Maximising Sport in pubs

Understanding the growth of women’s sport and why it matters for pubs

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Time to strike: 'The successful operators will be the ones who cover women's sport now. The others will be playing catch up when it goes big' according to Paul Filler of Magnify Marketing
Time to strike: 'The successful operators will be the ones who cover women's sport now. The others will be playing catch up when it goes big' according to Paul Filler of Magnify Marketing
To round off proceedings from The Morning Advertiser’s Maximising Sport in Pubs Conference, MatchPint co-founder Dom Collingwood chaired a round-table discussion on the growth in women’s sport and why it matters for pubs.

Laura Weston, board member at the Women’s Sport Trust; Lizzie Liebenhals, founder and director at sport, event, brand and talent agency Halls & Halls, and Paul Filler, founder at Magnify Marketing, broke down the reasons why pubs need to get on board with women's sport, now.

'As an industry we’re quite bad at trying things'

Paul Filler outlined that there was a huge opportunity for pubs to use women’s sport to drive footfall. “The challenges are the same. There is an enormous market here. As an industry we can’t just wait for it to get big. It’s critical we get behind it, promote it, leverage it.”

He explained that while operators are often discouraged if a new venture, such as showing women’s sport, attracts relatively low footfall early on, that it’s worth persevering – giving the example of international tournaments as a mini case study of how footfall can grow if a site establishes itself as a destination for sport.

“As an industry we’re quite bad at trying things.

“Eight people turn up for game one, but as things advance those numbers will grow and they’ll keep spending – Euro 2016 is an example.

“Operators will wait until England get to the latter stages and then think ‘what do I do?’ but customers choose the venue earlier on.

“As soon as you start getting that collection of like-minded people that’s when the magic happens.”

Filler describes women’s sport as a “huge opportunity, but a really hard one to kick-start” - though he believes it’s starting to gain serious momentum.

Not lost in money

Given that the astronomical wages haven’t yet transferred from the men’s side of the game, Filler argued that the emotions surrounding recent sporting successes have been all the more tangible for viewers.

This is largely down to the fact that the players aren’t necessarily flush with cash and have shelved more traditional career paths to pursue sport.

“The emotion of them winning isn’t about the money it’s about having given up a lot to do it. They don’t have the money and have to give up on working life to play sport."

Lucy Weston highlighted that the implications for their sports in terms of profile and funding are often what drives passion on the field of play alongside the basic will to win.

“They need to win – would anyone be talking about the women’s netball team if they’d finished third?”

Moreover, Weston argues that the players' recognition of this need for publicity not only drives performances on the field, but means that stars of women's sport are more readily available to work with brands off it.

In need of amplification

Highlighting that 1.1m people watched England’s women win the Cricket World Cup in 2017, Collingwood describes women’s sport as an “established player” in the market.

Weston adds: “The numbers can’t lie – the Rugby World Cup, Women’s Euros, have all built huge audiences.

“There’s pressure everywhere for broadcasters to up their game. The main barrier is sports sponsorship, the last bastion in male sport.

“A rewiring of the system needs to happen. 

“The brands that look at it slightly differently and see the value in it will get so much added PR from doing it – I never understand why people don’t see that. There’s so much goodwill in supporting it, why wouldn’t you do it?”

“It needs the amplifications of brands to get to the next level.”

'It’s great sport, not just women’s sport’

While Lizzie Liebenhals highlighted the huge opportunity for pubs to engage with women around sport - “we organise ourselves to go out around something socially a lot more than men” – the overall consensus was that women’s sport had cross-gender appeal.

Weston explained: “It’s not just women watching women’s sport – it’s quite an even split. Men often over-index in the Champions League, for the women’s FA Cup it’s a 50-50 split.

“It’s not about giving a free glass of Prosecco and putting some pink posters up. It’s about all people, it’s very family focused."

Liebenhals added: “There’s a belief that if you want people to come and watch women’s football you should target women, but actually there’s a lot of men out there who’ll want to come and watch the games.

"It isn't just women watching women, that’s a misconception”

Weston flagged up myths around a lack of interest deterring broadcasters from getting on board, which in turn means there are no viewing figures to bolster arguments in favour of showing women's sport.

“It’s a self-perpetuating thing, if you keep saying there’s no audience for it, how can you prove there’s an audience for it?

“It’s great sport, not just women’s sport.”

'The women are vastly outperforming the men'

Liebenhals highlighted a disconnect between elite men’s and the women’s teams, stating that there was still “quite a struggle” for parity between men’s and women’s teams, even within individual sports clubs.

However, she suggested that this imbalance is being addressed and that women’s sport was winning its way to a higher profile.

“Some of the clubs do it really well. Arsenal have been doing it great for a long time. Manchester United, have set up a women’s team for the first time at a cost of £5m, Paul Pogba’s salary for a week”

“Hope Powell was an incredible ambassador as well. They’re getting there.

“If it’s results driven, Women’s team have been more successful than the men since 1966.”

In light of success for England’s netball team at the Commonwealth games and the women’s football team finishing second in the She Believes Cup, Collingwood agreed that “the women are vastly outperforming the men” and that greater parity was in the pipeline if recent performances were anything to go by.

‘It won’t happen overnight’

Filler highlights that there is a wealth of women’s sport made available by broadcasters for operators to give it a try.

“None of it’s rocket science, it just goes down to planning.

“Sky do Monday night football once in a blue moon, netball is on every Monday - a quiet night for the industry.

“First of all raise awareness and commit to the fact you’re going to show it. You have to really understand your local market and what sports exist in those local areas.”

“When you actually look, nationally, at how many pubs were showing netball, there were 32 - 27 of which were Walkabouts.

“You’ve got to do as much effort on it as you would do other sports. You have to nurture it. It’s like a plant, you’ve got to water it. It won’t happen overnight.

“The successful operators will be the ones who do it now. The others will be playing catch up when it goes big.”

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