Women's football feature

Feature: The goal is wide open, don’t miss

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Popularity soaring: make the most of screening women's football (Credit: Getty/Alistair Berg)
Popularity soaring: make the most of screening women's football (Credit: Getty/Alistair Berg)

Related tags Sport Multi-site pub operators Pubco + head office Tenanted + leased Technology

Football and pubs – that’s the domain of men only, right? Wrong. And you know that already.

Promotional content - Heineken

heineken women's football

Heineken will bolster on-trade beer sales through its official Women’s Euro 2022 partnership, which will see the full Heineken® portfolio (Heineken® Original, Heineken 0.0 and new Heineken Silver) given maximum visibility across the tournament. The partnership will allow the Heineken portfolio of brands to grow beer sales in pubs and raise awareness and excitement around women’s football.

To coincide with the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022, and to help operators drive beer sales even further, Heineken has also released its first annual Beer Report​. Packed full of data and insight, the Beer Report 2022 ​provides an exclusive view of key and emerging trends, including premium lighter-tasting lager, alcohol-free, and ways to engage with Generation Y and Z drinkers.

Heineken® will be giving on-trade operators the opportunity to win tickets to the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 by downloading the Beer Report​. Lucky publicans will be in with the chance of winning one of two pairs of tickets to a Quarter Final match. Operators who download the report will be automatically entered into the ticket prize draw, closing on 30 June.

Heineken marketing manager Stephanie Dexter said: “Heineken is proud to be the number one beer associated with sport[1]​ stemming from its rich history of sports sponsorships. With younger fans (18 to 34-year-olds) preferring to watch sport in the pub[2]​, the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 presents an opportunity for operators to drive footfall and recruit new customers through a versatile Heineken® portfolio, including both lighter-tasting and alcohol-free Heineken SKUs.”

Heineken will also support the on-trade with digital activation and outlet visibility to promote the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 in their venues and give pubgoers the chance to win UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 prizes. Consumers enter by scanning a QR code and will find out instantly if they have won a prize, including tickets to the games or official branded merchandise.

The competition to win tickets to the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 is now open, and closes on 30 June. Open to UK mainland licensed commercial on-trade operators (excludes NI & ROI) – terms and conditions apply​.

[1]​ Toluna survey, October 2020, 18-64 beer drinkers

[2]​ Toluna, 4th May 2022, N=755, Question ‘How often do you watch sports at a pub or bar?’

The rise of women’s football in past few years has been monumental. The game is enjoying a huge rise in all aspects such as men’s clubs now having at least one women’s team; television coverage of world, European and domestic leagues; quality of gameplay and skill levels; and if your pub isn’t screening women’s sport – in particular, football – you’re a nutmeg and a slide rule pass short of a picnic.

TV channels such as Sky, BT Sport and the terrestrial cohort wouldn’t be investing in the beautiful game if it wasn’t popular or in its ascendancy, and the Women’s Euro tournament, which takes place at stadiums across England from Wednesday 6 July to Sunday 31 July, promises to be a must-see event.

According to The FA, TV viewing figures for women’s football this season show Sky has had an average peak audience of 280,167 with Birmingham v Manchester United in October 2021 bringing in 726,000 while its average audience for all matches is still an impressive 133,300.

BBC One’s highest peak for a women’s match was a whopping 1.13m for the Manchester United v Manchester City game in October while the BBC One average is 717,333 and the average for a match shown on either BBC One, Two, Three and Red Button is 353,056.

The FA’s most recent strategy report on the women’s game – The Gameplan For Growth​ – was released in 2020 after research began in 2017.

It stated £50m had been invested into the women’s game and that it was increasing investment in the Women’s FA Cup almost tenfold to £3m per year from next season in March that will benefit grassroots clubs significantly with disproportionate amounts distributed to earlier rounds of the competition.

Even the numbers of women taking part in the game has increased dramatically. The number of affiliated teams (those registered with county FAs and able to take part in proper cup and leagues) has risen from 6,388 in 2017 to 9,251 in 2020 while total teams had gone up from 6,388 to 12,640 during the same period.

