In the not too distant past watching sport in the pub largely meant groups of men heading out to watch other men compete. But the landscape is changing.

Not only are many contemporary pubs more female and family-friendly but the sports they show also reflect this shift.

The success of the England women's football, cricket and rugby teams has captured the attention of the public and has shown pubs that women's sport is something that men and women both want to watch.

Vicky Martin (pictured below with ex-footballer Michael Owen) was quick to realise this when she signed a tenancy with Wadworth at The Sup & Chow in Cheltenham. Before she took it on 18 months ago, it had a reputation as a wet-led, football-focused pub.

She has renovated and refurbished the building, grown the food side of the business and started opening for coffee mornings. She initially scrapped the sport but reintroduced it when she realised it could be a useful addition rather than the sole focus of the pub.


Vicky Martin with regulars and former football star Michael Owen


Vicky, who has previously worked in hospitality for London Irish rugby club as well as competing as a gymnast, explains: "We brought it back in gradually, starting with rugby and then football, but did it in a different way so we would have families and couples coming in.

"We do probably have more males that watch sport than females, but we get couples and females who come in on their own as well.

"We have female rugby players and footballers who come in and others who do not play but follow it. The growing trade is definitely couples and groups of couples. People want to go out together and not just in groups of blokes."


Ladies in the limelight

The changing nature of those in the pub is also reflected in what is available to watch on screen. Broadcasters such as Sky and BT Sport have increased the output of women's sporting events.

Tracy Harrison, director of marketing at Sky Business, says: "Viewing figures for women's sport reached a record high for Sky Sports in 2017, which saw more people tune in to watch women's cricket, netball, rugby and golf than ever before.

"For example, the Women's Cricket World Cup final at Lords – in which England defeated India by nine runs – was Sky's most watched women's sporting event ever."


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Vicky says this is reflected at her pub with all customers – men and women alike – more open to watching women's sports.

"The guys in the afternoon will watch women's tennis, rugby or the skiing, which we had recently with the Winter Olympics. They don't just come in to watch football any more."

Michelle Payne, licensee of The Ingate Free House, in Beccles, Suffolk, was also determined to change the nature of her pub when she took it on. It was another wet-led boozer that she says women and families would generally avoid.

One way she has attracted more women is by linking up with Beccles Town Ladies FC, which formed in August last year. She sponsors the side and they regularly return to the pub after matches and for other social occasions.

Michelle says: "We are really proud to have our name on the team's shirts and sweatshirts. Some people had a really negative attitude towards women's football and we are helping to change opinions about that.

"It is also changing the pub, as more women and families come here now. Lending support to a female football team has enabled more women to feel at home here, and not be afraid to come in the door. Some of it was business acumen, but mainly to allow all access to great sports in a small town for everybody."

Michelle's efforts were recently recognised by BT Sport, which named her its Manager of the Month for January. (Vicky at the Sup & Chow was a winner last year.)


Michelle Payne with England's Fara Williams at the Ingate Free House


A point of difference

Bruce Cuthbert, BT Sport director for commercial customers, says: "Women's sport is growing in terms of participation, attendances and TV audiences – the successes of the Lionesses and the England Women's Cricket team this year have really highlighted this.

"It is worth publicans being aware of this trend, as this is also an opportunity for pubs to offer something different to their customers or engage with local women's teams to encourage them into their venue.

"Our recent Manager of the Month initiative has really highlighted to me that some of the most successful businesses are the ones who are thinking creatively and engaging with their communities in different ways, whether that's sponsoring a local women's football team and showing FA Women's Super League to changing opening hours to get the Ashes crowd in for breakfast."

Tracy at Sky agrees that women's sport could be an open goal for pubs. "With the increase in viewing of women's sports becoming increasingly popular, there's an opportunity for pubs and bars to make the most of this growth area.

"At Sky, we pride ourselves on the quality and breadth of sporting action we give to our customers and women's sport is a perfect example of this."

Vicky says one of the biggest challenges for a licensee is keeping on top of all the fixture information and knowing what is happening across a variety of sports. She recommends tapping into the knowledge of staff for support in this area.

Another challenge she cites is being a woman in what many still perceive as a male-dominated business.

"When I came here, in the first few weeks I got a lot of stick and people trying to belittle me, but it gets turned around when people realised I had seen it all before and could do this job. You still get sexist attitudes, people might ask where my partner is or if I want a hand in the cellar, but I tell them I'm fine thanks."

Changing those perceptions is perhaps another story, but one that can be partly tackled by showing women excelling, be it in sport or business.



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Women's sport and where to watch it

Sky Sports

England Women's ODIs and T20 tri-series double-headers against South Africa and New Zealand
Kia Super League
ICC Women's World Twenty20 in November

England in the Women's Six Nations
HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series
Tyrell's Premier 15s

Ladies European Tour and all five majors

International and Vitality Super League, All-Star Fast 5s and Quad Series Internationals
BT Sport

FA Women's Super League

Live coverage of 52 tournaments from the WTA toura year Federations Cup

World League Finals

Women's Ashes and Women's Big Bash

World Squash Championships
PSA World Series