What impact has the UEFA Nations League had on pub trading?

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Major league: has the new UEFA Nations League been an improvement on international friendlies when it comes to sales in pubs?
Major league: has the new UEFA Nations League been an improvement on international friendlies when it comes to sales in pubs?
With international friendlies becoming stagnant affairs with little to play for, has the UEFA Nations League been a success for pubs?

December fixture list

28 November – 16 December​ – 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup – BT Sport

Tuesday 4 December

Premier League - Watford v Manchester City – BT Sport

Wednesday 5 December

Premier League - Manchester United v Arsenal – BT Sport

Friday 7 December

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Edinburgh v Newcastle Falcons – BT Sport

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Bath v Leinster – BT Sport

Saturday 8 December

Premier League - Bournemouth v Liverpool – Sky Sports

Premier League - Chelsea v Manchester City – BT Sport

Premier League - Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur – BT Sport

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Bath v Leinster – BT Sport

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Wasps v Toulouse – BT Sport

Sunday 9 December

NBA - Detroit Pistons v New Orleans Pelicans – Sky Sports

Premier League - Newcastle United v Wolves – Sky Sports

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Saracens v Cardiff Blues – BT Sport

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Racing 92 v Leicester – BT Sport

Monday 10 December

Premier League - Everton v Watford – Sky Sports

Tuesday 11 December

UEFA Champions League – Barcelona v Tottenham Hotspur – BT Sport

UEFA Champions League – Liverpool v Napoli – BT Sport

Wednesday 12 December

UEFA Champions League – Manchester City v Hoffenheim – BT Sport

UEFA Champions League – Valencia v Manchester United – BT Sport

13 December until 1 January​ – World Darts Championships – Sky Sports

Thursday 13 December

UEFA Europa League - MOL Vidi v Chelsea – BT Sport

UEFA Europa League – Arsenal v Qarabag – BT Sport

Friday 14 December

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Gloucester v Exeter – BT Sport

Saturday 15 December

NBA – Orlando Magic v Utah Jazz – Sky Sports

Premier League - Manchester City v Everton – Sky Sports

Premier League - Fulham v West Ham United – BT Sport

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Cardiff Blues v Saracens – BT Sport

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Toulouse v Wasps – BT Sport

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Leinster v Bath – BT Sport

Boxing – Rocky Fielding v Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez – Sky Sports

Sunday 16 December

Premier League - Southampton v Arsenal – Sky Sports

Premier League - Liverpool v Manchester United – Sky Sports

NBA – Cleveland Cavaliers v Philadelphia 76ers – Sky Sports

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Leicester v Racing 92 – BT Sport

Champions Cup Rugby Union – Newcastle Falcons v Edinburgh – BT Sport

Monday 17 December

EFL Championship - Derby County v Nottingham Forest – Sky Sports

Wednesday 19 December

Carabao Cup – Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur – Sky Sports

Friday 21 December

Premier League - Wolves v Liverpool – Sky Sports

Gallagher Premiership – Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints – BT Sport

Saturday 22 December

Premier League - Arsenal v Burnley – Sky Sports

Premier League - Cardiff City v Manchester United – BT Sport

NBA – Los Angeles Clippers v Denver Nuggets – Sky Sports

Gallagher Premiership – Exeter Chiefs v Saracens – BT Sport

Boxing – Josh Warrington v Carl Frampton – BT Sport Box Office

Boxing – Dillian Whyte v Dereck Chisora II – Sky Sports Box Office

Sunday 23 December

EFL Championship – Aston Villa v Leeds United – Sky Sports

Premier League - Everton v Tottenham Hotspur – Sky Sports

NBA – Detroit Pistons v Atlanta Hawks – Sky Sports

Gallagher Premiership – Wasps v Bath – BT Sport

Tuesday 25 December

NBA – New York Knicks v Milwaukee Bucks – Sky Sports

NBA – Houston Rockets v Oklahoma City Thunder – Sky Sports

NBA – Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers – Sky Sports

Wednesday 26 December

Premier League - Fulham v Wolves – Sky Sports

Premier League - Brighton and Hove Albion v Arsenal – Sky Sports

Premier League - Watford v Chelsea – Sky Sports

Thursday 27 December

Premier League - Southampton v West Ham United – Sky Sports

Friday 28 December

Gallagher Premiership – Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs – BT Sport

Saturday 29 December

Scottish Premiership – Rangers v Celtic – Sky Sports

Premier League - Liverpool v Arsenal – BT Sport

NBA – Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets – Sky Sports

Gallagher Premiership – Harlequins v Wasps – BT Sport

Since September, UEFA’s 55 member nations have been competing in the inaugural Nations League in the hope of banishing the international break blues.

Whether they got sick of watching multimillionaires coast through friendly matches in their slippers like the rest of us or not, UEFA finally took action to spice up non-major tournament football by introducing the Nations League.

The tournament divides UEFA’s member nations into four leagues, based on their international rankings, which are themselves split into four groups of three or four teams. The winners of the top league’s groups contest the Nations League final next summer, while the winners of every other group wins promotion and a spot in a playoff for a place at Euro 2020.

When announcing that Sky Sports was to show Nations League matches, Sky Business managing director David Rey said: “We were treated to a remarkable summer of football that sets the scene perfectly for the UEFA Nations League and we hope that the tournament will recreate those heady days of the World Cup.”

Performances on the pitch have been arguably as impressive as anything seen in Russia over the summer. Gareth Southgate’s side has navigated a group including former world champions Spain and the Three Lions’ World Cup semi-final conquerors Croatia to reach the Nations League finals in Portugal.

Trading impact

Poll: 'Have UEFA Nations League fixtures brought better trading and footfall to your pub than international friendlies and tournament qualifiers?'

