More fans sought pubs for Rugby World Cup final than Three Lions' semi

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Crowd puller: the Murderers pub served 160 breakfasts in two hours during the Rugby World Cup final
Crowd puller: the Murderers pub served 160 breakfasts in two hours during the Rugby World Cup final

Related tags: Sport

More sport fans wanted to watch England’s Rugby World Cup final against South Africa in a pub than England’s Russia 2018 World Cup football semi-final against Croatia – despite the former kicking off at 9am.

According to latest figures from sports pub-finding app MatchPint, South Africa’s 32-12 demolition of Eddie Jones’s side on 2 November attracted a 6,000% increase in users checking in before the games compared to the tournament average.

Though the early kick-off saw more fans searching for a pub than England’s Wednesday-night World Cup semi-final against Croatia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia – and matching levels seen for the Three Lions’ quarter final against Sweden – the demand was still 47% lower than the all-English Champions League football final between Liverpool and Tottenham on 1 June.

Early morning queues

While the result meant the British Beer & Pub Association’s prediction that pubs would sell 1m extra pints​ on the day of the final didn't come to pass, the 2019 Rugby World Cup was a big hit in the on-trade despite early kick-off times and the cancellation of England’s final group stage game against France denting sales.

A stone’s throw from the home of English rugby at Twickenham Stadium, Fuller’s pub the Cabbage Patch saw queues round the block at 6am to watch early morning fixtures from this year’s Rugby World Cup. 

What’s more, the final yielded the biggest trading day of the year so far for London-based operator ETM Group’s flagship Greenwood Victoria – with shifting “enormous volumes of Guinness, bacon baps and coffee” contributing to a 39% increase across all the group’s sports venues during the tournament.

“We were surprised by the commitment of fans to get up so early to come support and enjoy the matches. It goes to show that great atmosphere, food, drink and a quality viewing experience are enough to get people out of their beds in their thousands,” a spokesperson for ETM said.

Unique morning ‘crowd puller’

At the Gardeners Arms in Norwich, known locally as the Murderers, match-day trading during the Rugby World Cup was “brisk” according to operator Philip Cutter, who added that like the 2018 football World Cup in Russia, fan interest increased throughout the tournament.

“The 2015 tournament saw England eliminated early, so the ‘neutrals’ really didn’t get an opportunity to be drawn into the big-game atmosphere,” Cutter explained, “but with the timings of matches more in line with our trading periods, trade was rather less hectic. 

“Sadly, we think the New Zealand semi-final may have just be a little too early for customers to commit to such an early start, but the final was a real showstopper – we served over 160 breakfasts in just over two hours, and had a pub full of eager supporters by 8.30am.

“Certainly, having matches during periods that aren't generally ‘crowd pullers’ gives us an enormous chance to draw a crowd. When else would we normally have a pub full by 8.30am on a Saturday morning?” 

Beer and self-service over ‘posh’ coffee

Cutter added that fans pre-booking tables was an integral part of successful morning trading at the Great British Pub Awards 2019 Best for Sport finalist pub. 

“Regulars, who support the pub were given first opportunity to book their ‘lucky’ tables,” he said, “but sadly, some big tables let us down, meaning that some customers were disappointed. However, once we discovered this was an issue, pre-booked tables were given a curfew and if they weren’t seated by a certain time before kick-off, the table was made available.”

What’s more, fans didn’t shy away from an early tipple according to the operator. “Being rugby supporters, most were on the beer rather early,” he explained, “however, offering tea and coffee, was important too. 

“We bought a hot water urn, and invited customers to make their own tea and coffee, reducing time making ‘posh’ coffees – like lattes and cappuccinos – and freeing up staff to serve quicker.”

People turned away

“The increases were massive, we did not realise Rugby was so popular,” Danny Grayson and James Dobson, owners of sports micropub concept Sportshack in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, summarised. 

“There was a lot more interest than the Women's world cup, obviously it was not as big as the men’s football, but towards the latter end of the tournament, it became massive.

“We were surprised how many people were willing to wake up at 8am and come down to the pub, maybe this is because we are a new concept here in Sheffield and we are doing phenomenally well.

“Every table was booked out in all three sites and we had to turn people away.”

Impact of England v France cancellation

However, despite broadly successful trading, Cutter explained that the cancellation of England’s final group stage fixture against France on Saturday 12 October due to Typhoon Hagibis “sadly cost the business”.

“Meat was brought in and staff had to be re-deployed,” Cutter said. “Of the group stage matches, that was the most anticipated – in truth it probably cost us at least 100 breakfasts, plus drinks, on what would have normally been a quiet trading time.”

Unlike the Murderers, Sportshack didn’t experience a hit after the decision to call off England v France according to its owners as a result of Premier League and EFL Championship fixtures driving match-day crowds.

Asked what impact the cancellation of England’s group stage game against France had on business, Grayson and Dobson said: “None as the Sheffield football teams were playing that day.”

Related topics: Sport

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