Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced changes to every social setting. Public spaces have taken on a completely new look, and activities that would traditionally happen indoors have moved outside. It’s a trend that might just stick around once the threat of the coronavirus ultimately (hopefully) goes away.
National Satellite Center is the No. 1 bar and restaurant DirecTV retailer in the country, located right here in Long Beach. Their business came to a standstill back in April, but as restaurants around the country have started to re-open, business has picked up once again. National Satellite equips bars, restaurants and other retail locations with DirecTV service, and there’s a growing need to have outdoor television setups for customers.
Ryan Thies has been with National Satellite since 2004, and was recently promoted to president of the company after serving as general manager. He’s witnessed a shift for bars and restaurants to add outdoor viewing options for the long term.
“Traditionally, eating outside was to enjoy the outside. If you wanted to watch TV, you stay indoors,” Thies explained. “Now we’re seeing every business reckon with the fact that someone wants the appeal of the outdoors but still wants to watch the game. They want to be outside, but the Dodgers are in the playoffs, so they need to have both. Everybody is making that a permanent part of their business plans.”
While the weather in Southern California makes year-round outdoor dining more feasible, Thies says this phenomenon runs nationwide.
“I have no clue what that means for places that snow, but I’ve got places in San Francisco that are saying ‘We’re going to have this outdoor patio permanently.’” Thies said. “I’ve been outdoors in San Francisco, it’s cold. But whatever people want, we’ll do. Places are making this a permanent, year-round decision to have outdoor options.”
The urgency for the recent uptick in outdoor viewing coincided with the return of the NFL season in September. DirecTV is an exclusive partner with the NFL and offers the only comprehensive service–NFL Sunday Ticket–which allows users to watch every NFL game across the country. In previous years, a standard preseason slate of games helps bars and restaurants run their own dress rehearsals before the regular season begins in earnest, but this season was much different.
“Usually football season is something people plan for and the preseason is their warning,” Thies explained. “With no preseason and no run-up to the season, we didn’t have those calls and it was very quiet here in August.”
Since NFL Sunday Ticket is free for the first week of games, there’s usually a rush of establishments signing up for the season in advance of week two. Thies said that National Satellite usually does about 25 percent of its yearly sales over the second weekend of games, but this year saw an even greater surge, with around 60 percent of their sales occurring over the course of one weekend.
The pandemic and subsequent shutdown arrived at an inopportune time for National Satellite, which had just moved into a new office building on Orizaba Avenue near Anaheim St. They officially moved in on March 23, put everything on their new desks and then had to largely work from home for the next six months.
“It was great timing on our part,” Thies joked.
With roughly 25 percent of the staff working in the office on a rotating basis, the rest of the staff is able to work remotely. Fortunately, the company hasn’t had to lay off or furlough any of its employees, and has remained relatively busy amid the shutdown. While April saw the operation come to a screeching halt as bars and restaurants were forced to close across the country, business quickly picked up again.
According to Thies, July was the company’s best sales month in the last five years as businesses began to re-open and expand their options.
“We are a Long Beach based company and want to be the best operation for local Long Beach businesses, but we’re also a nationwide company,” Thies explained. “We looked down the street and saw every restaurant closed, but we would answer the phone and there are tons of restaurants saying they’re open again. That’s what June was like–everyone in the rest of the country calling us feeling like they were completely unaffected. Then by July and August those same places were closing back up again.”
As rules and regulations surrounding the pandemic have shifted, it’s created new and varying levels of demand. Florida’s recent move to re-open bars and restaurants has created a surge in new business, though it’s tough to predict how long that might last.
“We are feeling the rest of the country opening up every day,” Thies said. “The bars and restaurants in Florida are just going to go back to business as normal. Part of me is so torn, because that’s really bad for the health of Florida, but probably really good for my company. We’re still at a skeleton staff, but we’re also feeling like maybe we need to bring more people to the office because the phones are ringing off the hook.”
Photo courtesy National Satellite Center – (800) 226-6158