World cup

FEATURE: Create chances to cash in on the World Cup

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Get behind England and Wales: people always remember where they were during the World Cup (credit: Getty/South_agency)
Get behind England and Wales: people always remember where they were during the World Cup (credit: Getty/South_agency)

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Do you remember when Manchester United were smashing teams to pieces in the ’90s?

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The World Cup in Qatar is just around the corner and with 76% of football fans looking to book venues to watch matches this year, we look at how you can make your venue stand out ahead of the tournament.

During the last World Cup, beer sales in the UK were up 4.4% but with this year’s tournament taking place in the winter – you may be worried about generating the same sales this year.

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In our free guide​ for operators we explore how to make the most of your pre-tournament venue promotion to generate sales and help you find out how to:

• Get your venue listed in the top local positions on Google

• Prepare an effective email marketing strategy

• Generate more advance bookings

• Offer a spectacular guest experience

It’s not too early to start planning and ensuring you and your venue don’t get caught offside this world cup. Download your free comprehensive guide here​.

With Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole up front, in 1999 the team won the League, FA Cup and European Cup (shout out to Teddy and Ole, of course) – and back then it was 4-4-2 all the way.

Well times change, right? Ask any Man Utd fan about how disappointing the past few seasons have been. Now, the most popular formation these days is 4-2-3-1 – and being adaptable, along with having a great team, is key to remaining successful.

The same goes for the pub game. Great staff members are always a key requirement but having the ability to flex is just as important so going that extra yard for events such as screening the World Cup is essential to making the bottom line look anything near presentable in today’s climate.

The World Cup takes place between 21 November and 18 December represents the only time the premier football tournament will take place outside UK summertime but pub operators must start getting their gameplan in place now if they haven’t already begun.

If you want to pick up any form of accolade – fiscal or gratitude from customers – you’re going to have to combine the event with Christmas. If you get it right, you could hit a financial goldmine that could see your business pay off more than one utility bill this winter.

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People want to watch sport at pubs

The World Cup offers pubs and bars a great opportunity to win according to data expert CGA by NielsenIQ.

Its Championing On Premise Sport in 2022 & Beyond​ report from June 2022 reveals more than half (54%) of consumers are now watching live sporting events of some kind – and a third (33%) are doing so in pubs and bars.

Among this group, a similar proportion (32%) enjoy sport in venues at least weekly, and one in seven (14%) only watch big sporting occasions there. Football remains their favourite sport by a long distance, with more than two thirds (69%) of sports consumers watching it in pubs and bars.

The report’s research for last year’s delayed men’s Euros tournament highlighted the impacts of TV sport in the on-trade, which showed a gulf in sales figures between venues screening the final, where average daily sales jumped by 64%, and those not showing it, where sales dipped by 5%.

Although the tournament was hit by Covid restrictions, stats for the 2016 tournament showed there were extra sales of 1,340 pints of beer across all matchdays. Spirits and soft drinks also performed well, with average matchday sales uplifts of 9% and 7% respectively. The tournament showed drinks offers and trade-up promotions can both work well – though domestic nations need to progress deep into the competition for the full benefits to be realised so fingers crossed that England and Wales perform well.

The report also indicates the best times to start influencing consumers’ decisions on watching the World Cup. The start of planning for festive occasions peaks in September and October, when a fifth (20%) start to think about their celebrations – though a third (32%) have already started to plan or will do so as early as July.

CGA by NielsenIQ client director Chris Sterling says: “The World Cup brings huge potential for pubs, bars and drinks suppliers – especially because relatively few fans will travel to the tournament. But with so much overlap with festive occasions, it will also be a tricky one to strategise and our research can help establish exactly how football fans will interact with pubs and bars in November and December.

“Businesses that prepare well for the tournament should get an excellent return on investment, and they will be well placed to capture more share of the sports market in 2023 as well.”

More recently, CGA by NielsenIQ’s Drinks Recovery Tracker showed average sales by value in managed venues in the seven days to Saturday 6 August were 4% ahead of the same week in 2019.

This could be put down largely to England’s women winning the Euro 2022 tournament on Sunday 31 July in a gripping match against Germany.

