Contrary to the popular impression, I do actually take a passing interest in football and quite enjoyed watching some of the matches in the World Cup. The problem in pubs is not that it is shown at all, but that it is allowed to dominate to the exclusion of all else. Given the cost of Sky TV, you can perhaps understand pubs wanting to put screens everywhere, but that makes it clear to those who aren’t interested in football that they’re not really welcome. If you just showed it in the vault you might think you weren’t getting your money’s worth. Last Spring I was in a pub that mainly concentrates on food trade, but even so has a screen in every section. A Premier League match involving two out-of-area teams was showing, with the sound up, but hardly anyone was watching. What is the point? It might be a good idea for Sky to offer a reduced subscription to pubs who were only going to show it in part of their interior, but that would be very hard to enforce.
Locally, I know that if I go to Spoons, or a Sam Smith’s pub, or one of the several beer-focused free houses in Stockport town centre, I won’t be confronted with a mass of chanting football fans. But surely I should be able to call in most pubs at random without being forced to research the fixtures before going out. And, in fact, the overwhelming majority of the pubs in my immediate area, including the two within realistic walking distance, do have Sky Sports.
In fact, there are growing signs that pubs are realising that every customer they attract with TV football puts at least one other off. It doesn’t convey the image that many pubs want to encourage. Much of this is to do with attracting dining trade, but there are straws in the wind that the micropub movement is encouraging a return to the old-fashioned drink and chat pub. Ralph Findlay of Marston’s says that sport is becoming less important to his pubs, while the Financial Times reports:
Surveys by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers reveal the proportion of landlords with a sports subscription is in steady decline. In 2003, it was 51 per cent but last season had slumped to 37 per cent.I saw a recent report that more people each year go to the theatre in London than attend all Premier League fixtures across the country, so the idea that football is something enjoying unrivalled national popularity is rather wide of the mark..
Kate Nicholls of the ALMR said with subscription costs averaging £15,000 a year and rising 5 per cent from next week, landlords were finding it harder to make the economics stack up.
“We are seeing a declining proportion of pubs majoring on sport,” she said. “Changing demographics and costs come into it. If you become a food-led pub, Sky becomes a luxury rather than a necessity.”
Apart from matches featuring City and United, I don’t see much sign around here that it actually draws in additional custom. Many pubs have it simply because they fear that, if they didn’t, all their customers would decamp elsewhere. A big match is a big earner. But, as I’ve said before, it’s a case of waiting for the other man to blink first. The total cost of Sky Sports to pubs probably greatly exceeds the additional revenue it generates for the pub trade as a whole. And the point is often made that many of the customers who flock in to watch the two big local clubs are never seen in the pub at other times and may not put that much money across the bar when they’re there.
At present, it would be nice to go in a pub and see the Test Match being shown on a TV screen. But I wouldn’t really go out of my way for it.