After the success of the Rugby World Cup the Six Nations is a great opportunity for pubs and brewers to exploit the growing popularity of the oval code. By Phil Mellows.
Pub operators are already gearing up to take advantage of the Six Nations. London brewer Fuller's has thrown its weight behind rugby in recent years, organising activities in its tied houses as well as producing some memorable advertising for its London Pride brand.
"Going to a pub to watch the match is an institution for many rugby fans," commented retail director Simon Emeny. "Last year's Rugby World Cup was a great success despite the fact that many of our customers had to drag themselves out of bed for the early kick-offs.
"The Six Nations is not only played at more sociable hours, it offers the chance to see England's World Cup-winning team in action.
"There is an increased interest in the sport and we expect to see the fans flocking in to watch the matches. It all points to the Six Nations being great news for pubs - and let's hope it's great news for England too."
Geoff Brown, director of marketing for Punch Pub Company, the country's biggest pub group, is looking forward to "a very high profile sporting event due to England's success in the World Cup - it will provide licensees with a fantastic business building opportunity.
"Live sport is an excellent way to drive people into an outlet and increase trade," he continued. "Customers enjoy the atmosphere and excitement of watching major sporting events in the pub and we are working with a number of our retailers on marketing and promotional activity to ensure they make the most of showcasing this event."
More than 300 of Punch's best sports pubs will run Tetley's Six Nations kit (see below) while around 400 will have the Guinness promotions kit. The latter includes vouchers, posters and an interactive "rugger tugger" game.
Pub chain Massive's enthusiasm for rugby is centred on the proximity of several of its pubs to England's home turf at Twickenham.
"We would take more money if the Six Nations was on Sky rather than the BBC - it makes more of an event of it - but we have certainly noticed greater interest in rugby since the World Cup," said the company's managing director Peter Linacre.
He's already looking forward to a closing thriller between France and England on the night of March 27. "The Ireland v Scotland match kicking off at 4pm the same day should provide a great party atmosphere for the night," he added. Massive is linking up with a clothing manufacturer and Charles Wells' England-themed ale Bombardier to offer its customers a range of merchandise.
A bumper number of Greene King pubs have already signed up for the brewer's rugby activity in 2004 following the success of the World Cup.
"2003 was a storming year for rugby - the Rugby World Cup generated a sales uplift of over £250k during the England games so we've got a lot to thank the world champions for," said the company. "We've got many more houses enlisted for rugby activity this year and they are already set for the Six Nations."
The match kit supplied to pubs by Greene King contains signage to promote the event outdoors and indoors and to create individually tailored offers.
Among the promotions are competitions on big match days with prizes claimed during the less attractive fixtures and ongoing competitions for merchandise culminating on Super Saturday. Pubs are also encouraged to invite a local rugby team in for snacks to add to the atmosphere. As an added incentive, the house with the most eye-catching Six Nations display can win two tickets to watch France v England live at the Stade de Paris.
One of the licensees up for that will be Frank Shivers, whose sports coverage at the Archers in Gidea Park, Essex, earned him an award from the Greene King Pub Company last year.
He is confident that the Six Nations "will be massive" at the pub. The Irishman is getting right behind England to maximise the opportunity and is hoping to get a wider number of his regulars involved, using a party on Australia Day, January 26, as a springboard to lure non-rugby fans to the matches.
His experience has proved to him that the big sporting occasion can be used to build other areas of the business.
"The Rugby World Cup has helped our food sales since," he said. "People who would usually eat in other local pubs came in here for the rugby and have come back for the food."
Frank served breakfast baguettes - containing any combination of the usual English breakfast fare at one price - during World Cup games and shifted no fewer than 110 of them during the final itself.
He believes that, compared to football, rugby offers a broader opportunity to attract people to the pub for sports events.
"Football basically brings in young blokes, but the rugby draws an older crowd. The wives are more likely to come along as well and it makes for a family occasion," he said.
Mary Barnes, who runs another big rugby pub, Enterprise's Kingsholm Inn, in Gloucester, agrees. "We've noticed a lot more people are talking about rugby now," she said. "In particular, more women have become interested in the game."
Fuller's mischievous poster campaign for London Pride during the rugby World Cup turned a few heads and the brewer aims to repeat the trick for the Six Nations.
Carlsberg-Tetley unveils special edition ale
Carlsberg-Tetley (C-T), brewer of Tetley's, the official beer of England Rugby, is understandably excited about prospects for the Six Nations and has a programme of activity in place to make sure licensees capitalise on the rugby fever that has gripped the nation.
It includes a special edition cask ale - Tetley's World Champion Ale - to celebrate England's success, which will be on offer to the on-trade for the tournament.
C-T claims Tetley's long-running association with the England team has already paid dividends for the brand. With year-on-year growth of nine per cent in the on-trade, the brand's share of the standard ale category has increased from 11.7 per cent to 13.5 per cent.
During the Six Nations, Tetley's will be advertised in pubs as "the world champion drop" using rugby-themed imagery from England's triumph in the World Cup Final. Promotional activity will support thousands of pubs around key games, raising awareness of live matches and giving drinkers the chance to win branded merchandise and glassware.
A national press advertising campaign will also run throughout the tournament.
"The Six Nations is another opportunity for us to develop the ales category and reinforce Tetley's position as the beer of rugby," said Doug Clydesdale, managing director of brands and sales at C-T.
"The activity we have planned is a great opportunity for the trade to build on the excitement of rugby and drive sales, continuing the momentum that has been building since England won the World Cup."
Handy grub will keep them in your pub
The format of 2004's Six Nations, with the BBC screening the Saturday matches live, one after the other, presents the possibility of pubs holding rugby fans for some marathon sessions.
Your success at doing this, however, might well depend on how well you feed your customers to prevent them nipping out for some grub.
You probably won't want the bother of laying on full meals - especially if you're expecting a full pub and a riotous atmosphere. So the answer is filling snacks that are quick and easy to prepare and fit in the hand as snugly as a prop forward's groin.
Westler, which makes three out of every four hot dogs eaten out of the home, has been quick to spot the opportunity to promote its range of dogs and burge