There are more options available of course and that can come from using terrestrial TV and from internet streaming services, which could be using boxes that allow access to overseas sources or boxes from the UK from other suppliers.
Paul Eastwood, licensee of award-winning managed Stonegate pub, the Famous Three Kings, has always used Sky and BT Sport subscriptions because that is where the most popular sport such as English Premier League, European Champions League, England cricket and English Premiership rugby are hosted.
A few years ago, the legalities of screening 3pm Saturday Premier League matches meant it was impossible to screen them so Eastwood reacted quickly to keep sport at the forefront of his pub.
He says: “We became unable to show English Premier League football at 3pm, which was through foreign boxes, but we had always shown foreign sports that were available to us.
“But those foreign games were kind of a background event rather than a main event so the end of 3pm English games meant we could really put all our focus into some of these niche sports, which meant it could be on the big screen with the sound too where we might have been marginalised before and only put them on a secondary or third area, or even to a TV with no sound.”
Eastwood adds his west London site uses a company that provides foreign satellite boxes and shows a variety of sports the rights to which are owned in the UK such as ice hockey via its Finland box – and with commentary in Finnish, it made a big selling point to pub customers from overseas.
He says: “We do spend quite a bit of money on these boxes but we make sure we do it in a legally compliant way so we’re not stepping on any of the big broadcasters’ toes.”
Alternative to the sporting giants
Screach is one platform challenging the current system with its Over The Top (OTT) streaming system, which allows pubs to use its services so it can run advertising on its screens when they are not screening anything and also sells sports action that is not controlled by providers of sports with UK rights.
Chief executive Robert Rawlinson of Screach tells The Morning Advertiser: “The direction of travel [of screening sports in pubs] is everything will be streamed, satellite and cable will be dead.
“There are tens of thousands of venues in the UK that use sports to drive turnover and, historically, for the past 15 years, there's only been one distribution mechanism, which has been satellite Sky.
“The average pub can spend typically about £21,000 to £24,000 pounds a year on subscription sports, if they have Sky and BT. And it’s proven to be a profit generator for pubs over the past 15 years because it drives in those people who essentially want to have a social experience so although it’s relatively expensive, it’s also very profitable for pubs to use it.”
Rawlinson (pictured below) explains that when BT entered the market six or seven years ago, Sky lost European Champions League football, UFC, Premiership rugby union and 50 English Premier League matches to the newcomer. This represented the first genuine competition to Sky on rights ownership in the UK.
However, Sky knew it would have to service BT Sport’s offering through its satellite box, which gives the original provider all the intelligence meaning it would know exactly which sports and competitions provide the biggest markets and money-making opportunities.
On the move towards streaming, Eastwood says: “From what I’ve seen, it is moving more towards streaming and Covid accelerated that because a lot of people got a lot more tech-savvy while being unable to go to the pub. They’ve been at home and found a way to, to kind of stream more.
“We’ve seen a few things moving to streaming like DAZN and we’ve had a few boxing and football events through them. The pub industry needs to catch up and invest some money in its internet and audio visual for streaming. I know a lot of sites that are not set up as well as us and also struggle with internet speeds, etc.”
Buying less mainstream sports
Screach’s Rawlinson says there is an opportunity for OTT providers to offer pub operators the option to buy, perhaps, less mainstream sporting events as they wish with no commitment to pay for long subscriptions and this is done over the internet.
Businesses like DAZN are winning rights to show sports in the UK and across Europe, and they can sell to streaming providers. Although Screach has been doing most of its work in Europe as the legacy providers lose contracts, it has gained permission to carry channels in the UK such as Premier Sports, which shows Scottish cup football, PRO14 rugby and domestic football cup competitions in Spain and Italy, for example; and LaLiga TV for Spanish league football.
Importantly for pub operators, businesses that use the internet to stream channels for pubs in this way must have licensees’ best interests in mind.
