Saturday 24 July 2010

World Cup pub bonanza a damp squib

Mitchells & Butlers', owners around 2000 pubs and restaurants in various chains, including Harvester, Toby Carvery, All Bar One, Nicholson's and O'Neill's, have reported that, compared to the same period last year, sales dropped by 2% during the World Cup month. Food was especially affected.

This reinforces my long-held view that the way to sustainable profitability for pubs is not through one-off events, such as big sporting competitions, because that does not encourage sports fans to become pub regulars. On the contrary, I believe it could reinforce a view of pubs as somewhere you go to just for such special occasions, rather than being a part of your normal social life.

The problem is that if some pubs didn't put these events on, there would probably have been more people staying at home with their sandwiches and supermarkets drinks, leading to even greater downturn in trade. It's a sad state of affairs that some pubs feel they have to rely on big sport events rather than regular trade, but M&B's findings suggest that they are merely an inadequate life support system rather than a solution. I know licensees who are getting rid of Sky Sport as it doesn't pay its way in their pubs. I wonder how many after the World Cup are weighing up which is better: less trade but no Sky, or a bit more trade and paying Sky a fortune?

I don't have the answers, and I avoid pubs showing sport like the plague, but it seems clear to me that big sporting events cannot be the pubs' salvation.


  1. Probably as M&B specialise in dining pubs, they would suffer as people were less likely to go out for a meal during the World Cup.

    I would have thought a community pub that didn't show the games would put itself at a disadvantage against those that did.

  2. I'm sure that's true in some instances, but more than one licensee has told me that the Sky subscription doesn't earn its keep, with one definitely ditching it. But irrespective of that particular debate, I believe my general point that sport is a short term fix for pubs still stands.

  3. I was recently told by a pub manager who had just had Sky taken out, that Sky were happy to push the pub subscription price up and for pubs to drop out. If only ten out of the fifty punters who watched football for "free" in the pub, took out their own subscription at home because it was not available in the pub then Sky were making even more money. Obviously, they were not worried about the other forty, it's all about increasing the home subscription.

  4. An interesting point, David; I can well believe it.


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