According to Alex Philiotis of Belushi's London Bridge – which has pledged to screen American Football every Sunday throughout the forthcoming season – NFL fans are already predisposed to forward booking tables and enjoying games in smaller groups.
His comments come as Belushi’s prepares for the NFL kick-off on 13 September and after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that operators will be mandated to collect customer data as well as enforce his “Rule of Six” actively limit groups to no more than half a dozen customers.
“Firstly, irrelevant of the current climate there’s a huge demand to watch the games but more importantly it’s a viewing experience that lends itself well to acting responsibility,” Philiotis told The Morning Advertiser (MA).
“We’ve found that NFL fans prefer to book ahead so they can have a table, eat a burger and have a beer with their mates. How we’ve previously experienced NFL nights already respects the social distancing rules.
“NFL has definitely grown beyond being a ‘niche’ sport with the big games such as the Superbowl being some of the biggest nights of the year,” he continued.
“We know that football and rugby will always be the most attended, but NFL has infiltrated the masses and you’re just as likely to see English fans attending events as Americans.
“We’re anticipating a good crowd every week and the fact that most games are on a Sunday evening when we’d otherwise be quiet means it’s a welcome additional to the sports calendar.”
During the on-trade’s 105-day time out, Philiotis explained that the team at Beds & Bars owned Belushi’s London Bridge put in hard yards to ensure a successful return from lockdown.
“Traditionally we offered a mixture of standing space and tables, but we’ve had to move towards only table use, so we had to acquire a few of them,” he added. “We did also take the opportunity to update our food and drinks.
“Whilst we’ve always been a sports focused bar, without the ability to run usual late-night activities we’ve had to double down on the sport, ensuring we go to market as soon as possible and aligning ourselves with the adapted sports calendar.
“We have also added in the order and pay function to our app so our customers can order from the comfort of their table from their own phone and also settle the bill.
“We have been working hard on a loyalty scheme within the app to reward our customers with exclusive offers and points that they can exchange for credit.”
Ahead of the new NFL season, while existing fan habits are well tuned to Covid-secure trading, Philiotis said Belushi’s planned Sunday screenings won’t be that different from operating any particular day or night in the "new normal".
“Obviously we need to take the track and trace info, ensure distances are maintained between tables and groups and have easy access to hand sanitiser but we’re used to this.
“We do have limited space and ask guests to book ahead to guarantee their place, we also make sure guests are briefed on the above and offer full table service and app ordering which seems to be working so far.”
Ecstatic to be open again
Looking ahead to the forthcoming season of sport, Philiotis expects the return of the likes of the Premier League, English Football League and NFL – which all get underway during the second weekend of September – to have a big impact.
“When we first reopened it was a little slow as people adjusted to going out again but week-by-week confidence in our bar and the industry in general has increased and we’re now seeing weekends where we’re fully booked for the big games and we expect this growth to continue,” he told The MA.
“We’ve shown pretty much every sport that’s been on. We've seen good interest in England games, the Community Shield and the Dillian Whyte fight but the most popular so far was definitely the final of the Champions League, just a shame an English team wasn’t there. We’re expecting the return of the Premier League and obviously the NFL to have a big impact.
“We’re just ecstatic to be open again and the whole are excited to welcome back our regulars and new fans for the start of the NFL season. This month is packed with mainstream sports and we can’t wait to give our guests an awesome sports experience.”
Sky Sports NFL
In August, Sky and the NFL agreed a new five-year deal to broadcast the NFL. And, for the first time ever, the league has partnered with an international broadcaster to launch a channel dedicated to the sport.
The agreement marks the 25th anniversary of live NFL coverage on Sky Sports and saw the launch of ‘Sky Sports NFL’ a brand new, in season channel. The new channel launched on September 3 ahead of the 2020 season, which started on September 10.
Sky Sports NFL will be the round-the-clock home of the NFL on television in the UK from the regular season through to the playoffs, with Super Bowl LV live from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on February 7.
Sky Sports NFL fans can look forward to a minimum of five live games each week, first-pick exclusive game on Sky Sports NFL at 6pm and 9pm every Sunday, NFL RedZone, every playoff game, Pro Bowl and Super Bowl live, flagship programming from NFL Network and much more.