Rocco Whalen and his wife Alexis at one of his Great Lakes Cheesesteaks locations at FirstEnergy Stadium. Photograph courtesy of Rocco Whalen


If it’s a typical Sunday during the NFL season, many diehard Cleveland Browns fans will dress in their team gear and head out to watch the game at their favorite restaurant or watering hole.

That tradition won’t change this season but there’s a good chance that a winning team will result in more fans, adding up to more revenue for area businesses.

“The Browns pretty much sell themselves,” said Jim Callam, a former customer of the original Bedford Heights Winking Lizard who liked the place so much he ended up buying it. “This season it will be business as usual…but a lot more of it.”

Browns games are a big deal at the Winking Lizard’s 15 Northeast Ohio locations. The Lizard’s three Columbus-area locations have a demographic that features Ohio State and Cincinnati Bengals fans as well as Browns boosters.

“Typically, the Browns are playing a lot of 1 p.m. games,” said Callam. “This year, they have Monday Night, Thursday Night and Sunday Night games and each one of those gives us a big bonus day of business.”

Last year, the Browns hit their peak during a time of the season when they were normally a forgotten team. “Because they were playing well, there was interest in the team even in December,” recalls Callam. “It was the best final game of the season we’ve ever had.”

In preparation for the new season, Callam is replacing about 100 TVs in the Winking Lizard’s older locations. And all locations will feature new Winking Lizard caps in Browns’ colors.

It’s a far cry from the days when each Winking Lizard store adopted an NFL team following the Browns’ departure to Baltimore. “It’s just nice to have a good team again,” said Callam.

Rocco Whalen has been a Browns season ticket holder since 1999 and his Rose & Rocco’s (on the club level) and three Great Lakes Cheesesteaks locations at FirstEnergy Stadium were booming last year. “The Dec. 23rd home game with the Bengals was our biggest ever,” said Whalen. “I get a chance to talk with the fans and when they are going crazy, I’m a part of it.”

Whalen, along with Michael Symon (B-Spot) and Jonathon Sawyer (Sawyer’s Street Frites), have become fixtures at Browns’ home games. “We’re prepared to see a spike in revenue,” said Whalen. “We’re looking for sellouts for each regular season game and a 30 percent spike for pre-season games. Nothing beats a full stadium cheering for the Browns.”

While fans are focused on this season, a huge event for Cleveland is on the horizon – the 2021 NFL Draft. The event has become larger than life in recent years, bringing an economic windfall to each host city.

“Cleveland is still a city focused on changing its narrative,” said Meredith Painter, director of marketing and communications for the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. “The impact of events like the 2021 Draft provide us with the opportunity to show Clevelanders and visitors alike all the great things our community has to offer.”

Painter estimates the region’s projected economic impact from the 2021 Draft will be upwards of $100 million. “Additionally, based on estimates from the past few host cities, we expect attendance to be 250,000 or higher.”