Yes: 50%

No: 50%

(MA Twitter poll)

Successful innovation

But has the Nations League managed to recreate major tournament magic in pubs?

A spokesperson from Beds & Bars explained that levels of trade have been good throughout the inaugural campaign – with England’s dramatic late win over Croatia and humbling of Spain in Seville coinciding with particularly busy periods.

“We have seen a far greater interest in the UEFA Nations League compared to friendlies. The new competitive nature of the tournament has generated a lot of interest,” the spokesperson says.

“The England games have shown the greatest attendance in our bars but generally there has been a greater interest in the tournament overall too.

“Many matches are on at the same time, so choosing the right ones to show in our bars proved a little bit difficult. We had a lot more requests than usual to show smaller countries play; having multiple Sky boxes has been a massive bonus for us in that regard as we have been able to screen several matches.”

Some operators, like Wesley Deaton from the Alma in north London, state that while the departure from international friendlies has had a positive impact, it took a while for fans to get to grips with the new format.

“In the early games at the start of the season, we had the same interest for UEFA Nations League as we would normally have in a friendly,” he says.

“Through promotion in social media and England’s good run, a hype started to build around it.

“England v Croatia was our biggest game so far, and we have actually just invested in a 75-inch screen at the front of the pub due to a high demand for table bookings.

“We can definitely see a positive in drink and food sales from the UEFA Nations League.”

This is reflected in the sales figures from Welsh brewer and operator SA Brain, a spokesperson for whom adds: “While customers and supporters took some time to properly understand the format – once they had got to grips with it – interest certainly spiked as the fixtures became genuinely meaningful and competitive.”

Has the new format caught on?

Average fan searches for UEFA Nations League fixtures lag behind those of other international football events

  • -91% v World Cup games
  • -39% v international friendlies
  • -10% v World Cup qualifiers

(Source: Matchpint)

World Cup hangover?

However, the shiny new Nations League hasn’t banished the international break blues for everyone, with many operators not seeing a difference between new tournament fixtures and international friendlies that were just too, well, friendly.

Lee Price of the Royal Pier in Aberystwyth, west Wales, says: “We have been showing the UEFA Nations League fixtures, but haven’t noticed a significant difference in the level of trade or footfall.

“Concentration levels throughout some of the games have been a little higher than for the meaningless friendly, but they’ve not generally been hugely successful in the way of attention grabbing occasions. There’s been no stand-out moments, other than a few crossed swords about by Mr Rooney’s England inclusion.”

Further still, Jade Pinkney of the Directors’ Box, Manchester, highlights that Nations League fixtures on their own haven’t served as a stopgap until the return of club football.

“The UEFA Nations League for me is about the same amount of public interest as the friendlies. Unless the fixtures are on Friday or Saturday nights, I don’t feel there is any major change in customer interest between the two.

“We have been showing all the ­fixtures plus the under-21s. The busiest game we had was England v USA. That was just because it was on a Thursday evening because, in the Directors’ Box, it’s the start of the weekend. The bar was packed, but how many were just for after-work drinks and how many were for football? God only knows.

“There were no major stand-out games, unfortunately. Luckily, the rugby Autumn Internationals and Christmas markets traffic keep us busy while we await the Premier League and Champions League return.”

Philip Cutter of the Murderers/Gardeners Arms in Norwich – a ­finalist at the 2018 John Smith’s Great British Pub Awards – has found that the tournament has failed live up to the hype.

“I have to be honest, the last few Nations League matches have been particularly disappointing, with only a couple of dozen people attending the games” he says.

“I’m not sure if it’s a bit of a ‘hangover’ from the World Cup, which reached out to so many people, or if customers don’t understand the format of the competition, but it seems that the excitement just isn’t there at the moment.

“I’m not sure if the tournament next summer, which England has now qualified for, will stir some interest. We now have a few months to create the kind of interest that was built up around the World Cup.

“A lot of regulars have seen this format as friendlies and largely don’t fully understand it – many think that this is automatic qualification for Euro 2020.”

December fixture focus: Is there too much football on at Christmas?

Between them, Sky Sports and BT Sport will broadcast 57 live matches involving British football clubs in December.

Given there’s a lot of other sport happening in December, including world championship boxing, challenge cup rugby and the PDC World Championship darts, there wasn’t enough room to include them all in our fixtures list.

The rush of Premier League fixtures follows the final international break of the year, a significant point according to Justine Lorriman of the Royal Dyche in Burnley, Lancashire – named for clarets manager Sean Dyche after he guided Burnley to European qualification by virtue of a seventh placed finish last season: “One impact the international break does have is that we always seem to be busy when the Premier League comes back on.”

In arguably the month’s standout fixture, Liverpool welcomes Manchester United to Anfield on 16 December. The clash of England’s two most decorated sides was the most lucrative Premier League fixture for pubs last season according to figures by Stonegate Pub Company, with Manchester United’s 2-1 at Old Trafford in March seeing an average uplift of £501 per site.

Moreover, between the final round of group fixtures from the Champions League and Europa

League, a north London derby in the Carabao Cup, and some huge Premier League clashes – Manchester United v Arsenal, Chelsea v Manchester City, Liverpool v Arsenal, to name but a few – England’s top sides will once again become as strong a seasonal staple as Die Hard this year.

But is this too much football at a time when pubs traditionally make a lot of money from higher spend-per-head bookings for Christmas meals and parties?


Poll: 'What impact does the packed schedule of televised football have on your pub over Christmas?'

  • Doesn’t really affect us – 50%
  • It stifles festive trade – 11%
  • Key footfall driver – 39%

(MA Twitter poll)

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