Scotland’s controversial exit in the quarter-finals of last autumn’s Rugby World Cup ended a disappointing tournament for the home nations. But the failure of any of the major northern hemisphere countries to secure at least one semi-final spot was mitigated by the quality and excitement of the action throughout the tournament – and the reach the tournament managed to achieve.
The final had a global TV audience of 120 million, almost 2.5 million match tickets were sold, video clips were viewed 270 million times on social media, and the official tournament hashtag was used twice a second for the tournament’s duration.
Though some pubs said they were disappointed with the turnout for games, CGA Peach figures released as the World Cup ended showed pubs enjoying a £1,000 average increase in wet sales on key match days, with big England games providing the biggest boost.
Just a little over three months after the final, pubs will be getting ready to go rugby mad again with the start of the Six Nations on February 6 – and the league format of the tournament means that no one has to go home early. Any extra potential business can be planned in right through until it ends on March 19.
Guinness is in the box-seat among drinks brands who could benefit from the tournament. It has long associations with rugby union and is an official partner of the Six Nations tournament and, unsurprisingly, the official beer of the Irish RFU.
Other beer brands will look to score too, with Heineken and Brains having sponsorships with the Welsh RFU and Greene King IPA backing the English game,
Tennent Caledonian is an official supporter of Scotland, with its Caledonia Best brand currently giving pub customers the chance to enter a draw to win a pass to watch every home game in 2016, including the Six Nations, by picking up a promotional code when they buy a pint.
Katerina Podtserkovskaya, who handles commercial planning and activation for the on-trade at Guinness brand owner Diageo, expects the knock-on from the World Cup to be a positive one for UK pubs.
“As rugby awareness is higher than ever after England hosted the World Cup, the clear association of watching rugby in the on-trade presents and even greater opportunity for licensees,” she says.
Podtserkovskaya says the brand has drawn on its past experience of rugby sponsorships to devise its plans for the Six Nations.
Based on CGA data, Podtserkovskaya says that Guinness activation kits provided a 59% uplift in volumes of the brand for pubs where they were used during the 2015 Six Nations, against comparable figures for the previous year’s event.
It will be supplying visibility kits for the 2016 campaign to 6,000 outlets, including a continuation of the Guinness Lineout activity that began in the World Cup. This involves four-pint Guinness carriers to make it easier for customers to buy and transport a round.
“Research [by Behavioural Architects] has shown that groups of people actively want a group serve of Guinness while watching games,” says Podtserkovskaya. “By tapping into the communion of rugby and sporting events, the Lineout presents outlets with the opportunity to drive sales, create theatre around the Guinness serve and increases footfall to the bar.”
Guinness kits will include flags, inflatable goalposts, mobile bars, rugby jerseys for staff and branded fixture lists.
But while all of this can help create a rugby buzz and drive sales, getting the basics right are more important than anything in attracting people to watch a game in the first place, says Podtserkovskaya.
“Research has found that rugby fans want to see the game more than anything else,” she says. “Other elements are important but secondary to the viewing quality. Making sure you have clear lines of sight to screens and keeping the paths to the bar clear are essential to keep viewing at its best.”
She also advises pubs to take note of the days when more than one match is being played back-to-back.”
“Licensees should make the most out of the days where there are two matches by turning the day into a package deal for consumers,” she advises. “By creating an experience that lasts longer than just one game and tying in price promotions meals deals or free snacks for fans, pubs can create more engaging environment and encourage dwell time.”
Top Tips for a successful tournament
- Advertise upcoming fixtures on external boards and interior POS, and uses promotional items to create a Six Nations pubs in the venue
- Hammer away at social media with promotions, offers and fixture reminders to build excitement ahead of games
- Review staffing levels weeks ahead of the tournament to make sure you’re equipped for the busiest days
- Make promotions or competitions ongoing through days when more than one match is played to increase dwell-time
How to win with food
- Consider themed menus, with either bar snacks such as Welsh rarebit and Scotch appropriate to countries, or Six Nations twists on pub favourites such as burgers or pizza
- Put together package deals of a meal and a drink, or food platters and shared buckets of beer for a set price
- Take advance orders for meal deals to speed up service and meet demand during hot spots between matches
- If you have space, offer VIP areas for groups, with reserved seating, the best views or their own screen, table service and food and drink packages – all for a healthy premium
Preview and odds
All eyes will be on Eddie Jones, the Australian who has taken over from Stuart Lancaster as England (2-1) coach in the wake of the country’s disappointing World Cup performance.
There’s no doubt that Jones inherits a talented pool of players, but he has already suffered blows with injuries to Exeter centre Henry Slade and Northampton prop Alex Corbisiero certain to keep them out of the tournament. Corbisiero’s team-mate Ben Foden is tipped for a comeback at full-back over two years after winning his last international cap.
Ireland (5-2) are looking to make it a hat-trick of wins under coach Joe Schmidt but will have a big hole to fill in the pack after the retirement of skipper Paul O’Connell, the third most capped player in Ireland’s history.
Wales (3-1) will pose a serious challenge to Ireland’s defence of the title but also face the prospect of filling the shoes of their skipper with the Sam Warburton facing a race for fitness after picking up an injury playing for his club Cardiff Blues. But as Wales’ victory over England in the World Cup showed, they’ve got depth of character to overcome adversity.
Despite outlasting the other home nations at the World Cup, Scotland (16-1) remain unfancied by the bookies. Supporters are more optimistic, snapping up tickets for Six Nations games at Murrayfield in record time.
France (5-1) have been a shadow of teams of old for some time and the retirements of captain Thierry Dusautoir and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski won’t help matters.
Italy (500-1) were trounced by France at the World Cup and remain rank outsiders.
Saturday, February 6
- France v Italy, 2.25pm
- Scotland v England, 4.50pm
Sunday, February 7
- Ireland v Wales, 3pm
Saturday, February 13
- France v Ireland, 2.25pm
- Wales v Scotland, 4.50pm
Sunday, February 14
- Italy v England 2pm
Friday, February 26
- Wales v France, 8.05pm
Saturday, February 27
- Italy v Scotland, 2.25pm
- England v Ireland, 4.50pm
Saturday, March 12
- Ireland v Italy, 1.30pm
- England v Wales, 4pm
Sunday, March 13
- Scotland v France, 3pm
Saturday, March 19
- Wales v Italy, 2.30pm
- Ireland v Scotland, 5pm
- France v England, 8pm