Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - November 2014
Pubs are starting to realise that TV football may not be the money-spinner they thought
ONCE THE football season starts in the middle of August, anyone just looking for a quiet pint needs to check the fixtures before venturing out to the pub at weekend lunchtimes or midweek evenings. Clearly, for some pubs, televised football brings in a lot of extra custom, but the problem is that it is so often allowed to dominate to the exclusion of all else. Given the eye-watering cost, you can perhaps understand pubs wanting to put screens everywhere, but that suggests that those who aren’t interested in football aren’t really welcome. It might be a good idea to offer a reduced subscription to pubs who were only going to show it in part of their licensed area, but that would be very hard to enforce.
There are growing signs, though, that pubs are realising that every customer they attract with football puts another off, and it doesn’t convey the image that many pubs want to put across. 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. Marston’s boss Ralph Findlay says that sport is becoming less important to his pubs, while a survey by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers reported that the proportion of pubs with a sports subscription had declined from 51% in 2003 to 37% today.
Apart from matches featuring City and United, I see little 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. But, in a sense, 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 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 even when they’re there.
Nobody asks for piped music in pubs, yet still they play it
FOR AS LONG as I can remember, piped music in pubs has been a perennial source of complaint. Even if you happen to like it, the odds are that other people won’t, and what is music to one person’s ears will be an unholy racket to someone else. While it is claimed to create instant “atmosphere”, almost invariably it detracts from a pub.
In the 1990s, a guide to pubs without piped music was produced entitled “The Quiet Pint”. To be honest, it featured a rather random selection of pubs and the overall coverage was too sparse to make it of much practical use, although it might have led you to the occasional gem that you weren’t aware of. The book seems to have died the death around 2005, but if anything the problem seems to be spreading.
I can think of at least three pubs on my regular rounds which have a generally traditional character, but within the past few years have introduced piped music where there was none before. Indeed, sometimes they have been playing what sounded like Radio 1, which was totally inappropriate for a clientele whose average age was well above fifty. Very often nowadays it’s only Sam Smith’s and Wetherspoon’s pubs that are free of it, and you can’t really call your average Spoons “quiet” It helps to understand piped music in pubs if you appreciate that most of the time it is played for the benefit of the bar staff, not the customers. But more pubs should realise that getting rid of it could well add to their appeal.