How can pubs help fans get their sporting fix during Covid-19 lockdown?

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Keep your sports voice heard :'the two main reasons why customers watch live sport in a pub is reputation and atmosphere,' according to Magnify Marketing's Paul Filler
Keep your sports voice heard :'the two main reasons why customers watch live sport in a pub is reputation and atmosphere,' according to Magnify Marketing's Paul Filler

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There’s no live sport on TV nor a pub currently open to watch it in. But this doesn’t mean operators can’t help fans and customers get their fix during the Covid-19 shutdown

BT Sport director of commercial customers Bruce Cuthbert explains: “Sometimes the most difficult times can bring out the best in people and we have been hearing some amazing stories from our customers who are adapting and making the best of the situation. From landlords who are now delivering pints – complete with bar stool – to pubs that are keeping their communities connected and those who are broadcasting live entertainment via social media.

“Never has the nation missed or appreciated the role that pubs play in our communities more.”

This role, in a large number of cases, extends to helping pubgoers getting their weekly sporting fix. With 55% of sports fans saying they check out a pub out online before visiting and 93% saying they return to the same pub if they’ve watched sport there before, according to Matchpint, could pubs use the Covid-19 shutdown to connect with new and existing fans for when the page is turned on the currently suspended sporting calendar?

Sport 2

Remind fans of sporting nights at the pub

Sporting withdrawals are driving fans to nostalgia in their droves with the likes of Sky and the BBC re-running historic events in full as live, for example. While pubs can’t fling open their doors and screen England’s run in the 2018 football World Cup or Wales’s 2019 Six Nations grand slam, there’s still scope for them to remind customers of the good times they had under their roof and that they will come again.

Whether scenes after Eric Dier’s winning penalty against Colombia to send England into the 2018 World Cup quarter final, or toasts to Ben Stokes’ super over exploits in the 2019 cricket World Cup final – it’s worth digging out and resharing photos and videos, according to both Magnify Marketing managing director Paul Filler and Screach’s CEO Robert Rawlinson.

“In a CGA sports pub survey, the two main reasons why customers watch live sport in a pub is reputation and atmosphere,” Filler explains. “So, during these challenging times, it’s essential to both keep your sports voice heard and showcase any internal crowd reactions you have recorded.

“Re-run any videos you have of customer reactions to showcase your atmosphere – you can even ask them to guess the match or game with a prize for when you are back open again.”

Rawlinson adds: “You could create almost a hall of fame – or wall of fame – on your social media page or website.

“You don’t necessarily have the time to trawl through all your photos and videos of great nights under usual circumstances but might have taken a video of a game in your pub that you never get around to sticking on social media or the web. Everybody likes to see their face on-screen and reminded of events.

“Ask customers ‘were you in this crowd?’ It’s all about presence, reminding people that you had a great time at this pub and that you’re going to open again. Even if a pub manager spent some small amount of time – whether that’s half an hour, 45 mins, an hour – to find something to share with people, that little bit of activity just keeps the drip-feed going.”


Sport content sharing strategy

However, while gathering and sharing content from special sporting nights at the pub can trigger a nostalgia trip, operators shouldn’t limit social coverage to what’s gone on between their four walls with Rawlinson explaining that customer generated content from lockdown can help re-enforce community credentials.

“A lot of sport pubs have football teams and a lot of people who play football love to do tricks – the toilet roll kick-up challenge, for example,” he says. “I just wonder how many competitions sport pubs could create to reach out to the people and teams associated with the pub.”

Magnify’s Filler adds that while amateur sport team seasons are over – with the FA blowing the whistle on lower-league football on 26 March, for example – lockdown doesn’t mean that relationship should be kicked into touch.

“Follow and share any content that your key local teams are putting out,” he says. “It shows you’re interested in local teams as well as your regulars.

“Staying local, pick your local teams’ favourite shirt and then ask customers if they agree or share their favourite – ideally, them wearing it in your pub.”

