This annual list of the best sports bar/pub franchises was revised and updated on January 27, 2021.
Sports bars are one of the great social fixtures of modern America, a place where people can gather in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere to enjoy the big game and a few drinks. They’re also part of a staggeringly large industry, with bars and nightclubs in the US bringing in over $30 billion in 2019, thanks to five years of strong growth. Sports bars are a significant part of this industry, with one sports bar franchise alone making $3.7 billion in sales in 2019.
In an age when most people have a big screen TV at home and a dozen different streaming services to choose from, sports bars have had to innovate to stand out. Just showing the game on a big screen isn’t enough.
But the fragmentation of viewing has helped to mark out their unique selling point. At home, we’re less likely to treat viewing as a shared experience or a big event. Sports bars bring that back, as customers gather with others who want to watch the same match, making a spectacle of it. At their best, they offer a loose, relaxing sense of community in which everyone can find something in common.
2020 was an incredibly difficult year for the whole hospitality industry. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, bars and restaurants were among the first places to be closed, and those that stayed shut the longest. Unlike restaurants, which could often survive by moving to a home delivery or takeout model, bars were often forced to completely shut up shop for the duration of local closures. Even when they were able to reopen, hygiene regulations, customer wariness, and a dented economy limited revenues. The revenues of bars and nightclubs in the US fell from over $30 billion to just over $22 billion, the lowest they had been in over a decade.
Revenues for bars and nightclubs, including sports bars, are expected to rise significantly this year, with 15.7% growth compared with 2020. This will take revenues above where they were six years ago, but still significantly behind pre-COVID levels. Vaccinations and better control of the virus will open up the economy and allow growth for sports bars, but a return to their full glory is unlikely until late in 2021, at the earliest.
What this means for the industry is unclear, given that many sports bars have closed permanently thanks to COVID. If franchises can step in to fill the gap, then they could achieve a big period of growth. Alternatively, having had a break from sports bars, patrons may turn to other venues as they emerge into a post-COVID bar world. Much will depend upon how successfully big chains draw customers back.
The fundamentals of what makes a sports bar are fairly consistent across the industry. You can walk into a sports bar anywhere in America and expect a relaxed atmosphere, big games showing on the TV, a drink and casual food. But there are also variations, allowing bars to stand out from each other and to appeal to different market segments.
Some are family-friendly while others are geared towards a more guys-only vibe, with décor and waiting staff to fit. Some have full-service eating with menus good enough to be a draw in and of itself, whether you’re interested in watching sports or not. Hipster versions might put more emphasis on music or cater to those interested in craft beers and microbrewing. There are even bars that treat wings as a food group all of its own.
The viewing experience can vary. Some bars put on constant cartoons instead of sports, or offer customers speakers at their tables that can be tuned into the TV of their choice. What they sacrifice in the communal experience of watching the big game together, they make up for in choice and personalization.
It’s also increasingly common for sports bars to split their business, creating one area for dining and another for watching the game. This lets them tap into the casual dining market at the same time as a rowdier, drinking-focused sports viewing crowd. Diversification has allowed the industry to appeal to more women, as well as men looking for a varied experience, and so helped the sector to recover from a threatened decline in the mid-2010s. Such innovation will almost certainly be important to a post-COVID recovery.
This isn’t to say that their core demographic is being neglected. Even amid the changing menus and attempts at wider appeal, sports bars are increasingly creating buzz around big sports events, to make an occasion and build hype. Loyalty to teams creates an atmosphere all of its own and customer loyalty to a particular bar. There’s a camaraderie in these bars that, for many sports fans, can’t be found anywhere else. That’s the key strength of the industry, a unique selling point that guarantees a future for sports bars no matter what.
The Top 15 Sports Bar/Pub Franchises of 2021
1. Buffalo Wild Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings recently inked a deal with MGM to bring sports betting to select locations in states where it’s legal, and a new mobile app for getting in on the action. Every location of this chain has no fewer than 50 hi-def flat-screen TVs for customers to enjoy their favorite sports. When it comes to food, patrons find a huge variety of wings and 12 signature sauces, along with all kinds of appetizers, burgers, tacos, salads, and desserts. Wait staff wear jerseys with the number 82 in honor of the year the first restaurant opened.
