February may see Champions League fixtures, The FA Cup and more footballing action, but more of the sporting focus of the month will be on oval-shaped balls on both sides of the Atlantic.
The RBS 6 Nations begins on Saturday 4 February and runs all the way to beyond St Patrick’s day in the middle of march. Meanwhile the showpiece American football event, the Super Bowl, takes place a day after the start of the RBS 6 Nations on 5 February. The RBS 6 Nations is going to be shown entirely on terrestrial TV and the Super Bowl will be available for any licensees that already have Sky Sports at their site. All of which means that it is time for pubs to think about how they can capitalise on the trade available for both of these events.
Rugby Union is a sport that has been popular in pubs for decades and remains the second most popular sport for customers to watch in UK pubs after football, with 426,000 customers venturing out to watch England’s victory over South Africa last autumn.
Yet, Rugby’s American cousin, and specifically the NFL, is fast becoming a huge draw in the UK with 2.8m UK residents identifying themselves as NFL fans. In the pub, American football is currently the 10th biggest draw for sports fans in the pub, but it is surging up the ranks. Sports pub finder app, MatchPint, has reported a 178% year-on-year increase in searches for American football matches.
"Every time we do research, American football is the fastest growing sport on MatchPint,” the company’s head of data insight, Rob Stewart says. “It comes in as the 10th most popular sport, but I think it is likely to overtake the likes of horse racing and motor sport to become the fifth most popular sport in pubs by the end of 2017."
Making an event of it
With the popularity of both sports in little doubt, how can customers be brought in for the occasion? Stewart from MatchPint believes making an ‘event’ of both rugby and NFL is the key.
"Everyone knows their local for football, but rugby is much more one of those sports where big groups of people make an event of it. While for NFL, the average game is just over three hours and people will come for the whole game. It’s a great opportunity," he adds.
Regardless of this, the definition of an ‘event’ seems very different for both rugby and NFL; they are sports with very different appeal that take place in completely contrasting time zones.
An event in rugby is an occasion where those big groups will arrange to meet up at a venue that is convenient for all guaranteed to be showing the match. The key for that is promoting the match in the build-up; this will include A-boards, PoS material and having a strong online presence.
Come match day itself, 45% of customers will arrive 30 to 60 minutes before the match so the coverage needs to be on the screens long before kick off. On top of this, the bar and kitchen will need to be prepared for the surge in customers that is likely to come in this period of time. Most of which is routine preparation for a sports pub.
There is nothing routine about an NFL event. Part of the appeal of the sport is the outlandish American-ness of the sport; everything about the sport is a super-size pantomime and UK fans will want the match to be backed up by a super-size event in the pub.
A way of preparing for the Super Bowl will be to ticket it. This not only adds to the sense of occasion, but also allows licensees to have an early estimate of how many customers to expect for the occasion.
The ticketing system can then go one of two ways. Licensees can either use the money from tickets for extra entertainment throughout the match or they can set it up so that customers recoup the cost of their tickets in food or drink.
Unique food or drink offers are another means for making a special occasion of the American football matches. Licensee of the Willoughby Arms, Kingston-upon-Thames, south-west London, puts an American spread of food together to accommodate American football customers, while Belushi’s London Bridge has a specific 'Quarterback Deal’ on food and drink.
Even with the Super Bowl passing and the RBS 6 Nations finishing in March, there will be opportunities later in the year to capitalise on these sports. The rugby summer sees the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand and the NFL season will be starting again in the autumn with renewed popularity. There is an oval-shaped world of opportunity out there for licensees.
Big Rugby Union internationals in 2017
Scotland v Ireland (4 February, 2.25pm) – BBC
England v France (4 February, 4.50pm) – ITV
Wales v England (11 February, 4.50pm) – BBC
Scotland v Wales (25 February, 2.25pm) - BBC
England v Italy (26 February, 3pm) - ITV
Wales v Ireland (10 March, 8.05pm) - BBC
England v Scotland (11 March, 4pm) – ITV
Scotland v Italy (18 March, 12.30pm) - BBC
France v Wales (18 March, 2.45pm) - ITV
Ireland v England (18 March, 5pm) – ITV
1st test: New Zealand v British & Irish Lions (24 June) – Sky Sports
2nd test: New Zealand v British & Irish Lions (1 July) – Sky Sports
3rd test: New Zealand v British & Irish Lions (8 July) – Sky Sports
England v Australia (18 November, 2.30pm) – Sky Sports