That Sunday provided sites surveyed with a 10% value sales boost versus the same day in 2019 – this was also a day with glorious weather so pubs will have to think of how to make a significantly cooler day in December work for them for the men’s World Cup final.

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10 tips on screening the World Cup

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Star Pubs & Bars central operations director Caren Geering suggests give pubs her advice:

• Start screening football matches in the months before the World Cup starts so customers automatically associate you with a place to watch football

• Use bunting, flags and social media to highlight you will be screening the World Cup

• Put up advertising banners, rewrite your A-boards, hang posters in prominent positions and put out tent cards/calendars on tables

• Establish a drum roll of social media posts to maintain awareness of your screening of the World Cup include what you will have to offer that pops out from your competitors

• Because it is winter and leading up to Christmas, look at how you can cater for football fans without cannibalising your non-sports trade. Make use of the great outdoor spaces like marquees and pergolas created during Covid. Think warmth and shelter

• Logistically, look at food and drink that doesn’t require plates, cutlery and glasses. It should be easy to deliver and consume – think pizzas, hot dogs and bottled beers. That way, bar and kitchen staff can cater for celebratory meals and functions at the same time

• Think about the activities before and after the match to increase dwell time, this can be entertainment, football quizzes, sweepstakes, karaoke and even ramp up the music during half time to create a great atmosphere

• Put in place a mechanism for customers to order and pay at their tables, think about the promotional activity to support this, for instance bottle buckets/pitcher deals are perfect to help your staff and take the pressure off the bar

• Offer pre-match competitions – for instance winning prime position with a VIP table and what this includes

• Make sure to cross market Christmas and the World Cup in all promotional activity.

From nightclub to sports bar

One pub raring to take on the World Cup is Admiral Taverns site, the Dartford Sports Bar, in Kent.

The pub, operated by Chris Michaelmas and April Reeves underwent a £370,000 renovation that saw it change its focus from being a nightclub to becoming a sports bar​.

Licensee Michaelmas says: “It had been a nightclub since about 2005 and we took it over in 2020 but our opening night was the day Boris Johnson first went on the telly and shut all pubs and hospitality down. We count our blessings that we came through that period relatively unscathed.

“We have had the revamp and raring to go for the new season and the World Cup. We were packed for the FA Community Shield and for the Women’s Euro final – and we were really busy throughout the tournament. We were fortunate to have all the same customers who watched it come back for the final.

“I think our USP is just how many television screens we’ve got and private booths [in which a lot of screens are located] and an amazing surround sound system. So that’s a major pull. We’ve also got a lovely food menu.”

He adds offers on food and drink also help gain footfall. For example, four-pint jugs work very well on football days while two-for-one cocktails boosted sales, particularly during the Women’s Euro 2022.

The bar recommends screening all football – Premier League, Championship, Champions League – which is the pub’s “bread and butter” but has also ventured into other sports during the football off-season like UFC and darts, and is able to do so because it has subscriptions to “practically every single sporting package”. It has also introduced some female-targeted offers such as bottomless brunches, a “Friday night out girls’ package”, which includes food, cocktails and shots.

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Another boon for trade is the fact the pub has a late-night licence on Thursdays to Saturdays so watching sports screened at that time pays dividends, including the pre-season football friendlies that took place before the season started.

With 23 screens and a pub split into four main zones, capturing a World Cup audience seems an inevitability. Its courtyard garden includes private booth seating areas with six screens available outdoors. Michaelmas says: “We’re planning on putting a marquee lid over the whole courtyard where we can get about 150 people in there.

“My vision is seeing a massive England flag as the roof. With all the effort licensees put into making their gardens lovely during Covid, I would really suggest that, in the winter, they come up with some waterproofing and heating solutions and remain really invested in their gardens.”

He adds the pub offered a £100 per person “season ticket” package for the Women’s Euros, which involved each customer receiving food, drinks and a private booth with a TV screen for the first three England group games of the tournament. This also gave guests the option of retaining that same seat for the final if they wanted it. The pub pre-sold 100 tickets before the tournament began.

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Sports viewing a high priority

Visiting a pub to watch football when the Men’s Euros 2020 took place in the summer of 2021 was the second most popular reason after the permanent number one reason of getting together with friends or family, according to insight expert Lumina Intelligence.

