Can the World Cup save British pubs?

As pubs and restaurants across the UK prepare for the first unrestricted Christmas period in three years, the FIFA World Cup should be the perfect way to kick off crucial festive trade.

With around a third of sites at risk of closing in the new year, as energy, labor and food and drink prices soar, the industry is in desperate need of support. ‘a helping hand.

“So much depends on England and Wales functioning well. . . fingers crossed for sure,” said Chris Conchie, head of sports marketing at Greene King, which will broadcast the World Cup from Qatar next week to most of its 1,050 managed pubs. “As the tournament progresses, the games get bigger and bigger and their commercial impact also increases.”

But as the cost of living crisis intensifies and the weather turns colder, for some hopes of respite for the struggling hospitality sector are already fading.

Steven Alton, chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, which represents independent pubs, said many sites would have to trade 20% above pre-pandemic levels “just to stand still” amid “inflation and crippling energy costs”.

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“At least during the group stages, the biggest beneficiaries are likely to be retailers, where people can buy cheaper drinks, and food delivery businesses, especially if the weather is wet and cold,” Douglas Jack said. , a Peel Hunt analyst.

Around 16 million Britons will watch at least one World Cup game in a pub this year, according to projections produced by KAM, a research agency, and Fanzo, a pub finder app for sports fans.

But two-thirds of 300 pub-goers polled by KAM and Heineken said they would watch their spending more carefully during the World Cup this winter due to cost-of-living concerns.

A person walks past Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar on November 8, 2022
More Britons watch games in pubs when England are doing well in the later stages. However, the team have been out of form lately and Wales are expected to struggle © Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

The novelty of a winter World Cup is not without its complications for pubs and bars either: a clash with the Christmas holiday season has made planning for the event difficult and colder weather means that pub gardens will remain largely unused, reducing capacity.

“If we could have organized Christmas and the World Cup separately, we probably would have made more money, because there will be some cannibalisation,” said Sophie Herbert, marketing director of Beds and Bars Group, which manages the sports bar. Belushi’s.

GlobalData research, compiled for retailer VoucherCodes, predicts spending in hospitality venues would be 10% lower than the World Cup four years ago and 52% lower than last year. The research pinned the fall on cost of living concerns, colder weather and pubs having less space to accommodate customers due to Christmas holiday bookings.

“It’s not a normal World Cup where you put on your shorts and your bucket hat, grab a cider and head out into the sun,” Conchie said. Greene King has planned the World Cup longer than any other sporting tournament in his 20-year career because of the “overlap with Christmas”, he added.

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Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers, the UK’s largest listed pubs group, said the group’s pubs, such as Ember Inns, expected to do “very well” during the World Cup , but that big matches would “hammer” the food. -led gastropubs, like Toby Carvery.

The tournament begins just as the pub industry is running out of steam. This week, JD Wetherspoon said sales in the five weeks to November 6 were down 1.1% from 2019.

Meanwhile, despite reaching the semi-finals of the last World Cup and reaching the Euro finals last year, England’s men’s team have fallen apart lately and haven’t is not the favorite. Wales, a minnow footballer, are in their first World Cup for 64 years and are expected to struggle.

Pubs are also facing a staff shortage which Alton says threatens to “undermine” World Cup benefits.

Pints ​​of beer on a table in a JD Wetherspoon pub in London
The tournament begins as the pub industry falters. Wetherspoons reported lower sales in the 5 weeks to November 6 compared to the previous year © Simon Dawson / Bloomberg

In August, the vacancy rate in the hospitality industry stood at 7.2%, at least two percentage points higher than any other sector. A third of venues struggling with labor issues said they may have to cut opening hours over the festive season to cope, according to a survey by UKHospitality and others Of the industry.

Still, some publicans remain optimistic.

“I think for the majority of our clients, this will be a time when they want to put their worries about the state of the economy on hold,” said Simon Emeny, managing director of Fuller, Smith & Turner.

“The World Cup will be a net positive for us,” added Marston chief executive Andrew Andrea. “If we go completely stratospheric and England go through to the semi-finals or the final, that will be a huge improvement.”

Fanzo co-founder Leo MacLehose said it should always be “the best December pubs for a long time”, especially if England make the final stages of the tournament.

But that may not be enough to reverse the trend of closures. The World Cup “will help some businesses with cash through the winter, but we’re still going to see a lot of closures,” Jack said.

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