After several tough months, Mark Ferguson, founder of Ferg’s Sports Bar, is preparing for the big crowds he expects in the next few days, as the Tampa Bay Rays play in the World Series and the green flags wave at the Firestone Grand Prix.
Ferguson is expecting between 400 and 600 people on each of Tuesday and Wednesday, when the Rays face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Arlington, Texas for the first and second games of the World Series. He’s anticipating about 1,200 people each day Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the next three World Series games – and when the Firestone Grand Prix gets underway on a 1.8 mile circuit between the Pioneer Park, the Duke Energy Center for the Arts, the Dali Museum and extending onto the runways at Albert Whitted Airport.
At Ferg’s, one of the city’s best-known sports bars, it will be all hands on deck for staffing, Ferguson said. Two food trucks will be on site. Eighty-four TVs will be playing, and on the weekend there will be tables in the parking lot so diners can watch on a big TV truck.
He’s also making plans to keep patrons safe amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Ferguson said everybody must be seated to get food or drinks. Tables are spread out in sections, with each section accommodating 10 or fewer people.
The World Series is being played at a neutral site with a limited number of people in attendance, as Major League Baseball responds to the pandemic. If the Rays had hosted games at Tropicana Field, just across 1st Avenue South from Ferg’s, Ferguson said the restaurant would have been even busier.
“We would be in 80 percent better shape,” he said. “We would have a lot higher numbers with people coming and going instead of people just sitting.”
Just two blocks away, Dr. BBQ also is staffing up for the weekend, but general manager Tyler Brown said crowds will be limited.
“We’re still abiding by the Pinellas County code of maintaining six feet social distance, and no parties larger than 10,” Brown said. “We have been staffing up and we’ve seen a steady increase, and once the World Series starts we could potentially see an increase then … but we’re really unsure on how much increase we’ll see.”
It’s been a tough time for restaurants, Brown said. A lot of Dr. BBQ’s sales have been coming from to-go orders and online orders through a mobile app. He said he appreciates the ongoing community support.
Ferguson said he’s just happy to be open now.
“In the beginning we just opened for to-go food. We did that for a week, then we opened up, but there were no sports on. Once sports came back on TV, things got a little better. Then when the Lightning went to the playoffs and football started, it changed everything,” Ferguson said. “It’s been a great place for people to gather in small groups.”
He’s got a prediction for the World Series as well. “The Rays are going to win in five games,” which would mean a big victory party at Ferg’s Sunday night.
The City of St. Petersburg and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater also are holding a series of watch parties to support the Rays, beginning Tuesday at the St. Pete Pier.