Should pubs charge customers to watch live sport?

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Cost of sport: should pubs charge an entrance fee, or introduce a minimum spend, for customers watching live TV sport?
Cost of sport: should pubs charge an entrance fee, or introduce a minimum spend, for customers watching live TV sport?
After a photo emerged on social media of a pub charging customers an entrance fee to watch televised sport – which entitled them to two drinks at the bar – The Morning Advertiser asked whether or not it was something that other operators would get on board with.

The cost of sport has been a hot pre-Premier League season topic. After Sky Sports unveiled a deal with Molson Coors and Diageo to offer publicans up to 50% off their bill​ and BT Sport reaffirmed a commitment not to increase prices above RPI​, internet giant Amazon announced it would be making the 20 Premier League fixtures it holds broadcasting rights to available to pubs via the Amazon Premier League Pass​.

However, despite ending months of uncertainty with the announcement after acquiring its first Premier League broadcasting rights​ in spring, the question of how much it would cost to broadcast these games remained on publicans' lips – especially given many already pay tens of thousands of pounds for the privilege of broadcasting live sport. 

Responding to a photo shared on Twitter of a pub notice outlining a £7 entrance fee to watch football matches on Sky Sports and BT Sport – “which entitles you to two drinks to the value of £7 at the bar”, readers were divided on whether charging customers an entrance fee to watch sport or introducing a minimum spend during matches would, ultimately, be of benefit.

Deterring freeloaders

Alan Merryweather, owner of the Black Horse in Aylestone, Leicestershire, commented: “Doesn't look professional, but totally understandable. Let’s look at Sky/BT though, why do we find it acceptable they continually hike prices and, even more crazily, pub partners pay for it?”

Another argued in favour of charging entrance fees stating: “Yes as it costs a lot of money to buy Sky/BT in for a pub. Some people that go to the pub will nurse a pint or a soft drink throughout the 90 minutes then leave at the end of the game. A pub has to make money to survive otherwise it will soon close its door.”

People will find another way to watch

However, a Twitter poll of The Morning Advertiser​’s readers revealed that approximately 40% of respondents would consider charging customers an entrance fee to watch live sport at their venue.

Twitter follower Mark Shirley argued that a minimum-spend approach generally works for fixtures outside of regular trading hours: “Similar things have been happening with southern hemisphere rugby tournaments for a few years now, like the one that’s about to start. Most places I’ve been to for a 9am kick-off have something like a £5 breakfast as entry fee. With daytime football though, you’re self-selecting your custom,” he explained.

In addition, discussing the issue on The Morning Advertiser​’s Facebook page, Clare Carpenter of the Seven Sisters pub in Lower Willingdon, Eastbourne, East Sussex, said: “It costs us £38,000 a year to show Sky and BT sport before we even try to start making money, if we charged, people would go elsewhere and find another way of watching. Pubs are dying left, right and centre because of greedy corporate companies, it’s disgusting.”

What’s more, Facebook follower John Morphew added: “[TV sport providers] are pricing themselves out of business, small pubs can no longer afford their exorbitant fees.”

Charging round the clock

Despite previously stating that the entrance of Amazon into the Premier League marketplace​ “feels like extortion”, Martin Whelan of the Tollington in Islington, north London, claims he’s not in favour of a hard and fast minimum-spend policy or charging on the doors for customers looking to watch live sport.

Whelan explained that given there are multiple live football matches on TV nearly seven days a week – highlighting that Sunday 1 September boasted sporting action from 12noon until 10pm including Rangers v Celtic, Everton v Wolves, Arsenal v Tottenham and Real Madrid v Villarreal – publicans would need to charge round the clock, and that it simply wasn’t practical.

“I know it’s an awkward one for publicans and it can be very frustrating having to go around their bars and ask people to purchase a drink while watching football and not treat the bar as it’s their own living room, but it’s one of those situations that we all have to learn to live with, I’m afraid.”

Check your commercial terms

However, before considering any additional customer charges around sports coverage, operators are urged to check any commercial partners' terms of service, as charging admission to watch content may be in breach of commercial subscription terms.

A spokesperson for Sky explained: “We recognise the value of any discussion around how to drive pub revenue; however we would like to take this opportunity to clarify and remind our customers that to charge admission to watch Sky Sports content in commercial premises, including pubs, is a breach of Sky’s commercial subscription terms as well as relevant copyright laws.

“The appeal of live sport continues to grow and that means more opportunities for our customers to drive footfall, revenue and dwell-time. 

"According to research by Ipsos MORI in April 2018, over two thirds of customers say that Sky Sports drives extra footfall and 8 in 10 landlords report a very positive impact on sales by having Sky Sports available in their premises.”

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