Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - November 2002
Too many pubs waste money on satellite TV sports
One of the biggest success stories for pubs in recent years has supposedly been the crowds attracted by major televised sporting events. But major regional brewer Greene King have recently terminated the Sky TV subscriptions for 100 of their 373 managed houses, after the company discovered broadcasting live football matches was not lifting sales enough to justify the cost of having the package.
While live football may appear to attract customers, it must be remembered that even key European matches gain less than half the audience of Coronation Street or East Enders, and the prospect of Middlesbrough vs. Southampton on a wet Monday night in November is hardly likely to tempt people off the street. Although Wetherspoons have no TV in any of their pubs, their trade was scarcely affected during the recent World Cup.
Football has its place (preferably in the vault), but beyond major finals is never going to generate mass appeal. It only takes a handful of enthusiastic supporters shouting and chanting to deter a large number of quieter customers, a problem that is made worse where the interior has been knocked through into one room, leaving nowhere to escape. In the long run, pubs that think they can prosper by encouraging loud, boorish behaviour are on to a loser. Most pubs should do no more than show whatever sport is on offer on terrestrial TV with the sound turned down.
A new bar that was cosy and comfortable really would be a surprise
"Opening Times" recently reported with surprise that two new, "trendy" bars that had opened in Manchester both sold real ale. However, while cask beer may be on offer, all too often it's the same diet of minimalist décor, bare wooden floors, vast open spaces and about three seats per acre - and those rather high and hard. What really would be a surprise is a new licensed establishment opening with carpeted floors, small rooms, upholstered bench seating, a wealth of dark wood, and an eccentric collection of china ornaments. Does nobody believe any more that pubs should be cosy?
Will a maturing population demand more traditional-seeming pubs?
So it made a refreshing change to see Sam Smith’s, in their excellent refurbishment of the Boar’s Head in Stockport, actually reinstating some walls rather than ripping them out. Currently this is so rare as to be newsworthy, but may be a foretaste of things to come. Apparently within a few years the average person in the UK will be over forty. Pub operators will have to come to terms with a more mature and discerning population, and the approach of packing young drinkers into echoing stand-up drinking barns that seems to have been so successful in recent times may not be the best formula for the long-term. Wide-screen football may have to go, and walls and seats make a welcome return.