Facts ‘n’ stats
Name: The Famous Three Kings
Address: 171 North End Rd, Fulham, London, W14 9NL
Tenure: Stonegate managed house
General manager: Paul Eastwood
Wet:dry split: 80:20
Annual turnover: Around £1.6m
The pub was rebuilt to its current format in 1902 and has traded under a few names since, including the Nashville Rooms, when it was a very famous live music venue – Joy Division, the Who and the Stranglers all played here in the ’70s and ’80s – but it became the Famous Three Kings in 2000.
When I first took the pub on it was dirty and a bit of a mess. The first year was spent getting the right team in place to make some money – you can’t build a house on a shaky foundation. We also got refurbished a couple of years ago, which really changed the dynamic.
The Premier League was all the pub used to show. We showed all prime time games but when the regulations were tightened up this became no longer possible and it threw a real big chunk of what made this pub what it was out of the window. There were two ways to look at it – as a negative: they’ve taken away one of our big selling points; or as a positive: what can we do to fill that slot?
We really started to build the trade so we weren’t as reliant on the Premier League, could focus more on rugby, ice hockey, foreign football, and show them week in, week out.
One of the main things we changed was the pre and post-match atmosphere. We made sure that we didn’t just focus on the sport itself, but on trying to increase dwell time. The previous team used to have the games on but there was nothing before and nothing after. The match came on and then it meandered into whatever happened to come onto the screen afterwards – if it wasn’t changed over it might go into Countryfile.
My involvement in the trade started while I was at university where I cut my teeth working in a student pub called Off the Wall and in a nightclub called Rosie’s, in Chester, where I progressed from being part of the team and became part of the management set-up.
From there I was sent to work at a few different types of establishment – a rough pub in Hull and a local in Chester – before I got my own first pub on the King’s Road in Chelsea.
I then moved to Henry’s cafe bar in Blomfield Street in the City of London – which attracted bankers and city guys, and did Monday to Friday food and cocktails, and from there I moved to the Blackbird, in Hertford, which was more late night and studenty.
I’ve tried to take a little bit of what I learnt in each pub; my experience in late-night venues with lighting, music and atmosphere; things from the up class brands about service and the cocktails; and then some of the stuff I learnt about sport and students from the other pubs, to make what I would say is a really rounded venue at the Famous Three Kings, where I’ve been for five years now.
A lot of people see a sports pub as a bad pint, a greasy burger, and lots of sweaty men shouting at each other in a testosterone- driven environment.
My background is in sports sociology and I did quite a bit of work when I was at university on things around hooliganism and trouble involving fans. I’ve taken a bit of my experience from there into looking at what kind of environment breeds trouble and have tried to break down those barriers.
It’s all about territory and collective identity – the thought process of ‘this is a Chelsea pub’ or ‘this is Liverpool pub’. We tried to break that down to say ‘we’re not a Chelsea pub, we’re not a Liverpool pub, we’re a pub for everyone’. Even today, we have a Juventus fan club here, but I’m quite keen to tell the guys ‘we’re not a Juventus pub – we’re a pub that hosts the Juventus fans club’.
I like the atmosphere, the chanting and wearing club colours, as long as it’s in support of a team. That was one thing I thought was quite aggressive sometimes when I got here – there wasn’t just chanting in support of a team, there was chanting against the other team, which breeds confrontation. That was one of the things I turned around.
I think that makes the place a bit more female-friendly as well, when you’re not intimidated by big groups of lads shouting at each other. I’ve been in some pubs that you wouldn’t take your girlfriend for a sports game because she’d get leered at or shouted at. That’s a real conception about a lot of sports pubs and I think a lot of them unfortunately live up to that reputation.
I’m really clear what my boundaries are – it’s not your pub, it’s my pub, you’re here on our terms.
I think one of the very special things about this pub is that it’s all inclusive. We get the guys in suits after work with laptops, we get builders popping in after work for a drink, we get a good mix of young and old people. We get quite a few tourists because we’re very famous in Europe in quite a few countries. Through word of mouth, a lot of people get told about us.
The example I always give is when I went to Denmark a few years ago. I was having a chat with the guy behind the bar in the first pub I popped into and he asked what I did. I said that I run a sports pub in London and that we got a few Danish fans in. He said he knew the Famous Three Kings. It was the first pub I’ve been to in Denmark and the guy knew us for showing Danish sport.
In a business this size, if you don’t plan well you’re going to set yourself up to fail.
At the start of every year, I do a whole 12 months’ worth of fixture planning. I won’t exactly know who’s going to get to the final of the Champions League, but I will know what day it’s on so I can get my team in place, get holidays out the way in the quiet weeks and can make sure I’ve got the right people on at the right times.
When we’re showing 10 sports at once, it can be a little bit tricky. We plan at the start of the day what area each game is going to be in, if it is going to transition into another game, if it is going to transition into music, if it is going to transition into food or into a quieter zone? It’s just making sure that everyone is aware, from the bar staff to the door staff, where the games are going to be. Some of the games finish at 4pm and then the next one starts at 4.05pm so if you’re not on the ball then people are missing the start or end of a game. It’s a bit of a military operation.
For staff, sports knowledge isn’t really that important. It’s good to know something about sport, and we try to encourage people to get to know something once they’re here, but for me it’s about getting the right type of people.
As long as we get the kind of bubbly person that enjoys a fast-paced environment and the buzz of a crowd – that’s more important than having a vast amount of experience. We can teach that, but we can’t teach the right personality traits.
Food and drink
I wouldn’t think we’re the archetypal sports bar. We sell a fantastic range of 15 to 16 gins, vodkas and rums, a fantastic collection of craft beer and a good wine collection. I think that’s worked really well for us.
On the big days we go to our sports menu, which helps because we get that busy people don’t always have a table. We change to finger food, sharing food, and tapas that you could eat without being sat at a table with a knife and fork – like a burger and chips, some nachos or a combo platter.
The biggest challenge is trying to stay ahead of the game. I think that once you’re at the top, everyone’s trying to catch you up. We try to keep innovating and coming up with something that makes us different.
One of the issues we’re having is that we’re going to have to change the way we do things as streaming becomes more important because our Wi-Fi is not good enough at the moment.
If it goes the way I think it will, we’re going to have more and more things coming through Amazon Prime, Eleven Sports and YouTube. The market is going to get shared out and we need to put ourselves in a position where we can show all these different bits and pieces.
We normally try to get in ahead of the game when maybe things aren’t so popular – to see what the trends are going to be and try to put ourselves in a position where we’re ahead of our rivals so when it does go big, we’re already there.