|By Suzanne Marta, The Dallas Morning
NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Sep. 23, 2006 - Aiming to reach younger business travelers, Holiday Inns and Resorts is betting on sports.
The nation's oldest hotel chain has teamed with the Sporting News , a venerable sports media brand, to create a prototype sports bar at the Holiday Inn Select at Dallas Love Field.
Holiday Inn officials hope they'll be able to expand the Sporting News Grill, which they unveiled this week, across their chain. Their goal is to boost revenue by persuading more guests to dine in.
Jeremy Millar, the hotel's general manager, said the new restaurant offers a "fun, social and dynamic atmosphere."
Food and beverage sales are a big business for full-service hotels, accounting for more than 30 percent of revenue in 2005, according to data collected by PKF Hospitality Research in Atlanta.
Between 1994 and 2005, food and beverage sales rose nearly 4 percent annually, slightly faster than total hotel revenues.
But at Holiday Inn, food and beverage sales, which account for 20 percent of total revenue, have remained essentially flat.
"Customers have so many options outside the hotel so you've really got to do a good job of hooking them so they stay on the property," said Mark Snyder, senior vice president of brand management for the chain, a unit of InterContinental Hotels Group PLC of the United Kingdom.
Offering a branded restaurant such as the Sporting News Grill could boost those revenues significantly, Mr. Snyder said.
Research commissioned by Holiday Inn showed Gen-X'ers were 60 percent more likely to choose a hotel that had a sports bar than their baby boomer counterparts.
"Gen-X'ers like to associate themselves with established brands that fit their lifestyle," said Mr. Snyder.
He said aligning with Sporting News made sense because "sports is a key passion point for our customers."
Holiday Inn, which operates 1,400 properties worldwide, doesn't offer nationally branded restaurants at its hotels and hopes the familiar Sporting News name will help increase sales.
"The fact that this is branded will change expectations in terms of driving customers to use the restaurant," Mr. Snyder said.
For the Sporting News, the test site represents an important opportunity to extend its brand, which faces stiff competition from ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other sports media outlets.
"This helps us keep our existing customers close and attract new ones," said Rick Allen, president and chief executive of the Sporting News .
Sports grills are a growing dining segment, and co-branded concepts such as ESPN Zone and Fox Sports Grill have performed well, said Ron Paul, president of Chicago-based food industry consulting firm Technomic Inc.
By partnering with Holiday Inn, Mr. Allen hopes to establish a much larger footprint if the hotel decides to roll out the new grill concept across the chain.
"We'll have much more scope [than ESPN and Fox]," Mr. Allen said.
Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN Zone was launched in 1998. It operates eight locations and plans to open a ninth in Los Angeles in 2008. A spokesman said the company does not have plans for a Dallas location.
Fox Sports Grill opened its first location in 2002 and now operates seven restaurants. It opened a Plano location, at the Shops at Legacy, earlier this year and plans to open one in Charlotte, N.C., later this year.
The Sporting News Grill is a work in progress. The new dining and patio furniture hasn't arrived, and they're still working out how to install table-based speakers that let customers tune in to specific games, or Sporting News radio broadcasts. A retail case in the restaurant's entryway includes Sporting News magazines and other publications.
The hotel operators plan to offer special events to attract local patrons and to have live broadcasts from the restaurant in the future.
For the Dallas property's owners, the $1.4 million restaurant project was a much-needed upgrade.
"The reality is that the hotel coffee shop is beyond passe," said Stephen Rogers, general partner and owner of Viceroy Investments Inc.
Since 1998, the onsite restaurant was called Klein's, which operated a delicatessen and performed well during breakfast and lunch. But at dinner, "it did exceedingly poorly," Mr. Rogers said.
During its first few weeks, the new grill has performed well. "Our revenue is up 300 percent," Mr. Rogers said.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News
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