s putting the finishing touches on audio and video in Dewey’s, an about-to-open sports bar around the corner from Madison Square Garden. Dewey’s will have remote taps for both beer and wine, but it won’t run out of video: with 22 70-, 60- and 42-in. Sharp LCD displays covering almost every vertical surface in the main room and above the bar. Wait, scratch almost — Purvis points out how the Crestron control system can route signals from any of the cable and satellite sources to any screen configuration, and Dewey’s owner Ed Dobres asks him to add one more 42-in. screen to one of the few vacant vertical spaces left.

“You have to be able to see a screen no matter which way you’re facing,” says Dobres, whose previous sports bar fell victim to the onslaught of luxury residential construction in the suddenly trendy Flatiron neighborhood.

Big Numbers
There’s no hard data available on the number of sports bars in the U.S., but it’s safe to say they represent a substantial number of the nearly 45,000 “drinking places” estimated in the most recent census by the National Restaurant Association, which does not break out sports bars. Their numbers are so huge, however, that CNN couldn’t do a typical top-10 list of best sports bars a few years ago; it had to list the top 101. Such franchises as the Tilted Kilt, Hooters, Hotshots, ESPN Zone, and Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar account for hundreds of stores, with entrepreneurs like Dobres bringing in thousands more around the country.

And they’re doing what both sports venues and sports fans at home have been doing to enhance the experience: adding bigger screens and bigger sound. David Weatherhead, president of Canadian A/V integrator Advanced, points to the massive video wall made up of NEC video tiles above the bar at the Jack Astor’s location in Mississauga, ON. When the screen is segmented into multiple images, via Crestron and Extron video processors, it looks more like a Las Vegas sports book than a suburban sports bar.

“As the cost of video tiles keeps coming down,” he notes, “the sizes of the video walls are limited only by the amount of space in the bar.”

Purvis says that sports bars pushed for HD a decade ago and will likely be at the forefront of demand for 4K, once programming becomes available in that format.

Big Sound
But where sports bars have really been pushing the limits is with audio. A few blocks uptown from Dewey’s, Daryl Kral, owner of integrator AV/NY Install, points to the 16-in.-deep QSC subwoofers that his crew is installing in the ceiling of St. Patrick’s, another new sports bar with a scheduled June opening. There’s a subwoofer for every two full-range ceiling speakers along the length of the main floor’s bar, and that pattern is followed in the restaurant’s other two bar areas, which will also have a total of 18 LCD displays. The large number of speakers called for the use of six four-channel amplifiers — QSC CXD amps with DSP — to reduce the number of racks needed to power and manage the sound.

“Everyone wants the sound to be as big as possible,” says Kral. “You can’t even think about doing a sports bar without lots of subs these days.”

The sound is stereo throughout most of the bar, summing to mono in transition areas.

Last year, Kral installed a 5.1-surround system in a sports bar near NYU that occupies three floors and a mezzanine and included a 64×32 video matrix comprising 10 DirecTV receivers, six Time-Warner cable boxes, four Dish Network receivers, four computer inputs to stream overseas soccer matches, two DVD players, and guest inputs that allow patrons to patch in their own devices for private parties.

Back at Dewey’s, Purvis notes the bar’s ubiquity of sound and picture, pointing to the pendant speakers by the restaurant’s street-side patio, slung below the huge glass awning it shares with the hotel next door, and to the televisions and speakers in the bathrooms. “If you come out front to have a smoke, you can still hear the game and even watch it through the plate-glass window,” he says. “And you don’t have to miss anything if you go to the bathroom. All the comforts of home, and it’s almost like being at the stadium — except you have a lot more kinds of beer to choose from.”