The lure of women’s sport in pubs

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Drawing a crowd: a quarter of people watching sport out of home are watching more women's sport than ever before according to Ipsos MORI
Drawing a crowd: a quarter of people watching sport out of home are watching more women's sport than ever before according to Ipsos MORI
A global study of sports fans found that 84% of both male and female respondents are interested in women’s sport, but how big an opportunity does it offer pubs?

If you had collared someone on the street five years ago and asked them to name the coach of England’s netball team or an international women’s football player, chances are you would have been met with a blank look.

Yet in 2019, women’s sport is riding the crest of a wave. According to figures from Ipsos MORI’s Out of Home Viewing overview in September 2018, two in five people who watch sport out of home have watched women’s sport, with a quarter of respondents claiming they’re watching more than ever before.

In addition, Nielsen Sports, which surveyed 1,000 people each from the UK, USA, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand in October, found that women’s sport is considered more inspiring, progressive, family-oriented and ‘cleaner’ than men’s sport – which is perceived as being money-driven.

England’s netball team scooping Commonwealth gold in April and two awards at the most recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) Awards is testament to Nielsen’s findings. It demonstrates how women’s sport can be more positively emotive and generate the traction fuelled by big moments.

Tracey Neville’s side beating hosts and favourites Australia 52-51 in April – earning the Roses both the Team of the Year and Greatest Sporting Moment of the Year prizes at SPOTY – was watched by 1.8m people on TV, and reached more than 2m people via social media during the final and semi-final.

Moreover, in the time since, more than 130,000 people have started playing netball, in excess of 70,000 tickets have been sold to this summer’s netball World Cup in Liverpool and overall viewing in home has risen by 117% off the back of Sky Sports stepping up its netball coverage by extensively covering England’s domestic league and committing to show every game from this summer’s World Cup.

With bar and restaurant chain Walkabout using increased netball screen time to drive footfall on typically quieter nights during the working week, it’s clear that women’s sport can o­ffer pubs the chance to expand their customer base too.

Broader growth

The increase in engagement with women’s sport is something Justine Lorriman of the Royal Dyche in Burnley, Lancashire, has witnessed first-hand in her pub, with interest in women’s football taking o­ in a town boasting a resurgent men’s Premier League side.

“Any time that BT Sport is screening a women’s game, we always show it,” Lorriman explains. “The BBC has the red button as well. We have two Sky boxes so even if it does clash with a men’s game, it’s going to be on one of our screens so we get the best of both worlds.

“A lot of the men really enjoy watching the women’s game. A lot of things are blowing up at the minute about how much money is going into the men’s game, what wages they’re on, how much Premier League teams are forking out for players, they see more fight in the women’s game and for the right reasons.

“I feel like women’s football had a big boost over the last two years, especially with Manchester City women building their own stadium – that’s helped a lot – and then Manchester United setting up a women’s team.”

Still room to expand

However, as highlighted by Nielsen’s survey, there’s still a fair way to go in raising awareness. Only 63% of French respondents to Nielsen’s survey were aware that their country will host the Women’s World Cup this summer, for example, with only 34% of those in the know saying they’re interested in it – compared to 45% for the tournament in Russia last summer, which Les Bleus won.

Additionally, almost half (43%) of the general population of the eight countries surveyed said they would consider attending a live women’s sport event, compared to 63% for a men’s event.

Yet, with 2019’s sporting calendar boasting the women’s Six Nations rugby championships; Steph Houghton leading the football Lionesses to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France (after taking the SheBelieves Cup); the World Athletics Championships in Doha (where BBC Sports Personality of the Year finalist Dina Asher-Smith will take part); and boxers Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams set to be involved in world title fights this year, the popularity of women’s sport in pubs only looks set to go one way over the next 12 months.

Bridging the community gap

Operators of the Gun in Hackney, east London, and the Ingate Free House in Beccles, Su­ffolk, explain how sport has helped them embed their pubs in their local communities.

Nick Stephens of the Gun, whose football team won the 2018 BT Sport Pub Cup​, sees the team as an important touch point for his local community as well as being a good place for the players to “hang their hat”.

“It’s something for people to get behind and integrates you with the locals,” he explains. “A lot of young Hackney lads come and play for the side now so it’s more of a community thing than just a pub thing.”

Far from revolving around the idea of getting on the booze whether the team wins or loses, Stephens explains that the relationship between the team and it’s local runs far deeper than post-match pints and has a further-reaching impact on the Gun.

“There’s a whole generation of people who love and play football that aren’t idiots,” he says.

“I love football but I feel there’s always been a bit of a stigma from the ’80s and ’90s with hooliganism and stu­ff, but the team’s a nice thing to have. People like the idea of a pub team as well – it’s a bit old school.”


Coming together through sport

Michelle Payne of the Ingate Free House explains that her pub plays an important role in facilitating sport in the local area by o­ffering funding that’s otherwise hard to come by.

“At the moment, we sponsor the ladies’ football team. They were finding it hard to get sponsorship because most of the money tends to go to the men’s rugby and football teams,” she explains.

The knock-on e­ffect of Payne’s pub helping keep local teams afloat and chipping in with funding for facilities – such as an artificial pitch – is that it has become a hub for team members.

“We’re finding that people involved with the team are asking us to hold quiz nights and events at the pub,” she explains. “They’ve automatically got an entertainment centre they can come to.

“Everything has a knock-on e­ffect. Sport brings healthy rivalry and everyone feels a part of something. You’ll find that a pub is the same – you start to feel part of something. It’s grown into a community all coming together that, ultimately, has been through sport.”

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