When England beat Holland 4-1 in 1996, when Doncaster Rovers gained promotion to the Championship in 2009, when David Beckham scored that last-minute equaliser against Greece to propel England to the 2002 World Cup, and when Manchester United dramatically won the Champions League in 1999 – those were all memorable occasions.
They were also some of my most enjoyable evenings in a pub because at the time those big games all required a trip to the boozer. One of my favoured venues during this period was The Pavilion End in Watling Street in the City of London because it genuinely catered for sporting events. Its offering continues to this day and it now has three Sky boxes that feed live sporting coverage to nine large televisions and a pull-down high-definition projector. The Pavilion still pitches itself as a high-quality sports pub when few others have followed it with any real conviction.
The typical pub scenario has been for more upmarket venues to ban televisions and focus on food instead, leaving sports to the domain of old-school boozers in which the only redeeming features have been televisions screening various sports – most notably the footie coverage by Sky.
Combining quality surroundings with a higher-end offer incorporating extensive sports coverage has been rare but things seem to be changing as a smattering of venues look to take sports coverage beyond the spit-and-sawdust environments it has largely been trapped in.
Among those to identify sports as a growth engine is ETM Group co-founder Ed Martin, who told a recent Propel conference that having focused on food-led pubs he required a strategy to expand the business and believes sports bars in the UK, particularly London, aren’t doing this well. He said the UK was failing abysmally in this department compared with the US, where the sports bar is a fixture throughout the country.
To fill the gap, ETM has opened the 20-screen Greenwood Sports Bar & Kitchen in Victoria that operates with “200 guys watching sports on one level while people dine on another level, all in a premium bar”. Elsewhere in London, ETM has also created Westwood Sports Pub & Kitchen in Westfield and converted its Long Arm Brewery bar in the City into an upmarket sports-focused venue. It’s about to add Redwood Sports Bar & Kitchen at London Bridge Station to its growing portfolio.
Another top operator, JKS Restaurants, has also spotted the potential of sports and it operates various spaces at Brigadiers, its Indian restaurant in the City, which screen a rolling programme of sporting events. As a driver of after-work customers who are predominantly male in this location, sport is an obvious attraction and it is cleverly incorporated into Brigadiers’ restaurant space.
Undoubtedly people’s desire for more immersive experiences is one of the drivers of such moves. This has seen the rise of competitive socialising and led to concepts such as Flight Club, Swingers, Bounce and Puttshack as well as the various escape rooms that have cropped up around the country.
However, unlike those operations Martin says sport has the benefit of being “constantly marketable”. There’s always another tournament, match or bout on the horizon that can entice another group of customers – and potentially lucrative ones at that. On average, a sports fan spends more than three hours in a venue when watching a match and spends as much as £28.94 versus an average of £14.25 by non-sports fans, according to CGA Sports Analysis 2018.
Although I had no recollection the next day of how much money I’d spent on any of those memorable big-match nights, it would certainly have been in the order of £30. Forgetting such facts because of the euphoria of the evening neatly encapsulates how advantageous showing sports can be for pubs and bars.
Glynn Davis editor of Retail Insider
This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.