Research from Lumina for the four-week period ending 11/07/21 – which was when the Euros 2020 took place – showed 12% said their visit to a pub or bar was mainly to watch sport versus get-together with friends or family (40%), after-works drinks (6%), business meeting/meal (2%), celebration (5%), date/date night (10%), night out (10%), other occasion (12%) and pub crawl (2%).

Contrast this to the most recent data from Lumina for the four-week period ending 12/06/22 and watching sport gains a more modest 8%. In fact, the research shows sporting events at the pub since the football tournament when England reached the final has not fared anywhere near as well. The Tokyo Olympics (6%), Women’s Rugby World Cup (6%), T20 Cricket World Cup (6%), Winter Olympics (4%) and Six Nations rugby (9%) have all been behind when put up against the big football action.

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Advice gleaned from survey

Technology provider Access Hospitality says 76% of football fans are looking to book venues to watch World Cup this year and offers its advice to pubs and bars after beer sales in the on-trade rose 4.4% (source: DesignMyNight survey) during the 2018 tournament in Russia.

A survey by provided some interesting data about what consumers are looking for from the venues they choose for watching the matches and how operators can maximise the opportunity ahead, even with it taking place during winter.

Some 19% of respondents said they were “OK” with the competition taking place in the winter and 30% even said they would be happy to view matches in a heated beer garden meaning the work pubs undertook during Covid to improve their outdoor spaces could prove an essential revenue stream.

Conclusions from the survey by Access Hospitality has led it to recommend a pub to promote its best features, create themed events and tell customers your plans.

When choosing what was important for a venue screening the World Cup, 51% said it was the atmosphere, 13% said how big the screen is and 30% said where the screen is.

Therefore, if you would like to make sure you attract guests for the tournament, you need to consider the upgrades you want to install as soon as possible.

The business suggests running a ticketed event that permits customers a guaranteed view of a screen, which could help persuade guests to choose your venue and offer an opportunity to bundle a seat with a food and drink package – generating pre-event sales so you can plan accordingly. While listing your venue or event on a marketing platform like is a great way to promote the features of your venue.

The World Cup offers an opportunity to get creative with your menu, run themed activities and build some enticing food and drink offers to get the football crowds through your doors.

Football-themed quiz nights are a great way to draw the right crowd to you while special cocktails and menus related to the teams playing could be bundled together so people can pre-order when booking, generating sales before your guests have even walked through the door.

A match-day snack menu with finger foods like mozzarella dippers or nachos could provide extra sales too.

For the match itself, using an order and pay-at-table system can keep the food and drink flowing without disturbing your guests’ enjoyment of the game – just make sure you have table menus promoting what you have on offer. Access Hospitality’s system only needs a QR code scan for instant information and helps reduce queues at the bar.

Make sure you tell your customers what you’re doing for the games – from upgraded screens and new viewing areas to food and drink packages and selling tickets. A CRM software system can help you run targeted email campaigns to your customer base to tell them about what you’re doing for the World Cup and you can make sure you target the right customers based on their previous interest in sporting event communications.

Why not have some fun with your email communications, you can use funny football puns in your subject lines, as well as increase engagement by personalising messaging using the customer’s name and using relevant football imagery or images that show off your venue.

The survey found 57% of football fans would continue going to view World Cup matches even if England fail to progress, which means you can continue your marketing campaign for the duration of the event – offering plenty of opportunities to bring your regulars back during the World Cup.

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The plan for Sussex Inns

According to research conducted by Sky, 79% of pub-going sports fans plan to watch the tournament in a licensed premises. The same research showed more than two thirds of pubgoers are more likely to watch the World Cup in a venue where they’ve viewed Sky Sports fixtures previously, so making your pub famous for football now, should pay dividends through to November and beyond. 

Sussex Inns operates 10 hospitality sites, three of which are leased from Star Pubs & Bars and specialise in sport, these being the William Hardwicke and the Station in Bognor Regis and the Dolphin in Littlehampton, all in West Sussex.

Richard Lawler, area manager for Sussex Inns, says although the timing of the World Cup could be seen as cannibalism of any pub’s ever-busy run-up to Christmas, it works well for Sussex Inns because it has two sites close to each other in Bognor that have differing focuses.

