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One tournament, six nations - and 15 opportunities to up your takings as rugby fever returns next month, says Noli Dinkovski There are some...

One tournament, six nations - and 15 opportunities

to up your takings as rugby fever returns next month,

says Noli Dinkovski

There are some sporting moments that are forever ingrained in the mindset of a nation. Roger Bannister crossing the line to break the four-minute mile in 1954, Geoff Hurst's final goal in England's 1966 World Cup football triumph and Red Rum completing a hat trick of Grand National successes in 1977 are just three that spring to mind.

Sitting comfortably among these never-to-be-forgotten moments is Jonny Wilkinson's added-time drop-goal winner for England against Australia in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final. The victory captured the imagination of the nation, and was the catalyst for a sport that has been on the up ever since.

Now, on the back of a thrilling World Cup in France last autumn - one where an initially unfancied England side almost repeated their success of four years previous - public interest in rugby union is at an all-time high.

So the scene is set for an exciting RBS Six Nations tournament that kicks off on Saturday 2 February, and it's little wonder that brewers, suppliers and pubcos are putting serious investment into helping pubs make the most of the 15 games televised live on the BBC throughout February and March.

Second biggest sport

Figures from consultancy firm Karen Earl Sponsorship show that rugby has become the second most popular spectator sport after football, and nearly 40 million (42%) more viewers watched the Six Nations in 2007 than 2003.

Greene King IPA, the official beer of England Rugby, hopes to get even more people off the sofa and back into the unique atmosphere that a pub can provide. It is distributing 2,500 promotional pub kits nationally, providing everything from branded drip mats, posters, pump-clip crowners and back-bar displays to its pub divisions and free-trade customers.

Greene King Brewing Company marketing director Fiona Hope says: "Our promotional kits for the Six Nations really focus on the things we know will help licensees create a great atmosphere - from free pints to inflatable balls.

"We know that, on average, 45% of cask-ale drinkers are interested in rugby, so licensees should really make the most of the opportunity this tournament brings."

As sponsor of the Wales team, Brains believes rugby is an opportunity to promote its cask ales to a much wider audience. Its retail arm makes the most of this potential with a Match Day Ticket promotion that is designed to help create a match-day environment that you can't get at home.

The promotion comes in three parts: a drinks offer; a collect-to-redeem scheme in which pubs can nominate a local sports team to receive sports kit, and PoS to help advertise forthcoming fixtures.

The Cardiff-based brewer has also produced its most comprehensive Six Nations kit yet, and there are 1,800 available. Kits include a range of posters, flags, bunting and T-shirts.

"Uptake of the kits has been very strong and we expect to have distributed all 1,880 well before the first match," says Brains trade marketing manager Marc Perkins.

Another brand that has a strong association with rugby is Guinness. Its marketing campaign will include three different kits going out to 7,000 pubs and bars over the Six Nations and Guinness Premiership season. Variants of the kits will include Guinness-branded posters, bar runners, drip mats, pocket fixture lists and changing-room signs for ladies and gents. Two thirds of the kits will feature a consumer "Try Time" promotion that will give consumers the opportunity to win a mini Guinness Premiership rugby ball instantly.

"An extra million people watched last year's Rugby World Cup final in comparison to 2003, and Guinness Premiership match attendances have grown for nine successive years," says Lee Bailey, Guinness sponsorship manager for brand owner Diageo GB.

"These are just two indicators that more and more people are getting into the sport. With no football World Cup this summer and no UK representation in Euro 2008, our advice to licensees is to get the rugby on their screens and use the PoS kits to create a real occasion."

Make the most of support

One of the pubcos Guinness has teamed up with is Spirit Group - around 200 pubs on the managed side will receive branded kits. For the Punch estate, business relationship managers will be on hand to offer lessees advice and support, and 2,500 PoS kits are available.

Punch says its pubs that promoted the

tournament last year outperformed those that didn't by nearly 12%. Through its Connect magazine, it offers a series of useful pointers, such as creating VIP areas, where the

best seats can be raffled off, and adding to

the occasion by getting staff to dress up to a rugby theme.

At what would otherwise be a quiet time of the year, pubs are well placed to capitalise

on the feast of rugby that will hit our screens in the coming weeks. With a little bit of planning and brand support, licensees can create a big-match atmosphere that can pull the punters in.

Case study: the Windmill Inn, York

Peter Pendlebury, licensee at Punch pub the Windmill Inn, claims to have a winning formula when it comes to getting his pub packed with sports fans. He did very well during the Rugby World Cup and is now looking forward to the Six Nations.

"I decided to turn our pub towards sport a few years ago when I was manager," says Pendlebury. "There wasn't another pub in York focusing on sport, so we bought some big TVs, ordered team flags and started hanging them outside on match days to attract the fans. It just grew from there and our next step will be a big screen outside so we can have barbecues and outdoor events around the big matches."

During the Rugby World Cup, the Windmill had around 150 to 200 extra customers for the England games, and when it came to the semi-final and final, it was at capacity, with about 400 extra. This is achieved by hiring extra staff and opening bottle bars - there is a fixed bottle bar, but staff are also set up with bottle bins around the pub.

The pub encourages customers in early with offers through a local newspaper for a free drink for anyone arriving an hour before.

"We go to town with flags, which adds to the atmosphere and makes it obvious that we're showing the match," says Pendlebury. "It's important that people have a good view - investing in some big screens makes all

the difference."

Case study: Stradley Arms, Llanelli

The Stradley Arms, situated just across from Llanelli Scarlets' rugby ground, is one of Wales' most popular sporting pubs. On a Six Nations match day the place will be heaving.

"With up to three games during a Six Nations' weekend, it can be a very long day," says licensee Stephen Fletcher.

"We have a fantastic location. We make sure that if you're not off to a live game, this is the place to come and watch the match on TV. We have four screens in two bar areas - three standard size and one 55-inch.

Because the pub is always full on match days, Fletcher tries to keep things as simple as possible. All-day match barbecues are served whatever the weather, and when Wales are playing at home the pub has a half-time special offer of curry and chips for £1.

"My biggest tip, apart from making sure you have enough staff, is to have plenty of spare glasses, and have a team of people collecting empties and washing them," says Fletcher. "Glass turnover needs to be slick so that you've always got cold ones ready."

"Being a Brains managed house, we have access to some great PoS material," he adds. "We put up national flags as well as branded posters with fixtures and results.

"Creating the right atmosphere keeps customers coming back time and time again, and has proved a winning formula. Wouldn't it be nice if the Welsh team found one too?"

Swing low, sweet IPA

Greene King IPA is the Official Beer of England Rugby and the Official Rugby Beer of the Morning Advertiser.

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