Customers want to watch

Research by research consultancy KAM and sports technology company Fanzo, which was formerly MatchPint, revealed 8.8m people in the UK expect to watch a Women’s Euro match in the pub this summer but only 18% of the pubs and bars they have spoken to are doing any kind of promotion for the tournament.

With tickets for every Lionesses game and the final at Wembley sold out months in advance, fans will be looking to pubs and bars to put on the next best game-day experiences.

In a summer light on major tournaments, not promoting the Women’s Euro represents an open goal so for pubs promoting the games, this tournament is a rare opportunity to attract an entirely new customer base.

KAM advises: “Women’s games often attract a more family-oriented crowd giving certain pubs and bars an opportunity to broaden the types of customers, which they are welcoming for these games.

“The key will be providing an inclusive, welcoming and safe viewing space. If the past two years have taught us anything it’s that we cannot stand still; women’s sport is growing in popularity and, if done well, has the potential to be very lucrative for pubs this summer and beyond.”

Fanzo co-founder Dominic Collingwood adds: “Interest in watching women’s sport has been growing for more than a decade now. What was once a trickle is now a wave of momentum. Too often, we make decisions by looking backwards, such as ‘I don’t remember the 2019 World Cup being busy’ rather than forward as in ‘women’s sport is going to be huge in 2026’. We stick to what we know rather than what we hope. Women’s sport will reach parity with men’s. It will be different, but it will be equal. Those that jump on board now are the ones who will win most from that unrelenting growth.”

Tips for a pub with no women’s sports offer

From Past Eastwood, licensee of award-winning pub the Famous Three Kings:

A lot of women’s sport is being shown these days and more is yet to come, especially the Women’s Euros football tournament, with some coverage on terrestrial TV and on Sky so it’s quite easy to get hold of.

Another useful thing is that women’s sport tends to be broadcast at times that don’t clash with men’s sport. Usually it’s on before or after a big Premier League men’s match so there is a chance to drive it.

You need to have that consistency, week in, week out. What I tend to do if I am trying to drive something new is I might put a reserve sign on two TVs in the best spot in front of a TV showing that sport. Nobody might turn up to watch that sport but if someone does comes in, I can say ‘you know what, there you are, you’ve come in for the women’s football and you’re in a prime position to watch it’ because you only get one chance sometimes with niche sports. It’s not going to happen overnight and you’re not going to open up and have 30, 40, 50 people come in, you need to drive it and drive it slowly.

There’s nothing worse than when you do all the work, you do the advertising, do the footfall, contact your clubs, contact your societies and doing events to try to drive people in and then they come in and the tables where you’re showing the women’s football have been taken by a family just wanting to eat!

So make sure if you are going to do it, have some tables available so when they do come in, they can watch it and you can make a bit of an event out of it. Just make sure you show you are serious about women’s sports.

Let’s be serious about it and do it properly. Let’s not do it as an afterthought and not an event. Some operators may just put the game on but fail to drive it.

Licensee Paul Eastwood of Stonegate-managed pub the Famous Three Kings in Fulham, south-west London, knows more a thing or two about how to screen sport having been a multiple winner of the Great British Pub Awards for the Best Pub to Watch Sport last year and for three years on the bounce between 2016 and 2018.

The pub was formerly in the TCG Pubs portfolio when Eastwood took the reins about eight years ago and was brought into the Stonegate fold when the site was acquired by Stonegate about six years ago.

He explains the pub used to show 3pm Premier League matches on Saturdays but when the legalities of doing so became more serious, the pub had a choice of either letting its sports-screening prowess fade away or find another way to retain that custom.

“We decided to try to fill that time by showing some niche sports and women’s sports was part of that,” Eastwood says. “We’ve been championing women’s sport since kind 2016/2017 and Stonegate as a company has been very supportive – and it’s going to be coming up with its own strategy on women’s sports at some point – and it was the summer of 2017 when there were three massive women’s tournaments on.

“There was the netball, football and the rugby all in one summer and I thought ‘you know what, why not make a big kind of summer women’s sport?’, and it went from there really and that was a big part of us winning the awards that year.”

RESIZED famous.3.kings.1

The key to screening sports successfully says Eastwood is consistency in terms of offering sound and vision every time. He explains quite often women’s sport “kind of gets relegated to a back screen or a TV with no sound on”.