“For our more football-orientated customer, the Station and the newly refurbished Champs sports bar upstairs is the best place for that experience,” says Lawler. “The William Hardwicke will be showing the football but it has a food offer so its best placed to cater for the Christmas party market. We’ve got tailored menus for both Christmas and the World Cup as well as VIP packages too.”

In terms of technology, investments were made just before Covid hit, for example the William Hardwicke has an outside bar with an 80-inch waterproof screen for showing sports. A giant umbrella covers the garden on rainy days but Sussex Inns is looking at a number of other options such as stretch tents to make the area even more useable during the winter months.

Lawler adds: “If you can invest in making your area weatherproof, it’s something to consider because it gives you more trading area options. Inside, there is booth seating with mini screens and four big screens around the pub, allowing multiple games to be shown simultaneously. The Station and the Dolphin have a similar set up with two 65-inch screens in the venue.”

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Marketing will be done via putting up point-of-sale, using its social media channels and letting customers know its plans for the period.

A link-up with Chichester University campus means the various sports societies and associations are told what will be happening too. “This really helps with games that England aren’t playing because we can target the international students when a country like Spain is playing,” says Lawler. “It just helps to maximise all of the opportunities that the World Cup brings, and not just around England and Wales games.”

Sussex Inns says the marketing of the World Cup and Christmas needs to be started by August at the latest. In fact, pre-booking for both events began in July with 200 invitations sent to customers and local businesses to highlight both events and the packages available.

Lawler says: “We put a huge amount of time and effort making sure that we are screening sport to a high standard and marketing our offer effectively.  Sports is a key focus for us and it’s important we do it well so customers can rely on us when they want to watch sports – whether its football, cricket or golf.

“We opened Champs in June because we wanted to make sure people within the area knew we were serious about sport ahead of the start of the Premier League and leading up to the World Cup.”

Ideas for pub operators that will be used by Sussex Inns include beer towers that allows table to have a large amount of beer that can be dispensed by customers and it is also offering cocktail making masterclasses with nibbles ahead of the games too.

The pubco also recommends those at the beginning of their sports-screening journey to check their audio-visual kit a month before the tournament starts. This includes your box, TVs, other screens and sound systems a month before, a fortnight before, a week before and then in the lead-up to the matches themselves.

“You are so dependent on that equipment and without it, you have no sports offer so it’s worth keeping on top of that,” Lawler warns. “My other tip would include keep the atmosphere going at half time, no matter what the result.  What we do is create a football playlist with all the usual hits that come out around the World Cup and Euros so when half time comes around, we turn down the volume and turn up the music. It works every time.”

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PoS could be key

Star Pubs & Bars says 48% of people who want to watch the World Cup will do in a pub after citing research by insights business Toluna. It also discovered atmosphere is a major reason why fans prefer to watch sports in pubs, with three quarters (76%) saying this was the case.

The pubco also expects more than 1,000 of its licensees to snap up its free World Cup kits that are each worth more than £60.

Together with Heineken UK, Star is investing £200,000 into supporting its pubs for the World Cup with a package that includes an online hub offering insight into how to get your pub match-fit for the tournament, funding discounts on Sky subscriptions, bunting, external signage and social media assets.

It adds 150 sports-focused pubs will also benefit from a World Cup makeover and special promotions from Heineken UK that will include a Christmas theme to pair the footy with festivities.

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Will the World Cup always be free on TV?

Major sporting tournaments such as the World Cup do not require a big-money payment to a TV subscription service because they are broadcast on terrestrial TV. However, sports streaming service Screach has warned this made not always be the case.

Chief executive Robert Rawlinson (pictured below) tells The MA​: “In some markets, I think In France for example, some of the games are being put behind a paywall. This means the French national games are put on Canal+ (free-to-air channel) but FIFA has sold some of the content meaning if you want to watch, say, Brazil v Germany, it may be a paid-for match.

“In the UK, there’s nothing stopping that happening. It hasn’t happened in this World Cup. But it is happening in a lot of sports such as Sky having some NFL rights while the NFL keep some and that is going to happen in tier one marquee events such as the Olympics and the World Cup – all these sports rights owners are trying to find a way to monetise their rights.

