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Wrestling, sailing and NFL: Embracing the sporting alternatives

By Liam Coleman

- Last updated on GMT

Wrestling, sailing and NFL: Embracing the sporting alternatives

Related tags Pub American football Public house National football league

You’ve paid the big bucks to have sport from both BT and Sky in the pub; you’ve got a state-of-the-art AV system; and a selection of TVs just waiting to beam high-definition coverage to the punters. Yet the reality is that outside of the Premier League clashes, occasional F1 race and rugby internationals, the elaborate – and needless to add expensive – sports offer goes to waste.

Yet the world of sport is massive. Outside of the big crowd pullers there is just as much coverage of other attractions and there are fans of almost all of those sports just waiting to enjoy their niche interest in the unique atmosphere of the pub.

Phil Cutter, licensee of Norwich’s the Gardeners Arms, won best sports pub in 2015’s Great British Pub Awards and feels that part of the reason for their success was the eclectic sporting setup. “If you’re of the mind set where you say you only show football, you’re not making the most of the broad depth of sports coverage available,” he says.

“All of a sudden, you find people who wouldn’t normally watch a particular sport see the excitement and join in; they’ll ask other people who are watching questions about it.”

Here are three sports that pubs across the country have embraced and with it attracted an increase in trade.

Combat sports


When Brett Sanders became manager at the Golden Fleece in Chelmsford in 2008, the pub didn’t show sport. Encouraged by his assistant manager of the time, he started doing a sports offer and first showed WrestleMania in 2011. In August of this year, there were 70 people in the pub for UFC 202.

Wrestling and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) are two combat sports that don’t need much marketing because the organisers put a lot of money into hype and publicity around the events.

Irish UFC fighter Conor McGregor, for example, has, over the past year, become a rare household name in mixed martial arts. Likewise, the theatre of WWE creates its own hysteria.

Despite these combat sports not requiring much publicity, they do require a significant amount of organising just because of the challenges that the time difference presents.

“The main event at UFC 202 didn’t start until 3am, so we had a TEN (temporary event notice),” says Sanders of the Golden Fleece’s arrangements for August’s contest.

With the main fight then often not finishing until 6am UK time, Sanders explains the steps they take when there is a major UFC or WWE event. “We normally close at 2am, but for UFC 202 we had a TEN taking us through till 6am.

“We extend our Saturday night a little bit by taking it up to 3am, instead of 2am. Around 2.45, we close the bar for anyone who is not staying for UFC.

“For those that are staying we section off an area and they go there. We then get the pub reset, so the kitchen reopens, we serve food while it’s on and people have either got tickets in advance or turn up and pay on the door.

Sanders charges £5 for events and attracted 70 people with varying interest in the sport that came to the pub for UFC 202. “There was around 10-15 hardcore fans who had gone home for sleep and others who had extended their night out,” he says.



All sports have historic moments that transcend the sport itself and attract a wealth of new fans. For cricket, there was the 2005 Ashes series; rugby had the 2003 World Cup final; and in sailing, there was the 2013 America’s Cup.

In 2013, Ben Ainslie’s Oracle team were 8-1 down and needed to win the final eight races to defend the America’s Cup. They did and won the oldest international sporting trophy 9-8.

Witnessing that comeback was a growing group of customers in Phil Cutter’s pub, the Gardeners Arms, which is locally known as the Murderers.

“We had one guy come in one evening and he asked if we would have the Americas Cup on the next night, we said: ‘We will’. Over the next four nights, we had about 30 guys coming in to the pub to watch the America’s Cup races,” Cutter recalls.

“That was all just off the fact that we made a space available for people to come in and watch.”

Since then the sailing demand may have tailed off somewhat for the Norwich pub, but Cutter says he has seen several of those faces return even when the sailing hasn’t been on. He is also casting an eye ahead to July 2017 when the first America’s Cup since that historic comeback takes place.

American Football


SuperBowl parties have been a staple of sports bars for a decade now, so American Football is not a new sport to show in pubs per se. Yet few pubs have embraced the sport to the same extent as the Willoughby Arms in Kingston, west London.

It all started in 2010. Avid fan of the Seattle Seahawks, Ian Smith, went to his local to see if they would be showing the match. The Willoughby Arms said it would and as more and more fans came to the pub in the following weeks, it suddenly became the unofficial UK base of the Seahawks.

“It just snowballed,” Rick Robinson, lessee at the Willoughby Arms says, still somewhat bemused.

There are now 20 to 25 fans of both the Seahawks and other NFL franchises that visit Robinson’s pub for American Football matches. “Supporters of other teams have heard about it and they now come down for their games, alongside the Seahawks fans, and it becomes a really big social event,” he says.

“That’s 20 to 25 people that would not have been in here before because there is only really Spanish or Italian football on a Sunday night, so it made a good night out of a dead night.”

Robinson goes to some lengths to make sure that the pub embraces the American Football spirit with its food offer when the match is on: “We get bags of popcorn in, do hot dogs and burgers in the evening and still do the pizzas we do every day,” he says. “All the food fits around the stadium atmosphere”.

Unfortunately tragedy struck the American Football community at the Willoughby Arms in January 2016 when the man who the lessee of the pub credits as “the instigator” of their NFL mania, Ian Smith, died unexpectedly of a stroke.

Yet the American Football will live on. Robinson says that Seahawks fans have been meeting at the pub throughout the NFL closed season and he expects the American football fans to still make their way to the pub when the new season starts in early September.

Robinson expects the numbers to keep up but, either way, the pub will be embracing the variety of sport that is available to it.

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