Six sound zones are on offer at the famous Three Kings so this was never a problem because the venue can dedicate an area with sound and screens for all women’s sports.

Then when it comes to the bigger tournaments such as the women’s Euros or a rugby world cup, the pub goes to work on its set-up and advertising to the same extent it would for a men’s tournament.

“It’s obviously not quite as busy but we go full screens, flags out and with window decorations so in that sense we don’t do too much differently than we would with the male sports,” he says.

Get on board early

Eastwood advises pubs to begin work on screening the Women’s Euros football tournament early. He says the pub goes large for the Ice Hockey World Championships in May – another niche sport that fares very well in attracting lots of customers locally and from far away including overseas visitors – and when that ends, the advertising on the windows begins for the Women’s Euros.

“It gives me about two months to start advertising,” he says. “What I would say for women’s sport is that you have to be a little bit more targeted. We’ve got some guys in our head office who will go out and target women’s clubs, men’s football teams, women’s societies, and so on to try to drive them into the business.”

At the end of April, TV sports presenter Katie Shanahan, Great Britain women’s rugby Sevens star Celia Quansah and Harlequins and England scrum half Danny Care visited the Famous Three Kings as part of an initiative to make sure the Red Roses – England women’s rugby union team – were well supported for the final match of the Women’s Six Nations match.

Meanwhile, in December last year, the pub went to UEFA and gained permission, as the only pub in the UK legally allowed to screen the women’s Champions League football through stream provider DAZN.

The plans don’t end there, Eastwood and Stonegate are cooking up more events including something special for the first match of the Women’s Euros when England face Austria at Old Trafford on 6 July that is likely to see more sporting celebrities visit the premises – and in the preferred format of a couple of females stars and a male too.

Eastwood’s ideas have come from his sports sociology university background and his dissertation was on the portrayal of women’s sport in the media.

“Stonegate have been very supportive,” he insists. “We’ve got a sports marketing team and I work with them quite closely to try to drive as much women’s support as we can. When we talk about my proudest moment since I’ve been here, it was when we got to capacity for the first time for a women’s sports event – it was the Women’s World Cup when England played USA and it was an absolutely fantastic crowd, that was a real key moment for us.”

That moment was watched in the pub by a 50:50 mix of English and Americans fans, and the site is famous for its huge international footfall.

Eastwood explains: “That’s kind of our niche. We’re famous throughout Europe for foreign and niche sports. We have a lot of foreign [TV channel] boxes. For example, I show the women’s handball and the women’s ice hockey on my Danish and Finnish boxes, and I show quite a bit of other niche sports that aren’t accessible through Sky or terrestrial channels.”

Food (and drinks) for thought

One option for a pub operator looking to take advantage of women’s sports may be to put on certain foods to match the matches such as hotdogs when Germany play, pizza for Italy games and so on, however, the Famous Three Kings warns against that because it is too busy to constantly change menus and is fearful that new legislation on food ingredients labelling​ could be too difficult to manage.

Stonegate has an app called We Love Sport that not only has details of our the sporting fixtures at its pubs but also any specials individual pubs are serving for drinks and food. “During the women’s euros there will be some sort of offer that goes out to our menus on the app to drive customers into our pubs earlier or later, or just as a kind of a welcome pack for the Euros,” Eastwood says.

The most shown at once at the Famous Three Kings has been about 10 different sports with commentary for six of those at the same time – the pub boasts two big projector screens, 39 TVs plus a multitude of boxes, including those from a number of foreign countries allowing niche sports access. He adds: “What you can find is that the some of the sports will clash with some male sports but it is important to have consistency and the need to have people watching sport with the sound needs to be there.

“You need to be able to expect that every single week. It’s no good turning up one week with the sound on and the next it’s not. That’s one of the things I would say is absolutely key if you are going to drive sport – it needs to be consistent.

“We’ve done a lot of work around getting a female-friendly venue as well. I’d say we’re very safe as a sports ball for every single sport and that helps translate in driving women’s sport.

