By Caroline McMillan Portillo The Charlotte Observer
The spectacle and tradition of the NFL Super Bowl, from the parties to the commercials, half-time shows to game-winning drives, is practically its own industry.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, an estimated 179 million people tuned into last year's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.
The average game-watcher spent an estimated $68.54 on new televisions for viewing parties, snacks, decor and athletic apparel, bringing total spending to nearly $12.3 billion, the organization estimated.
So when there's that much money for the taking, it's no wonder small businesses want to carve out their own piece of Super Bowl XLVIII's Denver Broncos-versus-Seattle Seahawks pie.
Which is why the game poses a perfect opportunity for them to raise their local profile through a few winning strategies of their own.
Western New York natives Donna and Bradley Battaglia opened the Taste of Buffalo Pizzeria in Huntersville, N.C., 10 years ago to be a haven for people who prefer thicker crust, chicken-finger subs, fish fries and, of course, buffalo wings.
They've built a devoted following in the past decade, Donna Battaglia said, and about 80 percent of their customers are also from New York.
So last year they decided to make big events such as the Super Bowl a way to thank customers for their support by doing a drawing for a big LED flat-screen television on Pro Bowl Sunday.
"We appreciate everything they do for us," Donna Battaglia said. And last year's winner, a woman who said she'd "never won anything in her life", was incredibly thankful.
In the weeks leading up this year's game, anyone who spent $25 or more got an entry in the drawing.
And by giving the TV away a week before the main event, the Battaglias ensured that their restaurant would be crowded for the much-less-hyped Pro Bowl (customers had to be present to claim the prize), while also giving the lucky winner time to set it up for a home-viewing party for the big game.
A week before this year's drawing for a 55-inch LED flat-screen television, Donna Battaglia said they already had more than 500 entries.
The Battaglias also acknowledge that many of their customers won't be dining in for the Super Bowl, she said.
That's why they're offering delivery and takeout specials, such as a combo pack of 24 pieces of pizza and 50 wings for $56.99.
Last year, they sold 10,000 buffalo wings, Donna Battaglia said. This year, they're hoping for 15,000.
Donnie Gaskin, who opened Beantown Tavern in Matthews, N.C., in 2005, said he's planning for at least 150 people for Sunday's showdown.
The spirited communal atmosphere is a selling point, for sure, but perhaps the biggest draw will be the 120-pound smoked pig, fixings and sides, all free for customers.
"My thought is that people will buy a drink, maybe do a shot and stick around because of goodwill," said Gaskin, who started the tradition eight years ago.
And if good will isn't enough to keep them there, Gaskin's collection of giveaways at the end of each quarter probably will.
Thanks to donations, Gaskin will be giving out Carolina Panthers gear, lawn chairs, tents, towels, hats and gloves, as well as big-ticket items, including six four-day Caribbean cruise packages.
Every person who comes gets a free raffle ticket.
"That's what you have to do," Gaskin said, "because truly, the Super Bowl is a day when most families have a big Super Bowl party at their house.
So for me, I have to think outside of the box and actually draw the customers in and give them a reason to come out."
Bill Nolan, owner of Steamer's Sports Pub in Charlotte, N.C., said this Super Bowl Sunday won't be as busy as a prime-time Carolina Panthers game, or a Super Bowl game involving any of the teams that are popular among Charlotte transplants, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles or Miami Dolphins.
But customers still want wings and still appreciate the little touches, he said.
That's why this Sunday, all the prices will end in 48 cents, in honor of the 48 Super Bowl, and some drinks will allude to the faceoff, including an "Orange Crush" (a nod to the nickname given to the Denver Broncos' defense years ago) and the "Washington Apple" for the Seattle Seahawks.
"We always do something to tie in the two cities being represented," Nolan said.
Alyssa Gorelick started her cooking-class business, Chef Alyssa's Kitchen, with her boyfriend and co-founder Andrew Wilen last summer after leaving her job as executive chef of the Charlotte vegetarian cafe Fern.
Her classes, held a couple of days a week, have grown increasingly popular, but Wilen knew a class on Super Bowl Sunday itself wouldn't be a best-seller.
But Wilen, who oversees the company's marketing and event planning, suggested they still try to tap into the hype.
So Gorelick decided to offer a class where attendees would learn to make healthy and flavorful Super Bowl snacks, such as grass-fed beef chili, spicy pulled chicken sliders with avocado and blue cheese, and mini whole-wheat veggie pizzas.
The class, which costs $55 a person, has easily been her most popular yet, selling out about a month ago, Gorelick said.
"We had a waiting list for it," she said. "We kind of thought, 'OK, we'll build momentum with the Panthers' playoffs (game) and start to do teasers,' but we didn't have to."
"Even if you don't like football," she said, "you like the Super Bowl." ___ BIG GAME, BIG OPPORTUNITIES:
Here are ideas for maximizing profits during a national sporting event:
_Send newsletters: Donna Battaglia, who owns Taste of Buffalo Pizzeria in Huntersville, N.C., with her husband, Bradley, said she knows many of their regular customers will be having parties at home for the Super Bowl. That's why she emailed newsletters reminding customers that the restaurant offered wings-and-pizza takeout specials for the big game.
_Make it a tradition: Donnie Gaskin, who opened Beantown Tavern in Matthews, N.C., in 2005, said he always has a crowd for the Super Bowl, even if _ like this year _ both teams are thousands of miles away. The main reason: Customers know to expect his free, annual pig roast, as well as a number of giveaways.
_Tap into the pre-game hype: Alyssa Gorelick, who teaches cooking classes at Atherton Mill and Market, decided to take advantage of the fact that many people want to cook healthfully for their Super Bowl parties. Her healthy class sold out more than a month in advance.