Get on a winning streak: harnessing the Six Nations

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Conversion chance: Rugby union fans make a real event of going to the pub with friends, especially when the Six Nations is taking place
Conversion chance: Rugby union fans make a real event of going to the pub with friends, especially when the Six Nations is taking place

Related tags Six nations championship

This year’s Six Nations marks the 19th instalment of the competition in its current guise after Italy joined the Five Nations in the year 2000. As a staple in the sporting calendar, how can pub owners convert the championship into profits?

"Rugby player drinks beer…shocker.” This was former England manager Martin Johnson’s sarcastic response to outrage at his players’ extra-curricular activities during the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. It neatly captures rugby’s historic drinking culture. And highlights the opportunity the 2018 Six Nations championship holds for pubs.

We’re not suggesting publicans let customers recreate the ferry-jumping, dwarf-tossing exploits of Johnson’s squad, however, Dom Collingwood, co-founder of MatchPint, believes there is a palpable feel-good factor surrounding the home nations’ rugby union that offers licensees a unique opportunity.

“Unlike our national football team, England’s rugby players have got pretty good at winning important games under Eddie Jones (head coach for England),” says Collingwood. “All publicans will acknowledge that a successful national team generally has a positive trading impact. Add in the intrigue of a resurgent Scotland, a consistently strong Ireland, an experimental Wales and an unpredictable France (sorry Italy) and we have all the right ingredients for a fantastic Six Nations.”

He says that stats back this up. “The recent Autumn Internationals provided 4% sales uplift year on year while data from MatchPint and Vianet showed last year’s Six Nations was worth an incremental £700 per match day.”

What’s more, Heineken monitored beer and cider sales at 100 Star Pubs & Bars that showed matches during the Six Nations. Uplifts of between 16% and 40% were recorded when sales data was compared to that of weekends when there were no major rugby matches taking place.6

Facts 'n' figures

  • 6 - ​Number of times England have won the six Nations in its current format, the most of any side since 2000
  • 3 - ​Number of Grand Slams won by Wales in the tournament’s current format, more than any other side except France, who also have three
  • 557 - ​The number of points scored by record Six Nations scorer Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara. England’s Jonny Wilkinson is nine points behind. Stephen Jones is Wales’s record scorer on 467 points
  • 26​ - Number of six Nations tries scored by Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll, a tournament record
  • 63-10​ - Ireland’s victory over Italy in Rome last year represented the biggest away winning margin of any game in the Championship’s history
  • 80 ​- England hold the record for most points scored in a match, and a season. In 2001 they notched up a record-breaking 80 points against Italy at Twickenham on their way to an unprecedented tally of 229 points in five Championship games
  • 2​ - Number of tries conceded by Wales during their 2008 Grand Slam campaign. A tournament record in defence

You get more from rugby fans

So what’s driving this and how can pubs take advantage?

Collingwood say: “First, rugby fans spend longer in the pub than football fans – 15 minutes more to be exact. They stick around for a chat after the game, so offering table service in the last 10 minutes is a great tip. This might be behind rugby fans spending 12% more per visit than football fans, too.

“Second, the group size is bigger. Something about rugby feels more social than football. Perhaps it’s the big events – everyone supporting the national team. Whereas football fans have to reach out each week to find mates in tow, there are only a handful of big rugby games a year so fans tend to make the occasion more of an event. Advertising rugby packages – such as lunch and three pints for £20, or taking table bookings is a simple but effective way of serving this desire.

“Finally, rugby attracts fans that don’t visit the pub every week. It’s a great chance to showcase your pub to new customers. Fans using MatchPint often look for a venue that isn’t a regular, so when you see three times as many people searching for international rugby as they do Premier League football, you know it’s attracting a new audience.

“Then make sure that everyone in your pub for the game leaves thinking ‘that was so much better than watching it at home’.”

