ORLANDO — If you’ve been in a bar, you’ve seen the “Free Beer Tomorrow” sign. It’s good for a laugh, or an eye roll. What kind of bar would be ridiculous enough to serve beer for free?
Well, there is one.
The Basement in Orlando is serving free beer during every UCF game this season, until the Knights lose. There are no strings attached. If you come in between kickoff and the final whistle, you can drink all the beer you want (as long as it’s not unsafe to serve you).
If this sounds familiar, it’s because the same bar had a different promotion two years ago: free beer until UCF wins. That went the entire season, as the Knights failed to get a victory.
The idea was born out of desperation. UCF played against South Carolina early in the 2015 season and the bar had maybe 20 people in house to watch. This was after the Knights lost to Furman the week before.
“The first four games, it got worse and worse,” says owner Brandon Geers. “No one was showing up. Just two seasons before that, we were invincible. It was a plummet.”
Geers met with his co-owner, Logan Berkowitz, and his marketing guy, Jake Whitacre, and they brainstormed. Someone suggested free beer until UCF scored a touchdown. Then someone else said, screw it, let’s do free beer until UCF wins.
It was a risk, but why not? The worst that could happen is the same 20 people show up and drink a keg of beer.
That is not what happened.
Whitacre put out a flyer and in the age of social media, it did not take long. “I went to the gym and when I got back, my phone was on fire,” says Geers.
The next weekend, for a game against Tulane, nearly 400 people showed up. The demand was so great that the tap ran out and the bar had to offer free well drinks.
“It was awesome, frankly,” says Geers.
People around the country suggested that this bar was asking for bankruptcy. One website even joked that there must be a meth lab on site. But it was quite the opposite. Hundreds of fans were drinking free beer and also buying liquor and food. It was a moneymaker.
“Girls aren’t going to drink beer,” Whitacre explains. “And beer can only come from that tap so quickly.”
The problem became slowing the crowd. They didn’t want to turn people away. So they mandated that patrons must wear UCF gear to get the free beer. That was a way to winnow the mob somewhat, and an answer to those who felt the owners (all UCF grads) were cheering against the team.
The season ended, Scott Frost was hired, and last year was back to something resembling normal.
Then the Knights started winning, and kept winning, and The Basement didn’t need much more incentive to start the promotion again. The only hiccup this year is when a lightning delay in UCF’s game at Cincinnati caused a minor panic among the bar owners. The storms passed after an hour or so and the beer allotment held up.
Geers says the bar now does 10 times the game day business as it did in the lean years. There are T-shirt giveaways and the fight song is played after every touchdown. It’s going so well that the promotion has been tweaked so that the bar will serve free beer during UCF games until Frost is no longer the coach.
(But what are the chances the coach stays at UCF? Geers pessimistically says, “Slim to none.”)
The next big event is the “War on I-4,” which is a home game against hated rival USF. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, so The Basement guys aren’t sure if it’ll be an enormous crowd or not. To encourage fans to actually go to the stadium, they offer a free beer after the games for ticket stub holders.
And don’t look now, but the UCF hoops team looks like it could be good, with 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, the tallest player in college basketball. If the Knights make it to March Madness, the free beer will flow for them, too.
Miami can keep its turnover chain; Orlando has free beer.
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