If you’re good enough you’re old enough

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Winning formula: Sport Shack founders James Dobson (left) and Danny Grayson
Winning formula: Sport Shack founders James Dobson (left) and Danny Grayson
A blend of youth and experience is helping micro sports concept Sport Shack win big in the Steel City in time for the new season

Fixtures list – 22 July – 5 August

Tuesday 30 July

T20 Blast Cricket – Surrey v Kent – Sky Sports

Pre-season friendly – Angers v Arsenal – Premier Sports

Women’s T20 Series – England v Australia – Sky Sports 

Thursday 1 August to Monday 5 August​– International test match – England v Australia – Sky Sports

Thursday 1 August

T20 Blast Cricket – Glamorgan v Gloucestershire – Sky Sports

Friday 2 August

T20 Blast Cricket – Northamptonshire v Derbyshire – Sky Sports

EFL Championship – Luton Town v Middlesbrough – Sky Sports

Saturday 3 August to Sunday 4 August​– Hungarian Grand Prix – Sky Sports

Saturday 3 August

EFL League Two – Salford City v Stevenage – Sky Sports

Betfred Super League – Catalans Dragons v Warrington Wolves – Sky Sports

EFL Championship – Nottingham Forest v West Brom – Sky Sports

T20 Blast Cricket – Lancashire v Nottinghamshire – Sky Sports

Sunday 4 August 

Scottish Premiership – Kilmarnock v Rangers – Sky Sports

Community Shield – Manchester City v Liverpool – BT Sport

International Champions Cup football – Tottenham Hotspur v Inter – Premier Sports

EFL Championship – Bristol City v Leeds United – Sky Sports

Pre-season friendly – Barcelona v Arsenal – Premier Sports

Monday 5 August

EFL Championship – Huddersfield Town v Derby County – Sky Sports

There’s a 23-year age gap between Sport Shack founders Danny Grayson, 47, and James Dobson, 24, or, in footballing terms, one Dele Alli.

Grayson, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the trade, met business studies graduate Dobson while the latter was working in a Sheffield pub. They stumbled upon the idea for micro sports bar concept, Sport Shack, which made its debut on the city’s Eccleshall Road in September 2018 and soon – through Hillsborough Corner and Woodseats openings – notched a hat-trick of sites.

Who says you don’t win anything with kids?

Size matters

You could make a very strong case that when it comes to sport, the best things come in small packages. A sporting shortlist may boast the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Lionel Messi, Simone Biles, Manny Pacquiao and Fran Kirby to name but a few below-average-height stars.

When it comes to the pub trade, “small is beautiful” according to Grayson. 

“You can’t fill a big pub anymore unless you start pushing on food and stuff like that,” he explains. “Smaller venues with better atmospheres are the way forward without a shadow of a doubt. I’ve had big pubs before and I’ve got out of that business.”

Grayson and Dobson stress venues such as their three Sport Shack sites are conducive to fans enjoying good-hearted banter and creating an atmosphere.

“What we’ve found with the atmosphere in the venue is, because it’s small you’ll let people in and they’ll start speaking to each other,” Grayson explains. “Whereas if you’ve got a big space they’re sat at opposite ends of the pub and can’t have that bit of banter.

“I see the big pubs and managed houses that open a sports bar and think you can just put a few TVs up. It’s about creating an atmosphere for the customers and being nice to them.

“The feedback we’re getting is because we’re small, nice and cosy, it’s a safe environment. Fans can’t kick off, the venue’s too small! If something does happen, someone will tell them to pipe down.”

Youth and experience

Their endorsement of smaller venues is part of the pair’s puritanical commitment to sport and its fans in Sheffield.

“There is another sports bar in Sheffield that’s going to be showing Love Island – why on earth would you do that in a sports bar? It’s absolute sacrilege,” Grayson explains. “It’s wrong.”

He continues: “We show all sports for proper sports fans. We’re sports purists through and through, showing good sport, with good-quality drinks at good prices to proper sports enthusiasts.”

It’s an approach that has attracted drinkers of all ages. Despite a student population of more than 60,000 – which the combined capacities of Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday’s respective Bramall Lane and Hillsborough homes could just about hold – Grayson and Dobson stress Sport Shack’s customer base features both youth and experience.

“We have a lot of student customers in our Eccleshall Road site, but what we found is that we’ve got the most sensible students ever in Sheffield – they don’t go out drinking,” Grayson explained.

“The 18 to 34 age group have really calmed down with drinking, they’re not coming in anymore and ordering rounds of Jägerbombs and stuff like that, they come in, have a couple of drinks and are being sensible.”

Sport Shack (3)

Pubs of every stripe

So, what of the coming season and Sheffield United’s return to the Premier League for the first time since relegation in 2007?

Under manager Chris Wilder, United hit the big time after finishing runners up in last season’s EFL Championship behind Norwich City – thus sealing their second promotion in three seasons.

However, cross-city rivals Wednesday missed out on the Championship playoffs last term and recently accepted the resignation of manager Steve Bruce, who it’s expected will accept the top job at his boyhood club Newcastle United.

“We’ve got a pub that’s close to Sheffield United’s ground so obviously there’s going to be a boost in trading both before and after the match, plus they’re going to be on Sky so it’s going to be a big boost,” Grayson explained.

“Let’s not forget we’ve got Sheffield Wednesday. We’ve got a bar near Hillsborough, and Sheffield Wednesday should be spurred on seeing United in the Premier League and on TV every other week. This will make for good business over there as well.

“It’s a win-win situation and hopefully Sheffield Wednesday will get promoted into the Premier League. The derby games in Sheffield are fantastic – probably one of the best in the country – we’d like to see that again in a Premier League environment.”

Premier prediction

“This year I think Sheffield United will win the league, I think they’ll do a Leicester,” Grayson jokes. “I can only say that as I’m from Sheffield.

“I just want Sheffield United to stay up and I want Wednesday to get promoted. I don’t have any sympathy for the massive teams that have loads of money, we just want Sheffield to be put back on the map properly where it should be.

“We’ve been in those horrible divisions for the past 10 to 15 years and we need to be up there now competing with Manchester, Liverpool and wherever else.” 

The first televised fixtures for the Sheffield teams are:

Sunday 18 August – Sheffield United v Crystal Palace – Sky Sports

Saturday 15 September – Huddersfield Town v Sheffield Wednesday – Sky Sports

Sport Shack (4)

Nationwide rollout?

Like Grayson and Dobson hope to see United and Wednesday put Sheffield on the country’s sporting map, they also want Sport Shack to establish a greater national presence.

“We want to at least have 10 to 20 of these over the next three or four years without a shadow of a doubt that’s our focus,” Grayson explained.

“At the moment, we’ve got three in Sheffield and we’re looking to branch out into other areas in Yorkshire then we’ll take it from there. Maybe it’ll be a Yorkshire thing first and then we’ll see if it’s a concept we can do nationwide.

“You can get drinkers in before and after the match so it helps being in close proximity to the grounds, but this brand that we’ve got would work absolutely anywhere. Even if you went into a small town that hasn’t got any teams in the Premier League – or even a football team – it would still work.

“It’s all about atmosphere. We are small on size, big on atmosphere and that’s why it’s working.”

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