Rugby always presents a big opportunity for pubs to score, and the RBS Six Nations tournament, which kicks off in February, seems perfectly designed as a business booster. Played on five weekends over a six-week period, the 15 matches give licensees a platform not just to sell beer but to sell their pubs as great venues for watching sport.
Wales will be defending their title after winning the Grand Slam in 2012 — but recent form suggests England could be favourites for the contest this time around.
With fans getting behind their teams, the Six Nations provides a focus coming out of what is often, for pubs, a quiet period. With planning and care, the event gives you the time and scope to encourage a loyalty among rugby fans that can extend beyond the tournament itself.
To make the most of it, you really need to think on three different timescales. Start by presenting it to customers as a six-week festival, rather than a series of one-off matches. Encourage them to make plans to spend their weekends with you.
Next, with two or three matches on the Saturdays, think about how you can get fans to make a day of it. Food is the obvious answer. Create an offer around dishes that go well with beer, like burgers, hotdogs and pies, serve simple food to share or have fun theming the cuisine with the competing nations.
The third timescale is during the match itself. Speed of service is the trick. Make sure you’ve got enough staff, especially around half-time, and consider deals on pitchers and buckets of bottled beers.
Look to sports specialists for inspiration
Sports Bar & Grill operates four venues around London and will be screening all the action, plus build-up, national anthems and post-match analysis, on 55-inch Sony LED screens in the pubs.
“Full-size national flags of the competing countries will be hung around venues to create and encourage patriotism,” explains sales director Jane White. “Reservations are taken to guarantee tables with prime views for customers who are eating, and we are launching a new ‘Beerdogs’ menu featuring nine different toppings — plus special toppings for competing countries such as Welsh Y-Fenni Cheese and French Brie and onions.”
She also has an eye to building business for the British Lions tour of Australia in June. “It’s the perfect time to have rugby fans in the venue and for us to kick-start activity around the Lions tour later this year,” she says. “Then we will be offering all-inclusive corporate and private breakfast and drinks packages in addition to table reservations.”
For Lee Hazell, manager of TCG’s Famous 3 Kings in London’s Knightsbridge — the Great British Pub Awards Sports Pub of the Year — all the focus is on speed of service, which makes him the scrum-half of pub rugby, really.
The F3K, as it’s known, has 16 screens in six different sound zones, and Hazell has no worries he can fill the place for the Six Nations thanks to the work that’s been put in building a following among fans over the five years he’s been there.
He has deliberately targeted Welsh rugby supporters from the start, showing Welsh rugby through the week. “We made an effort to get the crowds in, and once you have the momentum it just carries on,” he says.
“We don’t need to put on any special offers. The key is to have enough staff so you can guarantee a quick service, basically getting the beer across the bar as quickly as you can.”
Boost in trade
Nobody cares about their rugby as much as the Welsh, so it’s no surprise that Cardiff-based brewer Brains is expecting a busy time.
“For some of our pubs, the Six Nations is more important than Christmas,” declares sales and marketing director Richard Davies. “Some sell a week’s worth of beer in one day. “The championship has seen a huge rise in popularity, and because the matches are screened on terrestrial television, they are accessible to all licensees.
“Our ‘atmosphere’ kits, which contain posters, bunting, fixture cards and instant-win scratchcards, help harness the passion of live sport and create the can’t-get-at-home match-day atmosphere that’s so important if you’re to tempt people off the sofa and into your pub.”
Chris Gough, tenant at Brains’ Butchers Arms in Canton, Cardiff, anticipates “a much-needed boost in trade”.
“We start promoting the tournament at least three weeks before, displaying fixture posters throughout the pub and a ‘Watch Live Sport Here’ banner outside. We also make the most of Facebook and Twitter.
“We always bring in extra staff on match days so customers aren’t queuing at the bar and missing the action. All screens are dedicated to the Six Nations, and because rugby is a game where you need to hear the commentary the volume is turned up.
“At half time we offer free food such as sandwiches or sausage and chips, which always goes down well. It doesn’t cost a huge amount and we easily make our money back as customers tend to stay longer.”
Making the most of the black stuff
As the Official Beer of the RBS Six Nations, Guinness will be making a lot of noise in pubs throughout the tournament.
“Consumers consider Guinness to be the main brand of rugby,” says Diageo’s on-trade category manager Andrew Leat. “And our research also shows 88% of outlets running a Guinness rugby promotion see an uplift in Draught Guinness sales.”
Here are his top tips for the Six Nations:
■ Advertise your pub as a destination for the Six Nations. PoS material is available from Diageo — call 08457 515101
■ Increase awareness by making sure PoS is on display two weeks before the big kick-off.
■ Remind customers there will be six weeks of activity — culminating in St Patrick’s Day on the final weekend.
■ Offer food deals — for instance, sharing platters or a pie-and-a-pint, to get customers to spend more.
BBC TV schedule
■ Saturday, 2 February
1.30pm Wales v Ireland
4pm England v Scotland
■ Sunday, 3 February
3pm Italy v France
■ Saturday, 9 February
2.30pm Scotland v Italy
5pm France v Wales
■ Sunday, 10 February
3pm Ireland v England
■ Saturday, 23 February
2.30pm Italy v Wales
5pm England v France
■ Sunday, 24 February
2pm Scotland v Ireland
■ Saturday, 9 March
2.30pm Scotland v Wales
5pm Ireland v France
■ Sunday, 10 March
3pm England v Italy
■ Saturday, 16 March
2.30pm Italy v Ireland
5pm Wales v England
8pm France v Scotland