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Playoff payoff for Vikings-oriented businesses

ST. PAUL -- Ray Crump isn't a casino high roller, yet he figures he has $100,000 riding on Sunday's NFC championship game between the Vikings and Saints.

ST. PAUL -- Ray Crump isn't a casino high roller, yet he figures he has $100,000 riding on Sunday's NFC championship game between the Vikings and Saints.

A Minnesota victory in New Orleans means excited fans will mob his sports souvenir shop. A defeat, and he'll be sitting alone with his stock of Helga braids and Brett Favre jerseys.

"I hope I'm not crying Sunday," said Crump, owner of Dome Souvenirs Plus, near the Metrodome. "My wife said she'd love to be in a business that didn't depend on a team winning."

So far, this has been a sweet season for Crump and other businesses that prosper from Vikings victories -- ranging from potato-chip makers to flat-screen TV sellers to beer distributors. Should the Vikings reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years, scores of local businesses are poised to profit.

But if the ball bounces the wrong way, the party's over. So lots of local businesses are cheering the Vikings as loudly as Ragnar.

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Roseville-based Old Dutch Foods saw sales surge about 15 percent for last week's playoff game with the Dallas Cowboys as hungry fans snapped up chips, dips and pretzels. Sunday's game should be even bigger.

And a Vikings Super Bowl?

"It's been so long since we've had a Super Bowl, we don't know what kind of an increase we'll see," said Jay Buckingham, director of sales and marketing. "So we're looking forward to being challenged by that opportunity."

More than 1.4 million Twin Cities viewers watched the Vikings-Cowboys

game, the Nielsen Co. reported -- and that's a lot of hungry and thirsty people.

Supermarkets, beer distributors, sports bars and others can see a big surge in game-day business, so they must plan ahead, then scramble once the final gun goes off.

"You look at past (delivery) records from other playoffs, whether it's another sport or a similar-type event, and you adjust," said Kevin Ryan, state general manager of Wirtz Beverage, a St. Paul-based beer and liquor distributor. With the Vikings in the playoffs, local liquor stores have been boosting their beer deliveries by 20 percent or 30 percent, he said.

Cub Foods, which sees an increase in traffic before every Vikings game, has been stocking up on game-day mainstays like dips, chips, pizzas and pop -- and adjusting work schedules for employees. This weekend, Cub employees also are encouraged to dress up "to support the team of their choice," said Brett Lein, Cub Foods district manager. So purple jerseys and yellow beads are in.

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How about horned Viking helmets?

"As long as they can get the horns between the door, we'd be OK with it," Lein quipped, later adding, "We don't encourage face-painting."

One factor that helps the business plan is, football fans tend to like the tried-and-true. When Supervalu released a survey about game-day food favorites, it found an overwhelming majority of football watchers (81 percent) didn't care much about healthy options -- nor did they feel guilty about it.

At Old Dutch, that means potato chips, tortilla chips and dips are hot on football Sundays. But caramel corn and cheese curls are not.

"I think the average consumer has a menu in mind," Buckingham said.

For businesses selling food and drinks, kickoff time matters, too. A late game -- like Sunday's Vikings-Saints game at 5:40 p.m. -- is better for supermarkets, pizza-delivery places and liquor stores, because more people are likely to host Vikings parties and watch the game at home. An earlier game is better for bars and restaurants.

The Green Mill in St. Paul has both covered. Its drivers deliver a lot of game-day pizzas, and its 16 TV screens draw a crowd even for regular-season games. Sunday's game won't be routine, though.

"It's not your normal Vikings game. This is do-or-die right now, so everyone's pumped up pretty good," said Jim Kreiser, managing partner at the Green Mill on Grand Avenue.

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Pumped up is a good description for the activity at Crump's sports souvenir shop. While the store has been busy enough, what's really going crazy is online sales, thanks to the Vikings fans scattered around the country. They're attending their own parties Sunday and want the right accessories. (Helga braids?)

"It's been un-, un-, unreal," said Crump, the Minnesota Twins' longtime equipment manager. "Last year, we didn't do that well. This year, we are sending 100 to 150 packages every day. We came in here after Thanksgiving, and we never took a day off until after Christmas. It's like back to the World Series days."

Whenever he can, Crump has put in provisional orders -- triggered by a Vikings win Sunday.

"We have our order in, and if they win, they'll start printing that night," Crump said.

So on Sunday, some of the loudest cheers for a Vikings victory will come from Crump and small-business owners like him.

"If they win, people come in the store and they buy," he said. "If they lose, people run by the store. So we know we have big dollars going, whether they win or lose."

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