Founded by friends James Disbrow and Scott Lowery in Columbus, Ohio in 1982 and franchising since 1991, the number of locations has continued to expand in recent years from 732 in 2010 to the current total of 1,271 (down slightly from the previously reported total of 1,274), of which 682 are company-owned and 55 are located outside the US.
2. Boston’s Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar
Boston’s Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar doesn’t exist in Boston despite its name. It was actually started in Edmonton, Canada, and the founder just wanted a name that was easy to pronounce and decided on Boston. There really is pizza on the menu, however, along with pasta, burgers, wings, and more. And every seat has a good view of a large screen for watching sports. The beer selection is both national, regional, and local.
Founded in 1963 and franchising since 1968, the number of locations now stands at the last known reported total of 424 in 2018, of which two were company-owned and 401 were located outside the US.
Hooters was a pioneer of the “breastaurant” concept featuring waitresses in skimpy outfits to show off their curves, and the restaurant does not apologize for making sex appeal a central part of its business model in spite of many complaints and lawsuits over the years. There are plenty of screens in each location for watching sports, a sort of beach theme, and a menu featuring mostly standard American fare.
Founded in Clearwater, Florida in 1983 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has mostly held steady in recent years and totaled 412 in 2019, of which 202 were company-owned and 82 were located outside the US.
4. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Family Sports Pub
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Family Sports Pub feels like an Irish pub, but doesn’t serve any hard liquor to have a more family-friendly atmosphere. The menu is not Irish but features typical American fare, with specials for each weekday (Burger Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Wing Wednesdays, Fajita Thursdays, and Seafood Combo Fridays). Décor includes lots of sports memorabilia and plenty of television screens for watching sporting events.
Founded by Jim Mellody and his wife Jeanette in Brandon, Florida in 1985 and franchising since 1998, the number of locations has steadily declined in recent years from 217 in 2011 to the current total of 144, of which 26 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
5. Bar Louie
Bar Louie positions itself at the forefront of what it calls the “gastrobar” revolution. It definitely has a hipster vibe aimed at Millennials. It features an extensive menu of appetizers, flatbreads, burgers, salads, sandwiches, entrées, and desserts served up with craft cocktails and local beers. It does cater to sports fans to some extent, but not as obsessively as many of the companies on this list.
Founded in 1990 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has expanded in recent years from 68 in 2012 to the last known reported total of 131 in 2018, of which 112 were company-owned and all were located in the US.
6. Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom
Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom makes its priorities clear: Beer first, food second, and watching sports a somewhat distant third. But it doesn’t serve up just any old beer. The big focus here is on craft beer, which the chain considers a way of life, not just a trend. Having a craft beer featured at Old Chicago is a highly competitive feat that few can manage, though the chain does try to spread the joy. The menu features appetizers, wings, deep-dish pizzas, calzones, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, salads, soups, and desserts.
Founded in 1976 and franchising since 2000, the number of locations inched upwards in recent years from 96 in 2011 to the last known reported total of 109 in 2019, of which 72 were company-owned and all were located in the US.
7. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks takes the breastaurant concept of Hooters and moves it away from the beach and into the forested mountains to serve up “Eats. Drinks. Scenic Views” complete with beautiful waitresses in skimpy lumberjack outfits and lots of HD flat-screen TVs for watching sports. The chain takes great pains to pour its beer into frosted mugs at 29°F resulting in ice crystals at the top of the glass.
Founded in 2005 and franchising since 2007, the number of locations has grown in recent years from 12 in 2010 to the last known reported total of 83 in 2019, of which 28 were company-owned and one was located outside the US.