However, Rawlinson adds that – provided publicans don’t overdo it and keep posts tasteful – there’s plenty of scope for them to share lockdown content from the wider sporting world to remind customers that the pub is very much part of their sport experience. 

“There’s quite a lot of really interesting and fun sports stuff happening on social media at the moment,” he says. “What are professional footballers doing at home to stay in shape, how are they occupying themselves in their homes. I’ve seen a great number of really good skits, Ronaldo doing sit ups with his baby held about his head. It’s bonkers stuff but its sports-related. YouTube doesn’t mind if you stick that link on your Facebook page.

“That sort of stuff maintains communication with customers about something that’s just a bit of fun – it keeps people remembering that you’re the pub people came to for sport.”


A question of sport

On 4 May 2017, the first online pub quiz was hosted in the UK by rock and metal station Primordial Radio using a YouTube live stream and an answer sheet provided by Survey Monkey.

Luckily, technology has advanced since then with the likes of Zoom ​and Facetime​, yet customer clamour to be put through their intellectual paces with their friends and a few drinks in tow has remained.

“A good way for pubs to continue to engage with their customers during this period is to host sports quizzes on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram,” according to Graham Byrne, director of commercial customers at Premier Sports.

“These could be sport-centric with a weekly quiz such as a World Cup 2018 quiz. Winners could be provided with vouchers for when the pubs reopen.”

Rawlinson too endorses testing your customers’ sporting knowledge in a Question of Sport ​or League of Their Own-​style format via social and digital channels so that your pub sticks in their mind even if niche sporting trivia often doesn’t.

“Some of the stuff that’s been happening around quizzes during lockdown has been good and if you’re a strong sports pub, there’s no reason why you can’t set up virtual sports quizzes,” he says.

“I’ve seen some examples where the landlord effectively becomes the quiz master and sends out a communication on Facebook saying ‘here’s the link to the Zoom​ call’ encouraging viewers to get a drink and have an interactive pub experience.

“Doing that in combination with social media and using an email database, if you have one, is a perfectly good starting point.”


Kick-off sporting debate

Filler adds that sparking conversations among pub-going sport fans through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter can kick start the kind of back-and-forth – whether more serious and light-hearted – that was usually reserved for the pub. 

While not quite recreating the full experience of pints and post-match analysis, it can go some way to putting your pub back at the heart of local fans’ sporting experience.

“Ask questions that require an answer – for example, if your local team could buy any player in the world, who would it be?” he says. “These type of fantasy questions generate great banter.

“Use polls on Facebook to ask customers for their thoughts on a key game or match or a topical discussion – for example, if the Premier League was to finish tomorrow, should Liverpool be awarded the trophy?”

Sport-centric forward marketing

Rawlinson adds that pubs can build a sound forward-marketing strategy for when they reopen around sport, using voucher schemes related to content and competitions to give pub-going sport fans yet another reason to venture back post-pandemic. 

“Pubs are really challenged about what they can do to get someone back in the future – they’re generally all about the now,” he explains. “How much could they do to set up competitions or giveaways that keep them engaged and aware of what’s going on?

“They could, maybe, say ‘create a caption and, when we reopen, we’ll give you a round of drinks for you and your friends up to the value of £20’. Or encourage fans and customers to provide them with user-generated content – videos and photos of them watching sport in your pub – so they can create and get something back in return when the pubs open.

“Obviously everyone wants to get them back in the pub and if you do something that helps pubs create engagement, why would they not give them a round of drinks?”

Social listening

Paul Filler explains that publicans can use the lockdown to have a good look at what conversations are taking place on social media by their customers, see what sport is being discussed and perhaps use it as a basis for experimentation when things get up and running again.

“Use the time to find out more from your customers,” he says. “Like ask the question ‘which boxing matches would you come out to watch on pay-per-view?’ This allows you to plan and know your investment in pay-per-view has been researched.”

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