Premiership preview: Time for kick-off

Related tags Licensees Sky Atmosphere

Euro 2004 showed that people will abandon the sofa for football in the pub if the beer, service and atmosphere are good. Are you ready for the new...

Euro 2004 showed that people will abandon the sofa for football in the pub if the beer, service and atmosphere are good. Are you ready for the new season?

Why does a dog lick its private parts? Because it can, goes the old joke. A philosophical response to the latest Sky fees rises might come to the same conclusion about why the satellite TV empire has hiked the price to licensees by an average 18 per cent on top of last year's 22 per cent.

Early results from the 2004 Publican Market Report survey - to be fully unveiled on this site on August 16 - shows that despite last year's loud protests publicans generally stuck with Sky and paid the price.

Whether they do the same for the 2004-5 season remains to be seen, of course. A recent poll on suggested that for two-thirds of licensees Sky has gone too far and they will drop the service. More managed pubcos are also reviewing its cost-effectiveness.

But many independent licensees running community pubs have come to rely on the trade brought in by Sky matches for the success of their business, and when it comes to working out the sums they might still find it's commercially viable.

The truth is that Sky holds all the cards in this game - and you have to admit it's a very impressive hand. Even those licensees who can't afford the new Prem Plus pay-per-view package of elite games will get 88 Premiership matches this season compared to 66 last. Add to that the fact that the potential audience has been well primed by the summer's Euro 2004 tournament and Sky is still difficult to resist.

During the four-week footie fest sales of Carlsberg lager alone increased by five million pints over the hot summer of 2003. In week two sales were 20 per cent up and Carlsberg UK has gathered anecdotal evidence that some pubs were able to double their volumes and more.

Over the past few years football has broadened its audience. There are more female fans and it's more of a family sport too. Screening the big match is less likely to have a negative aspect in terms of keeping order.

It all speaks for the power of football. And it says something about the power of pubs too. Euro 2004 games were all on terrestrial TV. So people were choosing to leave their armchairs for the enhanced experience of watching the match among a crowd of mates in the pub.

If only it was that simple. But, as Carlsberg's Adam Young puts it: "You can't just switch the telly on. There is a lot of competition and a lot of work to be done to make the Sky subscription work for you. It takes effort and thought and financial investment over and above the Sky fees."

For Adam, advertising is the number one priority, not simply letting people know what games you are showing but doing it in a professional way. "An empty-belly poster with last week's game scribbled in Biro is not good enough," he says.

Carlsberg offers a poster service to its customers, as do other brewers and pubcos, and the wonder of computer technology means that you should be able to do a decent job yourself anyway.

Secondly, it is important to be professional about your whole offer. Whether customers choose to go to your pub over the one up the road to watch the game could depend on the quality of beer and service as well as being able to get a good view of the game.

Around that there are all kinds of tricks you can try. Carlsberg is extending its Carlsberg Academy, pioneered in the run-up to Euro 2004, in which licensees of sports-led pubs got together to discover fresh ideas to maximise match days.

"We shall continue to roll out the Academy to a bigger audience right into 2005," says Adam. "There is no standard answer we can give to every pub but everyone comes away with two or three ideas about how they can do things more effectively.

"Licensees have to think about what it is about their pub that gives people a good reason why they shouldn't watch the football at home with a can of beer on the sofa. People go to the pub because of the atmosphere and licensees have to work on that experience. Don't be afraid to ask your suppliers what they can do to help you."

Adam thinks it will be more than a shame if higher Sky fees force many licensees to drop the service.

"Independent publicans need to behave like managed pub companies and calculate how much more they need to sell to be able to afford Sky," he says. "They may have to make a hard decision - but they shouldn't make it until they're sure they have done everything they can to maximise the business they can get from showing Premiership football."

That figures...

  • Four million adults watch live sport in pubs or clubs each week
  • 47 per cent of all live football is watched in pubs or clubs
  • The average pub customer drinks four pints of beer while watching the match.

Connect to Football

Punch Taverns licensees are to benefit from a new promotion called Connect to Football, launched in time for the new footie season. The scheme pulls together deals and promotional kits from a range of big drinks brands including Carling, Carlsberg, Tennent's, Stella, Guinness and Coca-Cola to help get pubs off to a flying start.

"The challenge is to continue the momentum from Euro 2004 and National Pub Football Week through to the domestic season," said category manager Stephen Martin.

Connect to Football offers a choice of 11 different deals to help licensees at its 7,400 pubs generate a great atmosphere, not only for the Premiership but also the World Cup qualifiers in September and October. Additional cut-price promotions include a pack of 10 England T-shirts for £35 as well as reduced rate big screen and video and DVD purchases from audio visual specialists AVNET.

Adding value

If you are going to commercially justify that Sky subscription you need to make maximum use of your big screen. One way could be to use it for advertising, tapping into a captive audience to push special offers or simply let your customers know about upcoming events at the pub.

Launching in time for the new football season Your-AD.TV provides a service that includes everything the publican needs to create a dedicated advertising channel to promote anything you like from upcoming matches to drinks promotions to the local taxi firm. Ads are created by graphic designers and prices, which include the hardware to plug into your projector or TV, start from £299. For more information call 01962 890002.

Us too!

Just to prove that it really is difficult to ignore football these days even JD Wetherspoon, which built its reputation on eschewing the television set, has installed 200 drop-down big screens in its pubs.

Supplied by ECT and installed by Media Realms the screens went up in time for the Euro 2004 tournament.

You know what it costs - but click hereto find out exactly what Sky's football coverage offers.

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