“We’re very lucky because we get a good, safe crowds for all sports. But I would say the atmosphere is definitely more children-friendly when we show females sports. If I have an England men’s match on, I might be reticent to let children in on that day, but with women’s sport, I would have no qualms. When we were on capacity for the England against USA game, we had loads of children and loads of women, it was really fantastic.”

Famous 3 Kings exterior resized
Sporting icon: the Famous Three Kings in Fulham

Eastwood explains the beauty of women’s sport over men’s is the players are in it more for the intrinsic enjoyment of the sport rather than being driven by money or even the winning to an extent and he finds that passes down to the viewers too.

“It doesn’t seem to have been corrupted as much as the male sports have with the kind of money involved,” Eastwood says.

“And when the challenge goes in during the men’s football, those guys roll around for 10 minutes. I've watched quite a bit of women’s football on TV while it’s been on in the pub and after a challenge the women are straight back up, shake hands and off they go. It just seems like a more honest kind of way to show and play sports.”

Tips for match days

Meanwhile, match-day tips for pubs from Fanzo include making screens visible throughout the bar, consider zoning if you have the space and ensure the commentary is audible; and cater for people who prefer to sit at a table and take into consideration more family-oriented customers when creating a complementing menu.

However, as witnessed during the men’s Euros last year, when the weather is warm, there’s a frantic search for venues with outdoor screens. If advertised well, these can be a huge driver of lucrative advance bookings.

With 82% of sports fans in the UK using at least one search engine to help them choose a venue showing a specific game on TV, it’s imperative to advertise what you’re showing online.

Pubs and bars should look to start advertising games two to four weeks before the tournament starts for maximum effect.

While it’s unlikely to oust the FIFA World Cup as this year’s biggest footfall driver, this year’s UEFA Women’s Euro tournament will definitely be bigger than ever.

Research by insight expert CGA shows the opportunity available from statistics in lager sales during men’s football. When the England men’s team played in the 2018 World Cup, lager sales shot up versus the average respective day during that year.

It found a 97% rise on Tuesday 18 June for a group game followed by 58% (Monday) and 85% for the final group game (Friday). The last 16 match versus Colombia (Tuesday) saw sales boosted by 144% as England won a penalty shoot-out (yes that’s correct for the those with no memory power, England actually won a penalty shoot-out). A Saturday quarter-final against Sweden provided a 55% lager sales boost while the semi-final loss versus Croatia on a Wednesday was tempered somewhat by a huge 158% surge in lager purchases.

Of course, gaining groups as footfall at your pub is a great way to increase sales through selling more drinks and almost certainly at a quicker pace.

Research by insights expert Lumina Intelligence shows 36% of pub and bar visits are social get-togethers and some 8% of all gatherings are to watch sport. What’s more, its research also suggests a rise in drinking-only occasions is more likely to be part of the recipe for sports viewing with beer being the beverage consumed the most alcoholic drink at 66% followed by wine at 17%, spirits and cider both at 14% and cocktails at 13%.

Linking fans with sporting quality

Eastwood of the Famous Three Kings says the more viewers women’s football and sport in general gets, the quality of action rises as well. “As viewing goes up then funding goes up in sport and it all improves and that then pushes it on again to the next level. That’s why it’s very important to champion women’s sport because it is on the rise.”

Developing an awareness of women’s sport and the importance of getting pubs behind it can be the difference in removing any stigma attached to women’s sport not being as socially accepted as men’s sport – and that means getting customers behind it too.

“Even though we are progressing, I still think there’s a way to go to make sure we are fully female-friendly and fully engaged with female sports,” he explains. “I work very hard to encourage the type of behaviours from my customers that that I want, and that are acceptable to give an environment that is susceptible to having women’s sports or driving women’s sport. It is important as operators, as pub companies, as pub managers that we make that effort and if we see any unsociable aspects happening, we need to challenge them. We need to step up, we need to go ‘you know what, this isn’t right’.

“We’ve started the Ask For Angela​ scheme but there’s still more [pubs] can do. We are getting there but we should be saying ‘this isn’t the behaviour we want’ and ‘it’s not going to happen in my pub’. And when that starts to happen then maybe we will start to see a few more women’s sports and women’s events happening in pubs.”

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