Sunday 13 February 2011

Race to the bottom

Yesterday, the Manchester football Derby was screened on Sky TV at 12.45 pm. So I avoided going to the pub at all that lunchtime, as I expected them all to be full of raucous football supporters. I actually poked my nose around the door of one local pub at about 3.45, and it still was.

I have written before about how so many local pubs seem to be competing with each other in promoting live football and karaoke. I don’t deny that televised football has a strong following and draws many customers in, but on the other hand plenty of others have little or no interest in it. Licensees seem to take the view that if they don’t have it, they will lose trade, but across pubs as a whole many potential customers will be deterred, and of course Sky Sports costs pubs a huge amount of money. It’s a case of waiting for the other guy to blink first. As with many other things, surely a diversity in offer is in the interests of the pub trade as a whole, rather than everyone trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

It’s also very noticeable that most of the pubs that have closed recently have made increasingly desperate attempts to draw in customers by promoting cheap meals, karaoke and live footie.

Going to the pub is expensive compared with drinking at home, and if anything that differential is going to widen in the future. So, while it might seem a good idea in the short term, in the long run pitching your appeal at downmarket customers doesn’t look like a very sound business strategy.

(awaits tirade of faux laddery from Cooking Lager...)


  1. It does puzzle me as well how uniform most pubs were, even before e.g. smoking ban.

    In a way. it's nice and reassuring, you always knew what you were getting before you went in, but I for one can live without the football and karaoke. But I can't live with the smoking band.

  2. Yes, the uniformity of the pub offer is perhaps something worth developing in a future post. Another area in which it applies, which I have commented on, is that the vast majority of pubs have (with a few tweaks) much the same food menu.

    In rural areas and outer suburbia this might make sense, but in urban areas it's harder to understand.

  3. Also worth adding that, whether you like it or not, the Albion in Chester, mentioned in this post, is making a serious effort to differentiate its offer.

  4. A pub round my way sank so low it started having strippers shortly before it closed down.

  5. Ah yes, strippers. OK if it's a town centre dive or the pub over the road from the football ground fair enough.

    In an out of town typical local pub, what possesses these morons? As a business proposition it never ever ever (did I say ever?) works.

    My old local (long since gone) went down this road of topless barmaids, strippers etc. The dickhead responsible lasted about 9mths before going bankrupt, but in the process killed one of the best pubs going for miles around.

    First of all the women stopped going in, then they stopped their hubbys with the "You're not going in there with those dirty bastards", then friends of those barred by their women folk stopped going in because well their friends who they go out to see were elsewhere.

    Once regulars start drinking elsewhere and get their feet under the table as it were, they very rarely go back to their original haunt as they've made new friends etc in the new place.

    The only punters that frequent the strip joints are usually dodgy fuckers that don't live locally and once the stripshows stop so do they.

    Then the pub gets taken over, the stippers long since gone but the pub still has the sleasy rep and the women folk still say "Eew we're not going in there".

    Several Landlords later the pub is sold off never to re-open again as a pub gets turned into a mini-mart that also never opened as in the meantime a Netto is built and opened 200yds down the road.

    The same story happens up and down the land, but still they try as with them "It's different".

  6. I also get the impression that many licensees don't really have much idea about marketing, and are lacking in good advice. In the old days, when pubs were pretty homogenous and trade was healthy, this may not have been a problem, but it is now. Have they analysed what kind of people live nearby, or are likely to be passing their door? And what they want, and what they don't want?

    If a Spoons or a Brewer's Fayre closes or is sold on, at least you know that someone has analysed the situation and reached a conclusion that that particular formula won't work in that location.

  7. "many licensees don't really have much idea about marketing" - There lies the problem. Running a pub used to be everyone's third job ( after their own and managing the England Football team ) but the problem is now that , in order to make a success of it, a higher calibre of licensee is required.

    The cannon fodder of the dreamers are now diminishing as the horror stories grow about the bankruptcies aided and abetted by the Pubcos and their punitive business models.

    I would never eat anywhere that offered 2 meals for £5 and I don't need to pay that to eat dog food, karaoke is no longer a novelty and , as much as I like football, watching it in a pub is a nightmare.

  8. The problem is that football in a pub takes over; if, like me, you're not interested, it's impossible to ignore with the overloud TV and the noisy crowd in the pub. It's not a relaxing experience, so I avoid pubs that display the Sky sports banner.

    I've also noticed that the football fans are often not regular customers; most will come for the match and you won't see them again until the next one. In the meantime, regular pub users like me are driven elsewhere.

    One of our real ale pubs took out the Sky sports a year or two ago because the sales it generated didn't cover the cost.

  9. Faux laddery? Football is a popular game followed by people of all social classes. I accept it is not appreciated by all, but for a pub to a focal point of its community it is more than a box of bricks serving pongy ale and populated by middle aged beards. Football is not a move downmarket but a response to demand. By all means steer clear, but only snobs sneer at what they do not like and refer to it as downmarket.

    I notice there is less sneering about showing the 6 nations rugby.

  10. Sky sports in pubs, I hate.
    Pubs pretending to be pubs but in actual fact are restaurants, I hate.
    Smoking ban, I hate.
    Inexperienced bar staff, I hate.
    Queuing for a drink whilst bar staff chat, I hate.
    Well at least I hate fairly.

  11. As the Six Nations is shown on terrestrial TV it isn't such an event for pubs anyway. Plus it isn't every weekend from August to the end of May. The issue is that footie all too often takes over pubs to the exclusion of all else.

  12. Rugby just isn’t that popular, that’s why it’s on in fewer places. You can't find a pub without the footie on? I have a different problem, many pubs that used to show it no longer do. They worked out the cost is too high and presumably the benefits negligible. The market didn’t support it on everywhere. There isn’t a one size fits all model of pub success. If a pub notices that the footie improves custom, what is wrong with that? I don’t much like karaoke or pub quizzes and would avoid places offering that. I wouldn’t sneer at it, if that is what people like good luck to them. Maybe your beer club should publish a list of what is acceptable in a pub. 20 cask beers, no lager, no children, no food, no one wearing a soccer shirt. Every town in the country would still have the trade for at least one pub.

  13. Perhaps those pubs that don't have Sky should have the courage of their convictions and make it a selling point in their publicity, as the Albion in Chester does.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. Unregistered comments will generally be rejected unless I recognise the author. If you want to comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.