This is something echoed by Jerry Shedden, Heineken on-trade marketing director for the UK. He says: “It’s vital that pubs put the effort in to create a fun, lively atmosphere to get punters off the sofa and through the door for matches. It may seem like a big effort, but those that do it well are the ones who are reaping the rewards, as these results show.”

This underpins the main challenge that Lee Price, licensee of the Royal Pier in Aberystwyth, mid Wales, looks to address in his annual screenings of Six Nations rugby. “If we can incentivise customers to return for every game, or almost all of the games, it’s a must really. We need to get them out of their bloody houses, off the sofa, and into the pub.”

“What we’ve done in the past is collector cards and prizes – so rewarding them for the individual matches. They can trade them in for branded scarves, polo shirts, fleeces and so forth to encourage them to come back for each game, rather than trying to get them for that one individual game, so they choose your venue to follow the whole tournament.”

Prior to this year’s Six Nations, Heineken recommends three tips to help pubs get match fit. Get staffing right as no one wants to wait at the bar for hours on end at half-time, recognise that draught beer is your advantage over the at-home experience and finally, forget food at your peril, says the drinks firm.

Sessionable beers

Clive Chesser, managing director at Greene King Brewing & Brands, advises pubs to ensure sessionable beers are well stocked, to actively promote the matches to customers in the pub through point of sale and chalkboards, online and through social media channels well in advance. He adds: “Engage customers with promotions such as bounce backs – encouraging return custom in the weeks after the tournament.” 

These winning tactics and creative finishing touches have helped Paul Eastwood, general manager of the Famous Three Kings in Fulham, develop a formula that’s seen his pub win the Great British Pub Awards’ prize for Best Sports Pub in both 2016 and 2017.

“It’s about building that theatre and narrative leading up to it and keeping people afterwards,” he says.

“We start advertising really early, in December we’ll be promoting on Facebook. Then coming into January we’ll decorate all of our windows using all the nations’ flags and sometimes use a Guinness kit – they send us inflatable rugby posts that look fantastic.”

He says that this year the pub is trying something different. “I’m currently in talks with Heineken to do a podcast before one of the games down here.”

Last year, the pub had a Welsh choir, although Eastwood says they weren’t dressed “choir-like” but they were singing the national anthem and Bread of Heaven​. The pub hired DJs to play straight after the match to encourage the customers to stay a little bit longer.

“It all builds the atmosphere and gets everyone in a good mood, which is the reason why people come out to pubs –they can’t get the same atmosphere from watching it at home.”   


MatchPint’s Dom Collingwood has picked out the headline fixture​ for each weekend of the upcoming Six Nations Championship.

Saturday, 3 February
Wales v Scotland
Principality Stadium (Cardiff)                 2.15pm – BBC

France v Ireland
Stade de France (Paris)                        4.45pm – BBC

Sunday, 4 February
Italy v England
Stadio Olimpico (Rome)                              3pm – ITV

Saturday, 10 February
Ireland v Italy
Aviva Stadium (Dublin)                           2.15pm – ITV

England v Wales
Twickenham (London)                           4.45pm – ITV

Sunday, 11 February
Scotland v France
Murrayfield (Edinburgh)                             3pm – BBC

Friday, February 23
France v Italy
Orange Velodrome (Marseille)                    8pm – ITV

Saturday, 24 February

Ireland v Wales
Aviva Stadium (Dublin)                         2.15pm – BBC

Scotland v England
Murrayfield (Edinburgh)                       4.45pm – BBC

Saturday, 10 March
Ireland v Scotland
Aviva Stadium (Dublin)                           2.15pm – ITV

France v England
Stade de France (Paris)                       4.45pm – BBC

Sunday, 11 March
Wales v Italy
Principality Stadium (Cardiff)                     3pm – BBC

Saturday, 17 March
Italy v Scotland
Stadio Olimpico (Rome)                       12.30pm – ITV

England v Ireland 
Twickenham (London)                         2.45pm – ITV

Wales v France
Principality Stadium (Cardiff)                     5pm – BBC

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