“Instead of having all the group games for free, you might find you get two out of four group games for free with the others behind a paywall – it will happen, it’s just about when.

“There’s no embargo on FIFA putting non-England games behind a paywall – and FIFA could also launch its own service meaning it would sell the country games that are free in a territory but if you want to watch any of the other World Cup games, you may have to buy the FIFA subscription on the FIFA app and watch it from there.

“It comes down to whether FIFA will make more money with that approach – the answer is it will because the economics are inevitable.”

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Fast-approaching event

Admiral Taverns marketing manager Emma Cottam says although the weather has been incredible during the past month or so, pubs may find the idea of planning now for a winter event surreal but warns the World Cup will be here before you know it.

She says: “The World Cup takes place right in the middle of the festive season so the earlier you start your planning the easier it will be to run your events.

“On the practical side of things, make sure you order your beer well in advance so that you have plenty to go around, check that all your television screens are working and that you have the correct channels and licences.

“You could even create a ‘fan zone’ so those wanting to watch can see and hear the game clearly, which doesn't impact your regular customers who may not be interested.”

She also advises putting up eye-catching posters around your community to let them know what you’re doing for the event and sorting out bucket beer and finger food deals.

Another idea would be to put yellow and red cards on each table to help ordering of drinks easier. When customers wave the yellow card, it means a full round of the same again but a red card means new orders at the table.

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Drinks offer is key

Drinks business Diageo says pubs and bars need to focus on providing the best drinks and service to capture World Cup footfall.

Diageo head of category development, on-trade, Jennifer Runciman explains beer and spirits are key to sports-watching customers. She says: “Beer is an incredibly popular choice with research showing the category is favoured by sporting consumers in the on-trade. Therefore, stocking a good range of beers is a must during the World Cup. Guinness is the number one stout in GB and is synonymous with quality and one many customers will expect to see on the bar.

She adds ensuring your Guinness offer is right will help drive sales and lock in repeat visits and, hopefully, grow a regular customer base in the long term.

“Ensuring the beer is at the correct temperature and ensuring glassware is clean are simple things that can be done to ensure a good consumer experience,” she states.

One way of doing this is to use Guinness’s MicroDraught on-tap technology, which uses a ‘keg’ that is so small, it comes in a can. The cans slot into the Guinness MicroDraught unit and are said to offer “a beautiful serve of Guinness in a pint glass, every time”.

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When it comes to spirits, stocking already popular options such as Tanqueray gin is a great option says Runciman, which has a number of variants such as Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla, Tanqueray Rangpur Lime and Tanqueray Blackcurrant Royale. The Diageo chief says one in two gin serves in the on-trade are variants so premium gin innovations are a must-stock.

Runciman adds: “Vodka is the number one ingredient in cocktails currently, providing a golden opportunity for operators during the World Cup this year.

“A cocktail menu needn’t be over-complicated. Offering G&Ts with a twist or vodka-based spritz serves can elevate a menu and provide customers with new and exciting premium options to explore. The key will be to leverage high-quality spirits, such as Smirnoff Raspberry Crush (37.5% ABV), Cîroc Summer Citrus (37.5% ABV), and Gordon’s Tropical Passionfruit Distilled Gin (37.5% ABV), which staff can use to create quality serves in a few easy steps.”

She adds visibility is key to selling spirits and that includes ensuring costs are written clearly on menus and any promotions that are on offer are written on chalkboards, shared via social media or included in table-top advertising.

And don’t forget to consider no and low-alcohol options carefully. Diageo says there is an expectation of customers to seek serves they wouldn’t necessarily create at home. Examples it suggests of what to stock are non-alcoholic variants of Seedlip Grove 42, Seedlip Garden 108 and Seedlip Spice 94.

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Preparation is vital

Now you know what you’ve got to do – and you don’t have to be Gareth Southgate to get it right.

If you treat your pub’s set-up like a top football team, you can get the right result in increasing footfall while sales rise – and plenty of those new customers could stick around for more than the festive period.

As the great Pele once said: “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

So you know what you what you’ve got to do... you’ve got to hold and give but do it at the right time​ (skip to 2.30mins for the finest rap ever in a ‘football song’ (or just click on the video below)).

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