Rawlinson explains: “We built a technology that effectively aggregates all live sports onto one app, which also carries hospitality benefits, such as free digital signage because we’re not here to just replaced Sky set top boxes as a distribution mechanism. Our raison d’etre for the pub is how can we increase profitability? We are here to bring the most compelling content with the best and most flexible commercial terms. We were the first people to launch an enterprise subscription with a 30-day rolling agreement while Sky and BT have been selling 12 and 24-month agreements.
“You have to be the friend of the customer so they should try it, if it works, carry on using it, if it doesn’t work, get out of it. In a post-Covid world, we have to be focused on the profitability of these organisations, not just ‘can we squeeze them for a 12-month contract on sports?’.”
He adds that Amazon owns the rights to Ligue 1 football in France after long-term owner Canal+ lost the rights but Amazon has allowed Screach the exclusive rights to that sport. But it is because the business is the only provider capable of using and distributing them across the country. However, if any companies could do the same, Amazon would give them the rights too.
Rawlinson says this fact is borne out more so in Poland. He says: “The worm has effectively turned now. In some markets, it’s more developed than the UK. In Poland, where we operate with the NFL, there are now nine providers, nine owners of content. In the UK, you’ve really only got two plus Amazon but what other markets are doing is they’re becoming a predictor of what’s going to happen in the UK… Sky Germany has lost the Bundesliga to DAZN and Sky lost Serie A in Italy.”
Pubcos using Screach include Stonegate, Marston’s and Rileys.
The price of success
But what use can a pub that shows no sport gain from a platform that doesn’t offer the big football, rugby and cricket options with subscribing to Sky or BT Sport?
Rawlinson says: “You get your free digital signage marketing platform for free that allows you to market your business on screens for free, you can get some sports content, such as Premier Sports or Fightzone – it might not be tier one but it allows you to be completely independent of using satellite or buying a more expensive package. And then we have third tier options, which are more niche, such as the Polish premier league football.
“If a pub wants to dip its toe in the water of screening sport then what Screach allows you to do is just have a little bit of a plug and play menu option at a low cost and ask yourself ‘does it add value to my pub?’
“And I can’t name them but we are talking to a tier one rights owner in the UK because the content rights owners in the UK see the same landscape that has happened in every other market, which is, eventually, satellite will die so, at some point, they have to make the decision to put their content onto OTT.
“Our competitors are not Sky, BT or Amazon, they’re our customers. We’re here to make the environment cheaper, faster and better.”
But will the move to streaming mean cheaper costs for licensees? Rawlinson is not sure but says it is his aspiration. He explains his viewpoint: “I don’t think Sky or BT want to reduce their prices. And fragmentation doesn’t necessarily mean that as an aggregate, it’s cheaper. What it hopefully does is allow people to pick and choose a bit better so they only pay for the stuff they want.
“So say a licensee doesn’t want to show Moto GP, for example, but they have to pay for it as part of a package, what I’m hoping is that we become more profitable for venues for the investment they’re making in sports – they may end up paying the same for sports because if Sky and BT use the Screach platform going forward, they’re not necessarily just going to make it cheaper but we can have more flexible package options.”
The Famous Three Kings’ Eastwood says on the subject of pricing: “I think we will end up paying a little bit more for the more companies that want a piece of the action. I don’t think Sky or BT are going to reduce their costs, there’s going to be additional costs like we've seen with Amazon Prime as an extra or where we’ve taken Premier Sports on or La Liga TV, those are extra costs. And the likes of DAZN do more events that will cost extra plus the big box office stuff.”
Eastwood concludes with his tips on introducing a sports offer from scratch for any pub operator and that is to be serious and legally compliant, a pub needs to go straight in with the big boys so that means getting subscriptions with Sky and BT Sport because then you have the most popular sports to screen.
He adds being consistent with your offer is key so people know you will be showing the sport they want, with commentary, so a pub establishes that base. Once that starts building a loyal fanbase then you can start adding extra sports to build on your reputation as being able to kind of deliver a good sporting experience.