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From lockdown to lock-in: pubs & the summer of sport

Ben Rogers

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say watching sport over the past year has been a strange experience. The entire football league has been playing behind closed doors until restrictions were lifted to allow fans back into stadiums earlier this month, while the avid Bristol Bears fan in me found it particularly tough to miss out on physically witnessing the most successful year in the club’s history.

It’s not just the inability to attend matches that made it difficult to watch sport recently – and no, I’m not about to dive into a vitriolic diatribe outlining why football was better before VAR was introduced. Not being able to spend time with friends and family at pubs and sports bars meant that for many, sport was experienced in their living room with little to no atmosphere. Simply put, it’s not the same and it hurt my enjoyment of everything from the Premier League to the Six Nations.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel though. As of the 17th May, pubs and broader hospitality venues are now able to open their doors and serve groups of six people (or two households) inside. If things progress as we hope, June 21st will see social distancing removed as hospitality businesses open at full capacity in time for what is shaping up to be one of the most memorable summers of sport in recent history.

Euro 2020, rescheduled after being postponed due to the pandemic, will see England, Wales and Scotland fighting it out alongside 21 of Europe’s greatest footballing nations through June and July. Meanwhile, in arguably the most exciting spectacle in rugby union, the British & Irish Lions are gearing up for a tour of South Africa in which they’ll play a three-match series against the world champions. It would be remiss not to mention the Olympics, which is scheduled for July – August this year and with international travel still a contentious subject, many will look to pubs and sports bars to bring the atmosphere we’ve all missed over the past year.

So the challenge now facing hospitality businesses is how they step up to the plate and showcase that they are the best place for fans looking to watch sport with fellow fans. Will pubs find themselves opening up earlier in response to the time differences between the UK and Tokyo to tailor for Olympic aficionados? Or maybe they’ll consider offers, schemes and competitions to entice more fans to choose their venue as the place to watch the seemingly never-ending selection of international football and rugby on the horizon.

What is for sure is that I’m not alone when I say the reintroduction of “shall we pop down the pub for the match?” into our lexicon is an exciting prospect. This is a great opportunity for pubs to provide the backdrop to what is gearing up to be an unforgettable summer of sport while driving brand loyalty simultaneously.

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