8. Buffalo Wings & Rings
Buffalo Wings & Rings reinvented itself from a man-cave joint to a much more family-friendly restaurant with a menu featuring wings, appetizers, salads, soups, burgers, wraps, quesadillas, sandwiches, sides, and desserts. It calls itself a “club-level” sports restaurant, and each location has 50+ televisions to catch a favorite team.
Founded in 1984 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has grown in recent years from 47 in 2012 to the current total of 81, of which five are company-owned and 22 are located outside the US.
9. The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille
The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille has a menu featuring the usual suspects: appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, entrées, salads, and dessert. Lots of different beers are on tap, including local craft beers. It bills itself as the community hangout place to share food, drinks, and sports with friends and family.
Founded by Steve Pappas and Tommy Dickerson in Ocean City, Maryland in 1976 and franchising since 2003, the number of locations grew slowly but steadily from 25 in 2010 to 47 in 2018, but then dropped back to the last known reported total of 44 in 2019, of which 13 were company-owned and all were located in the US.
10. Tilted Kilt
Tilted Kilt is another “breastaurant” but this time with a Scottish/Celtic theme featuring pretty waitresses in short kilts and plaid bikini tops. The menu features a variety of traditional and modern pub fare such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and “Big Arse Burgers.” Lots of screens are available for watching sports, and there are in-house gaming options such as pool, darts, and Golden Tee. There are always at least 24 beers on tap along with wine, cocktails, and spirits.
Founded in 2003 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has declined in recent years from a high of 103 in 2015 to the last known reported total of 43 in 2018, of which two were company-owned and three were located outside the US.
11. Brass Tap
Brass Tap started out as just a craft beer bar, but now that craft beer has essentially gone mainstream, it had to branch out. It rolled out a snack menu, then realized a full menu would better. The full menu is much improved over its original standard offerings, with all kinds of chef-created dishes. And liquor is now offered as well to appeal to even more customers. But craft beer is still important, with dozens on tap and hundreds of bottled options. And, of course, it has HD screens for watching sports.
Founded in 2008 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations expanded from three in 2012 to 48 in 2018 but has more recently declined to the current total of 41, of which one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
12. Native Grill and Wings
Native Grill and Wings gives itself a tagline of “Big Games. Big Fun. One Big Family” because it is all about the sports. The menu consists of appetizers, wings, salads, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, fish entrées, and desserts. It has little to distinguish it from many of the other sports bar concepts on this list, which may help explain its declining locations.
Founded in 1979 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations peaked at 36 in 2017 and has since declined to the current total of 23, of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
13. Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar
Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar goes a bit further than most sports bar restaurant companies on this list. The others may boast 50+ screens, but each Arooga location has at least 100! These places have big footprints ranging from 6,500-9,500 square feet, and different areas are themed on different sports. Very family-friendly, with a surprisingly forward-thinking menu that includes a meat-free plant-based burger, Arooga’s is the first Green Certified restaurant in the state of Pennsylvania.
Founded in 2007 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations currently stands at 18 (down from the previously reported total of 20), of which nine are company-owned and all are located in the US.
14. Rock and Brews
Rock and Brews is a craft beer restaurant started up by an interesting combination of people including Dave and Dell Furano (long-time rock concert tour promoters and merchandisers), restaurateur/hotelier Michael Zislis, and KISS band members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. The craft beer emphasis is on local brews. The food is reimagined American comfort food for the 21st century, all with a heavy rock-n-roll emphasis in the décor as opposed to sports.
Founded in 2010 and franchising since 2012, there were 20 locations in 2018, but in 2019 that dropped back to 16, of which three were company-owned and one was located outside the US.
15. Stacked Pickle
Stacked Pickle is quickly becoming Indiana’s go-to place for sports, wings, burgers, and beer. Also on the menu are lots of starters, main events (tacos, fish and chips, chicken dishes, pasta, etc.), salads, flatbreads, sandwiches, wraps, rice bowls, sides, and desserts.
Founded by former Indianapolis Colts football player and Super Bowl Champion Gary Brackett in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2010 and franchising since 2017, there were 10 locations in 2019, all of which were company-owned and in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.