Feature – Rugby World Cup

FEATURE: Scrum down to make money with the Rugby World Cup

By Matt Eley

- Last updated on GMT

Game on: providing a great rugby watching experience will increase footfall and takings (credit: Getty/Andreyuu)
Game on: providing a great rugby watching experience will increase footfall and takings (credit: Getty/Andreyuu)

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There’s nothing quite like a world cup to encourage sports fans into the pub to collectively enjoy the thrill of the action.

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Steve and Debbie Thomas, winners and owners of the Rising Sun, Middleton, Derbyshire

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A lot has changed since South Africa triumphed over England in the last edition of the tournament back in 2019 but the way sport brings people together remains as strong as a well-drilled pack.

According to stats from CGA, rugby is a sure-fire way of boosting dwell time and sales. This season’s Six Nations match days saw pubs generate 28% more through the tills than on equivalent days. With the Rugby World Cup taking place just over the channel in France, the timings mean the competition can have a similarly positive impact.

It all begins on Friday 8 September with a mouth-watering clash between hosts France and perennial favourites the All Blacks.

Between then and the final on Saturday 28 October, there will be many moments to remember on the field and in the pub as 20 countries battle for supremacy.

All the home nations go into the event with high hopes. English expectations may have been tempered by patchy recent form but Steve Borthwick’s charges arguably have the best of the pools. Scotland have drawn hotly tipped Ireland and champions South Africa, while Wales find themselves in a group with Australia.

It all amounts to a series of huge fixtures and a great opportunity for pubs across the country. Here are some of the ways they intend to make the tournament a winner for them.

Lisa James and her partner Graham Proud at the Seven Stars in Rugby
Lisa James and Graham Proud at the Seven Stars

Get ahead of the game

While the 10th edition of the Rugby World Cup gets under way in September, there are games galore in the build-up to whet the appetite of sports fans. The Summer Series will feature 12 teams playing 15 tests, including England facing Ireland as well as a double-header with Wales, and Scotland taking on France.

Unlike the Rugby World Cup, which will be broadcast on terrestrial TV on ITV, the Summer Series is available to pubs on Amazon Prime via Sky Sports.

Lisa James is licensee at the Seven Stars in Rugby, which is located a drop kick down the road from the famous school where William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran 200 years ago.

She says: “We are a big rugby pub so the World Cup will be massive for us. We will be showing the Summer Series games on Amazon via Sky, which will get people into it and ready for the tournament. That will build the excitement up.”

Extra time

As well as drawing fans in ahead of the main course in the autumn, pubs will be looking for ways to ensure customers get through the doors before matches and stick around after the final whistle. 

Justine Bedford the Royal Dyche
Justine Bedford at the Royal Dyche


Justine Bedford is licensee at Burnley pub the Royal Dyche, which is shortlisted for the Best Pub to Watch Sport in this year’s Great British Pub Awards​.

She says: “We’ll be putting on a DJ before and after games to get the party started and to encourage people through the doors. We’ve also got multiple screens and Sky boxes so we can show the rugby alongside football matches as fans like to keep an eye on both.

“We’ll be running sweepstakes, which encourage people to come in and watch other nations and not just England.”

Rugby World Cup 2023 key dates

France v New Zealand

8 September, 8.15pm

Ireland v Romania

9 September, 2.30pm

England v Argentina

9 September, 8pm

South Africa v Scotland

10 September, 4.45pm

Wales v Fiji

10 September, 8pm

Wales v Portugal

16 September, 4.45pm

Ireland v Tonga

16 September, 8pm

England v Japan

17 September, 8pm

England v Chile

23 September, 4.45pm

South Africa v Ireland

23 September, 8pm

Scotland v Tonga

24 September, 4.45pm

Wales v Australia

24 September, 8pm

Scotland v Romania

30 September, 8pm

Wales v Georgia

7 October, 2pm

England v Samoa

7 October, 8pm

Ireland v Scotland

7 October, 8pm


October 14 & 15


October 20 & 21

World Cup final

Saturday 28 October, 8pm

The place to be

According to CGA, two in five (41%) customers choose to watch sports in pubs or bars because the atmosphere is livelier and almost as many (39%) enjoy the chance to connect socially with friends.

Creating the perfect match day occasion is a huge priority for the Arc Inspirations sports bar chain BOX.

Managing director Anni Opong says: “At BOX, we ensure every venue is creating an electric atmosphere during a big sporting occasion.

“The shared experience of being alongside like-minded fans in the bar is really second only to being at the event itself, however, a dodgy TV or poor sound quality could ruin everything.

“We have 32 HD screens at our Brindleyplace venue in Birmingham to make it the ultimate location for sports fans, with great views throughout, wherever you are in the bar.”

Star Pubs & Bars also say creating the best possible atmosphere is essential.

Retail marketing director Cathy Olver says: “Dress your pub with rugby flags and bunting to create a ‘sense of occasion’. We’re giving licensees a free life-sized rugby player for selfie opportunities to encourage customers to create their own social media posts to advertise the pub.”

Sound and vision

Once the DJs have stopped playing at the Royal Dyche, the volume on the commentary will be turned up.

Bedford adds: “We have multiple screens as it is so important that everyone can see what’s going on.”

This means ensuring that your audio-visual equipment is up to standard.

Olver, at Star Pubs & Bars, continued: “A lot of people have state-of-the-art TVs at home, so watching on a decent screen could be a deciding factor over where to watch the Rugby World Cup. 

“Don’t put your screens where there are distractions, such as people walking past or above a fruit machine, which will also impact your AWP income.

