(Bloomberg) — Heavy rain and cold temperatures are forecast for the next few weeks in Crewe, in Northwest England. But Andrew Pearse has just put up a 20-foot screen in the garden of Hop Pole, his pub in the town, ready to welcome hundreds of customers inside and out.
They’re not just coming for the weekend games of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, either: Pearse’s pub was fully booked for England’s first appearance, which kicked off on Monday and ended with an emphatic 6-2 win over Iran.
Many fans took the day off work to watch, and the big win has increased both excitement around the country and bookings for Friday’s match against the US. Hop Pole’s indoor space is now fully booked out.
Since Qatar was announced as the host nation for this World Cup in 2010, there have been years of debates about whether fans would come out to watch a tournament in the colder months, particularly one that is flush with controversy.
On top of that, pubs are battling strong inflationary headwinds and cost of living pressures, which have contributed to predictions that spending in hospitality venues during the World Cup will be down by half compared with last summer’s UEFA European Championship, according to GlobalData research.
But given the full bookings they’re seeing, several pub bosses are quietly confident that this World Cup could help boost business after a difficult few years.
Mark Brooke, director of operations at Proper Pubs, a chain of 168 taverns, says that they are “rammed” with bookings for the tournament. They’re working off a budget plan that assumes they will bring in more revenue than they did during the summer World Cup in 2018 and have steadily improved the TV and audio equipment. There are new rules to make the viewing experience as good as possible and lure people in. TVs must be at least 65 inches and not less than HD quality, and positioned so that you can see the screen wherever you are.
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Mick Howard, operations director at Star Pubs & Bars, a Heineken NV company that leases around 2,400 venues around the country, says that the World Cup gives people a reason to leave the house and go to the pub on gray and rainy evenings. He adds that it wouldn’t happen “in an ideal world” in the runup to Christmas, an already busy period in drinking establishments.
The World Cup boost couldn’t have come at a better time for pubs that still see footprint that’s only 85% of what it was in 2019, says Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the trade group UKHospitality. “In the current environment these events are critical for survival.” She adds that a 20% inflation rate in the sector means that revenue needs to be 120% higher than 2019 levels just for pubs to “stand still.”
Operators expect the biggest constraint on World Cup bookings to be pressure from cost of living increases, rather than political concerns. it’s been projected that the games could be an overall flop for pubs and bars as fans watch matches at home to save money on food and drinks. Research suggests that spending will be 10% less at hospitality venues than it was for the 2018 World Cup, and up 41% lower than during last year’s Euros.
Pearse is trying to keep prices on his special menu low in response. “A few people have said that it is cheaper to spend two to three hours in the pub than try to sort everything at home, which shows how much people are struggling with energy ,” he says. There is one silver lining from the pandemic experience, according to Brooke of Proper Pubs. To deal with restrictions, many places invested in heating and lighting in their beer gardens for outdoor dining and drinking—spaces that now offer extra seating year-round and are well-designed to cater to football fans.
“We got through the pandemic with social distancing and made it work, so this will feel luxurious,” says Brooke. He is, he says, “quietly optimistic” about World Cup business.
—With assistance from Sarah Rappaport.