(Yonhap Feature) New expat-owned bar scores a win for sports fans
By Eugene Hwang
SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- It's game day and your team is scheduled to play away. You and a group of friends want to get together to watch the big game, but one guy lives in a tiny apartment, another has a wife who hates cleaning up after her husband's friends and your house is simply too far from everyone else's. What do you do?
For people in most North American cities, this is a no-brainer. You head to the local sports bar. But what about sports fans resettled in Korea?
Sin Bin, a new sports bar in Itaewon, the "foreign district" of Seoul, appears to finally have done sports bars justice. This is a first in Korea, at least according to its owner Jason Braedon.
"I've been to other places that called themselves sports bars," says the 36-year-old from San Diego. "I guess everyone has their own interpretation of what it is and what it means. I looked at my competitors and decided how I wanted to do things differently."
Before Sin Bin opened, finding a decent sports bar here was a hard task.
When Ryan King, 28, lived here in 2006, he stayed at home to watch English Premier League games. "I pretty much had to just watch online," explains King. "I wasn't aware of anywhere to go for that sort of thing."
Jason Braedon, owner of sports bar Sin Bin in Seoul
Even though there were many sports bars in Korea, the majority seemed to appeal to neither foreigners' nor Koreans' tastes. One prominent example was the Manchester United F&B sports bar in Jongno. Opened before the 2010 World Cup, its owners had hoped to capitalize on the popularity of Korean footballer Park Ji-sung's club team.
"The atmosphere in that place was all wrong," explained Cho Joo-yeon, a relative of the failed bar's former owner.
According to Cho, the bar had an amazing interior that tried to be too upscale. They had tried to sell gourmet food like nachos with chocolate sauce and curried chicken pasta. "It also didn't help that they only showed soccer in there," he added. Cho further explained he felt that any Korean customers who wanted the sports bar experience had probably encountered it overseas, and that it would have been better to have been more authentic.
The Manchester United F&B bar closed in early 2011.
Sin Bin departs from Man U F&B's mistakes by focusing on the three most important aspects of a sports bar according to Braedon: visibility, food quality, and atmosphere.
Inside Sin Bin
He explained that customers have to be able to see a TV from anywhere in the bar. It is also necessary for the bar to have a sporting atmosphere. Finally, he said, the fare has to be good and served in large portions.
This is where Sin Bin delivers. According to Braedon, customers can easily see at least one TV while facing any direction, from any position within the bar. The sporting atmosphere is represented with autographed jerseys and memorabilia of several hall-of-famers and current players that adorn the walls. Some of these include the NFL's Tony Romo and Bruce Smith, MLB's Jim Palmer and the NBA's Magic Johnson and Dennis Rodman. The bar also employs an expat chef and offers many North American style dishes in large sizes.
"When people think of a big sporting event, we want them to think of our place," said Braedon.
Braedon, a dual American/Canadian citizen who has been living in Korea for six years, hopes to generate a huge customer base, but he understands that there are challenges to this.
"Sporting culture in Korea is just starting to take off, and the concept of having a lot of TVs and watching sporting events is kind of a new thing for Koreans," he said.
"I think this place is great, and I'm going to invite my friends here next time to watch the Super Bowl," said Shin Jin-young, 27, who happened to be in the bar while the NFC Championship Game was being shown on delay.
Shin had come to the bar with a friend of his, not specifically looking for a sports experience. It is this type of marketing strategy that Braedon is after.
"Word of mouth and recommendations from friends are the best tools to get people into your business," he said.
Sin Bin will look to enter into partnerships with the fan clubs of Seoul's sports teams. This, Braedon hopes, will lead people to write about it on their blogs and bring their friends.
When asked why the bar was named Sin Bin, Braedon explained that a sin bin is another name for an ice hockey penalty box, and could refer to the bar itself in a double entendre. The bar even has a penalty box where patrons who get too rowdy can sit if they are (jokingly) sent there by the bar's staff or fellow customers. This tends to happen during huge sporting events.
The Super Bowl, quite possibly the most important North American sporting event of the year, will occur Monday morning, Korean time.
"We'll be open all day," assured Braedon. The championship game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots will be shown live at 8:20 a.m. with a breakfast buffet at Sin Bin. For those sports fans who cannot come to the bar in the morning, the game will be shown again in the evening.