“Keep the screen away from direct sunlight and away from the bar so non-sports fans can continue to order. If you’ve got a dedicated sports room – all the better.”

Feed their appetites

Watching live sport can be a hungry business. According to CGA, those who watch live sport in the pub spend more on food and drink than those who do not watch it.

Iris McBride, licensee of freehouse McBride’s on the Square in Comber, Northern Ireland, will be going with a theme.

“We do burgers, especially for the Six Nations, and we will do the same for the tournament using ingredients from all of the nations such as Italian cheese, Irish bacon and Scottish burgers.”

This tactic is endorsed by event partners Freemans which supplies food, drink and services at major events. It recently created a range of American-inspired dishes for the MLB series in London, and the same principle can be applied to the Rugby World Cup.

Simon Hanna, chief operating officer at Freemans, says: “From our experiences, operating at some of the stand-out events and venues across the UK – including Twickenham Stadium – it is evident that a strong food and beverage offer is paramount to boosting guest dwell time, both before and after kick-off.”

Even for pubs that are not known for food, major tournaments can be a time to get in the kitchen.

Bedford adds: “We are wet-led but we do half-time hot dogs to keep people fed and to make sure they don’t go anywhere else looking for food.”

Similarly, at the Seven Stars the team is planning to prepare Scotch eggs, pasties and pork pies to keep customers fed.

At the bar

Rugby fans are also well known for having something of a thirst so pubs can expect a boost in their beer sales. During the Six Nations, the long alcoholic drinks category enjoyed the biggest upswing in sales – up by 35% and 18% in sports and non-sports venues respectively (CGA).

James at the Seven Stars plans to capitalise on this by hosting a beer festival across the tournament’s opening weekend.

She says: “We’ll be getting in a range of casks because rugby fans do tend to like their beer. It will also bring in people who are not rugby fans but will enjoy the atmosphere.”

And while the beer will flow, don’t forget the one in five people who give alcohol a swerve. During the Six Nations, soft drinks sales were up 15% (CGA) and the Rugby World Cup should deliver similar returns.

asahi rugby world cup sponsor

Sam Rhodes, marketing director at Asahi ­– the official beer of the Rugby World Cup – says: “No and low-alcohol beer is one of the fastest growing areas of total beer (36% v 10%). It’s also one of the most profitable, commanding a price per litre of £9.57 v £7.50 for the total category.”

Plan ahead

Drinks company Diageo, whose brands include Guinness, Smirnoff and Captain Morgan, said planning ahead is needed to maximise the tournament for pubs.

The business says: “We can anticipate pubs and bars showing the games will be increasingly busy. Operators should ensure they offer a varied drinks range and food options, offer deals and promotions, have a good speed of service, and promote the match viewings in advance to encourage customers to make the most of their visit.

It says Guinness is synonymous with sporting events and its non-alcoholic variant is also a “must-stock”.

Also vital for pubs is to be able to drive awareness of a drinks offer so make sure to use table tents, chalkboards and having relevant PoS is used. Additionally, using social media to show what you serve is crucial as well.

Operators can capitalise on sporting moments by offering food options that pair well with certain drinks, Diageo adds.

The full squad

Rugby, like pubs, is a very broad church with fans of all ages. Pubs should use the tournament to cater beyond the die-hard fanatics.

CGA research shows sport brings friends and families together in hospitality with 75% of viewers watching in bigger groups than they would usually socialise with on non-sporting occasions.

Opong at Arc Inspirations says: “It is important venues are catering for all guests, including those that might not necessarily be a die-hard rugby fan. Venues that make this effort and offer something to everyone, sports fanatics or otherwise, will entice customers to stay in venues longer as opposed to just in and out for the game. At BOX, we offer activities such as shuffleboard, to provide ideal alternatives for people who aren’t glued to the game, or a perfect activity for people to get involved with before kick-off or after the final whistle.”


Linking up with brands involved in the tournament has benefits for both parties. Asahi is the global partner for the Rugby World Cup 2023 and has launched pint glasses, beer mats and PoS to promote the tournament. Customers can scan QR codes to win hundreds of rugby-themed prizes such as branded merch and beer vouchers.

Asahi marketing director Rhodes also recommends pubs sign up for the Fanzo app, which helps rugby fans find pubs showing live sport.

Rhodes explains: “If your pub or bar is planning to show Rugby World Cup games, consider signing up to Fanzo. The app’s rugby bar finder will help its 2m users find venues to watch the games in their local area.”

Iris McBride, who uses the app, adds: “We use Fanzo’s pint predictor game, which is a good way of getting customers involved so they can predict the score and win prizes.

“We will also be running promotions with Guinness, which we will show on the screens when the games aren’t on.”

Cathy Olver of Star Pubs & Bars

Try online

It almost goes without saying that how you promote and push the action online is as, if not more, important than your in-venue marketing. This means ensuring your website and social channels are kept up to date with the latest fixtures and events taking place in the pub.

Olver at Star said: “Promote the event through your social media posts, highlighting key benefits of watching the games at your pub such as the number of TVs, free snacks and table service.

“If you have the option, advertise table booking services through your social media posts and website to ensure that your customers pre-plan and allow you to plan staffing levels.

“Email customers following the event to remind them of what a great night was had and invite them along your pub to enjoy the next game.”

Rhodes at Asahi adds you need to ensure your WiFi is as slick as the Fijians’ passing.

“Some 85% of those who watch sports in pubs and bars expect free internet access. A fast and reliable connection has a direct result on loyalty, with four in five people more likely to revisit a venue that offers this – 64% say a poor connection makes them less likely to come back.”

Get it right and those rugby fans will keep returning for more, during and after the tournament.

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