The EFL Championship playoff final is heralded as the richest game in club football with this year’s winners – Aston Villa – expected to net in excess of £170m off the back of promotion to the Premier League.
Yet while a berth in English football’s top flight is undoubtedly transformative for the clubs themselves, whether or not the deluge of cash trickles down to match-day pubs is open for debate.
According to Philip Cutter of the Gardeners Arms in Norwich, known locally as the Murderers – a finalist in the 2018 Great British Pub Awards’ sport category – Daniel Farke leading the Canaries to the EFL Championship title and a place at English football’s top table next season will boost the city’s profile among football-following foreign tourists. However, he argues that it’s debatable whether this has a knock-on effect for Norwich’s match-day pubs.
“The Premier League creates much more interest than the Championship,” Cutter explains. “Away teams generally bring many more supporters and often stay longer because it’s such a trek to reach us.
“Norwich is a beautiful city with great independent shops, bars and restaurants so supporters from away teams regularly bring wives, partners and children for a weekend away. Clearly, Premier League teams have more fans and gives us as traders a bigger opportunity.
“However, for us, match days in the Premier League are, ultimately, patchy.
“Most EFL games are scheduled for Saturday at 3pm, which is perfect for us – plus, with more teams in the Championship, there are also more fixtures. With play-offs, the season is extended further – during the year the Canaries were promoted to the Premier League via the play-offs and the trip to Wembley, we had an additional three games.
“Sadly, Premier League fixtures are frequently moved, and supporters social drinking times are greatly compromised either through earlier kick-off times or the impact on work commitments the next day.”
A good time to go up?
Cutter also warns that the positivity of a promotion push in England’s second tier is difficult to replicate among fans once their club reaches the Premier League promised land – with the vast majority of promoted sides embroiled in an immediate battle for survival. Seeing their team propping up a league table, ultimately, leaves fans less enthusiastic about propping up a bar on match day.
“A successful season creates a feelgood factor, and celebrating a victory often leads to a pint after the game,” he explains. “Getting beaten, however, supporters do find it hard work.
“Norwich supporters are largely resilient and very loyal, however, in the year they were relegated from the Premier League supporters found it difficult to drink either before or after matches when times were hard.”
Yet, with 13 of the 20 teams that played in the 2018-19 Premier League campaign promoted to the top flight in the past seven seasons, it seems that now might be one of the best times for newcomers to hedge their Premier League bets. However, according to Cutter’s experience, top-tier survival still doesn’t quite compare to a Championship title chase.
“A few years before, the Canaries did have a three-season run in the Premier League and did see a great deal of success, but still wasn’t as successful as trading years when they have a promotion in the Championship.”
Quality over quantity?
Joining Norwich in the Premier League next season having spent more than a decade away – including a brief spell in League One – will be Sheffield United, who under 2018-19 LMA manager of the year and lifelong fan Chris Wilder were promoted from the Championship as runners-up behind the Canaries.
Optimistic about the impact of promotion on their business, the operators behind Sheffield’s three Sport Shack bars, Danny Grayson and James Dobson, believe that the quality of Premier League games will trump the quantity provided by the extra four home fixtures on offer in the Championship and drive their bottom line.
“We believe Sheffield United fans are some of the best and most loyal around,” they explain. “There will be a massive following regardless of where they are in the table next season.
“The games will be a bigger draw than the Championship games, we would much rather have Sheffield United at home to a Manchester team than a mediocre Championship team, so we feel the fewer amount of games will be more than made up for by the quality.”
What’s more, with United’s cross city rivals Sheffield Wednesday – a Championship mainstay since their relegation to England’s second tier in 2000 – Grayson and Dobson hope that the Blades’ two promotions in three seasons under current manager Wilder will provoke a response from the blue half of the city.
“Fingers crossed it will act as a giant motivator for Sheffield Wednesday to do extremely well and join United in the Premier League, it’s a great time to have three sports bars in Sheffield.”
Local rivalries in the second tier
Relegated with the third lowest points total in Premier League history, Huddersfield Town will be playing Championship football next season.
However, according to Richard Burhouse, CEO and founder of Magic Rock Brewing, which operates a taproom near the Terriers’ John Smith’s Stadium and brews beers in partnership with their local side, the difference in trade between the Championship and Premier League isn’t as big as you may think.
“The big match days like against Man United have been busier but there are fewer Saturday kick-offs in the Premier League, fewer matches overall, and for us at least fewer derbies,” he explains. “All this has meant while match days are fantastic for trade at our taproom we were potentially busier overall in the Championship.
While he explains the high profile of the Premier League has increased his brewery’s profile and helped gain traction via social media ties with Huddersfield Town, Burhouse explains that, like Cutter, it’s difficult to replicate the excitement of a promotion push among customers, even with the benefit of top-flight status.
He says: “When your team is winning fans want to celebrate and that means staying out for another beer but, when you’re regularly losing, extra socialising loses its sheen somewhat.”