September 13, 2006 - Although the University of Arizona football game was on more than three-quarters of the televisions, the back room of Putney's Sports Saloon and Grill, 6090 N. Oracle Road, resembles Iowa City more than it did Southern Arizona.
Dale Thorne is among the dozen University of Iowa faithful in the back room at Putney's and is becoming increasingly agitated as the football game in front of him lumbers into double overtime.
No matter what direction he twisted and turned his body with each tension-riddled play, Thorn had a clear view of the game on one of the room's 10 televisions.
With football fever gripping the country, sports pubs such as Putney's turn into weekend haunts for the gamut of football fans. But everyone in the Tucson metro-area is not a diehard University of Arizona fan. One look around Putney's on Sept. 9 and its sea of red and white Ohio State Jerseys, smattered with the black and gold T-shirts of the Iowa fans, and it becomes evident that there is a home even for the displaced fan.
As satellite technology becomes increasingly commonplace in restaurants and bars, alumni and fans are no longer missing out on their team's games. They're easy to spot, just follow the cheers and groans.
"Ten years ago, we would have never got it," said Craig Remsberg, an Iowa diehard about being able to see every Iowa game at Putney's.
More sports bars and restaurants are catering to the big business created by the hundreds of university alumni associations scattered throughout the country. The Northwest alone is home to large alumni groups of the University of Nebraska, University of Missouri, Michigan University and even Montana University to name a handful.
On any given Saturday in the fall, the Fox and Hound Smokehouse and Tavern, 7625 N. La Cholla Blvd., becomes ground zero for Cornhusker fans, with numbers that reach upward of 120 people decked out in red and white, said Doris Clatanoff, a SaddleBrooke resident and head of Nebraska's Tucson Alumni Chapter.
All told, the Nebraska alumni association boasts between 300 and 400 members in Southern Arizona alone. Other associations, such as the University of Montana, which sets up shop every Saturday for Grizzlies' football at Putney's, are considerably smaller.
To be able to accommodate these groups, bars not only need multiple televisions but multiple satellites. Putney's (capacity 170) has 55 televisions backed up by 12 satellite dishes, while Fox and Hound (capacity more than 500) can get away with 44 bigger televisions and nine satellites.
Each satellite requires bar owners to purchase the package. The ESPN Sunday Ticket - which airs every NFL game on Sundays - costs owners $280 per satellite. With a dozen satellites, Putney's pays $3,360 a year for NFL games alone and that doesn't factor in its costs for College GamePlan and MLB Extra Innings. Multiple satellites aren't discounted and pricing is usually determined based on fire-code occupancy, said a DirecTV spokesman through e-mail.
Offering packages such as the ESPN College GamePlan, NFL Sunday Ticket and MLB Extra Innings has enabled DirecTV, which holds the exclusive rights to these packages, more than $12.2 billion in overall revenue in 2005.
Despite the hefty price, the packages practically pay for themselves, said Carlos Martinez, manager of Putney's. The bar doesn't need any advertising for it to be standing room only on Saturdays and Sundays.
With many options to watch football springing up practically every week, having these packages becomes vital to business. The key isn't getting people to come to the bar, it's getting them to come back week in and week out.
When alumni associations such as the University of Missouri invades Fox and Hound for a "watch party," the restaurant caters to the group's every needs and even spices up the scenery so Tiger fans feel like they are back in Columbia.
The Fox and Hound decorates rooms in school colors with matching balloons, banners and even napkins and does so for each alumni association. And there's always room for more, said Mariah Ruehl, event coordinator for Fox and Hound.
"It's something to make it a little more special for them," said Ruehl.
Putney's takes a different approach with its clientele. The Montana folks are regulars but the bar takes on different groups as the year progresses. In fact, bar manager Carlos Martinez won't order his beer signs for another couple of weeks until he and the advertisers can determine which team's fans will stake the bar as their football hangout.
Putney's used to be the Northwest headquarters for off-track dog race betting. The bar eliminated the OTB site three years ago in favor of the satellite packages and has never been busier. A class-6 bar license establishment, Putney's doesn't need to offer food and it would still turn a considerable profit, said Martinez.
What keeps customers coming weekly is the bar's customer ambience and retro charm. With its 55 televisions, Putney's resembles a Knights of Columbus on electronic steroids.
Putney's also benefits by being the only bar with football within a mile radius.
"This place is old but the TVs make it stand out," said Martinez about the 21-year-old bar, located in one of the oldest shopping centers in the Northwest. "It kind of blinds you."
Plenty of televisions mean plenty of angles for football diehards such as Thorne and his contingent of Iowa backers. Even if he needs to look away from the screen for a minute in disgust, his Hawkeyes are never far away.