Maximising sport in pubs

Following the release of our brand new research – The Value of Midweek Sport in Pubs – in partnership with BT Sport. KAM hosted a trade tour in Liverpool with representatives from BT Sport, Stonegate, Punch Pubs, Admiral Taverns, Star Pubs and Greene King. Laurence Brown, Senior Insight Director at KAM shares some of the highlights and key take-outs…

Laurence Brown, Senior Insight Manager, KAM

“Being a year in this industry, I certainly can’t claim the hospitality expertise of some of my colleagues or the pub operators who joined us on the day. However, I came at the day as a sports fan and armed with KAM research around why sport is important to the success of pubs and how best to capitalise on it.

One thing we’re seeing consistently across all our research is that customers are looking to reduce their visits to the hospitality sector and this is no different for pubs midweek (31% less visits vs 21% more). However, what we also see in our research is that people are looking for experiences- things they can’t get at home, hence why there’s a slight increase in those looking to watch sport in pubs midweek. 

The value of midweek sport

Midweek trading has made the headlines recently, as operators explore options to reduce opening hours and therefore associated costs, and understandably so. But if operators are looking at ways to pull people off their sofas, then the opportunities to attract sport fans during traditionally quiet mid-week times is huge- 43% of sports fans say watching live sport is the main reason they go to a pub mid-week whereas at the weekend there are many other factors at play.

Whether it’s the atmosphere, the chance to socialise, the F&B offering, it would appear that the sports-watching occasion is somewhat resistant to the economic pressure everyone is experiencing.

So how do you offer a great sporting experience in hospitality venues? Liverpool showed us!

1. Understand your customers

The venues we saw on the trade tour, despite all showing sport, varied hugely. Attendees discussed the importance of understanding their individual customer types, the specific location and competitive set and adapting accordingly. An interesting example of this was McCooley’s and Einstein’s– owned by the same business with sport as the primary focus and with 58 screens between them!

However, there were many fundamental differences that meant one was more suited to a younger, student audience and the other an older, more affluent customer. Einsteins had more craft beers, a DJ booth for when the sport finishes, seated booths where you could pour your own beer and a few games (a kicking punch machine which I’d never see before). They also mentioned partnering with university teams, making it easy to book an area over social media, a great example of understanding their customer and building that relationship. McCooleys on the other hand had gaming machines, had the racing on, and much more simple, classic furnishings, perfect for a different customer.

2. Getting the basics right

The venues had taken much consideration as to the positioning of the screens, slanting when needed or ensuring they’re not blocked by beams etc. The best were able to make many screens appear seamless within the space and matched to the décor, either through using retractable screens or in the case of Flanagan’s Apple, having less screens to go with the more traditional design of stripped boards, exposed ceiling beams.

3. Catering for different fans

One thing that was evident when entering the various venues was that certain venues and areas are deliberately positioned or designed to serve a particular mission or type of “fan”. For example, Long Shot Bar had tables for two which was set up for a date, large booths for big groups or work socials and a bar area for the more casual, walk ins. The upstairs area offering table service with the downstairs offering a bar service, key differences that meant they could cater for the different types of sports fans.

4. F&B offering

There was nothing ground-breaking about the food and drinks offering in partnership with sports, with essentially burgers, pizzas and sharing platters. Our research shows beer (63%) and crisps (28%) are the top categories to see an uplift when sport is on but there are opportunities to find innovative ways to maximise F&B sales. 

The Champions League specific food offer in Long Shot bar was an interesting technique to drive excitement about a particular game. They also had a cocktail menu with the purpose of positioning the venue as a place to watch the sport and be on a date, aligned to the seating they offered.

The learning I took from the day is to keep it simple but be known for something, be that German bierkeller cuisine, American diner cuisine, pizzas, as this will differentiate yourself from other venues and help to drive traffic when the sport is on. Unsurprisingly, the research we did showed that beer and crisps have the biggest relative uplift when sport is on to when it’s not, so no need to reinvent the wheel, it’s just about making it easy.

5. Zoning

Encouraging customers to come in throughout the day and ‘sweating’ the asset is something that gets referenced at hospitality events and this was evident in many of the venues visited.

PINS Social Club used comfortable seating, a 3rdparty coffee provider to create an area that would encourage you to work or relax earlier in the day. They also have a private mezzanine area with a bowling alley for group/work events, a games area, a karaoke bar and an area geared toward music and ‘big’ Saturday night.

All these areas have sport sprinkled within them but it’s not overbearing.

Ultimately, the zones a venue can offer is driven by the space, but through understanding the customer base and looking at each area of the venue, zoning can be an effective way to drive additional visits and increase dwell time. Sport can be an effective way of helping to create one of these zones and helping the venue become that ‘go to’ destination for sport due to its designated area.

6. Competitive socialising

Last but certainly not least, I couldn’t provide a summary of the day without mentioning the increasing presence of competitive socialising. We saw the varying degrees of activities across the venues from a singular pool table (which Dan and I lost 3-0 later in the evening!) to a full bowling alley at PINS Social Club. Regardless of the extent of activities, it gives people that additional reason to go and almost certainly provides that experience they can’t get at home.

A particular observation a couple of attendees had from the day was how certain, different spaces was used for these activities. For example, shuffleboard along the side of a room due to its shape in Einsteins, or virtual darts in a square room, a little out the way in the Shooters bar.”

You can access the full research – The Value of Midweek Sport – here.

Alternatively, if you’d like to get your team or customers out in trade in whatever town, city or sector of hospitality, please do get in touch.

Blake Gladman

Hi, I'm Blake, Strategy & Insight Director at KAM. I look after all our research products and manage the collection and delivery of insight throughout KAM. I love long runs and good food (the perfect life balance).