While sitting at the long bar of the Torch & Crown brewpub in New York City earlier this year, I received a message from a friend asking if I was watching that night’s big American football match. I glanced upwards and saw the game was playing away on one of the bar’s many screens. I had been completely oblivious to its presence as I enjoyed my beer, which highlights just how well integrated the showing of sport within myriad bars is across the US. It’s a staple of the leisure scene in America.
This has definitely not been the case in the UK, despite our love of sport and the demand for pubs and bars to offer something more than just a place for people to eat and drink. Sport in pubs has largely involved a few screens scattered around the room, which typically show the major football matches and attract a load of blokes who gain great pleasure from shouting at the referee. There are exceptions, of course, such as the Famous Three Kings in West London, but they are something of a rarity.
The scene in the new Goldwood Sports Pub and Kitchen in the City of London could not be further removed from the traditional old-school sports pub. After entering under a green awning, customers are met by an expansive 9,000 square feet of trading space spread across two floors that can handle up to 500 people. Within the high quality fit-out are 19 cutting edge screens that are located to ensure customers have what the pub’s general manager Zach Potter calls “360 degree visuals”.
Although the venue has been created to offer a premium environment for dining, drinking and holding business meetings, the sport element is clearly the main driver of custom, with 80% of visitors choosing the Goldwood over other venues because of its live screenings of a great variety of sport – including football, rugby, cricket, F1, golf, tennis and US sports. Interestingly, horse racing has its own dedicated ‘Racing Corner’ with races shown throughout the day.
This gleaming next generation sports bar is merely the latest offering from ETM Group and its sister company, Maven Leisure, that have been very quietly building a portfolio of sports bars that put all others in the shade. Goldwood joins Greenwood, Westwood, Redwood and the Long Arm Brewery (they ran out of woods) sites taking the showing of sport to a new level. Such has been the success of the model that the company is looking to open a couple more venues over the next year.
Integral to their success is the full commitment the company has made to showing sport. The £1m fit-out includes three 100-inch hi-res screens costing £15,000 each, and there are the ongoing costs of needing four satellite boxes if you want to show sports from the likes of Sky and BT. Potter reckons delivering sport to the comprehensive level required today means you have to go all in or maybe not bother at all.
This is not the universal thinking though, because a few miles away in north London is the newly opened Valderrama’s, which has been created by renowned chef James Cochran in a space that’s a fraction of the size of the Goldwood. He describes it as the sports bar he has “been searching for my whole life”. The brightly decorated space, and a female focus that shifts it away from being wedded to showing footfall for a largely male audience, certainly makes it stand out from the traditional sports boozer pack. Since its opening, it has been helped by the incredible performances of the England women’s football team, and on my visit, former international player turned TV presenter Alex Scott was doing some promo photos for the venue.
Not surprisingly, a variety of screens are situated around the bar showing various sports including football, tennis and F1. But Valderrama’s is not just about a commitment to sport, because Cochrane has given his celebrated fried chicken brand, Around the Cluck, a permanent home at the bar. Judging by the feedback so far, the enticing menu appears to be as much of a draw at Valderrama’s as the live sport.
But then, this is not too dissimilar to what you would see in the US, because no self-respecting sports fan would visit their local bar to watch the night’s big game without complementing the experience with some high quality bar food. The British sports bar might well be gradually moving away from its traditional roots, and in doing so, successfully attracting a new audience.
Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider
This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Beer Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.