By Chris Mills – Business Development Manager
There is an old joke ‘I was watching a fight the other day and a game of rugby broke out’, and that is still some people’s perception of the game. However, the game has never been as professionally run or as popular in the province as it is today and presents the trade with a fantastic opportunity to drive footfall and move consumers away from at-home drinking.
The Heineken brand has been affiliated with rugby for over 30 years, from the 1st Rugby World Cup in 1987, to the original Heineken Cup in 1995 right through to the newly formed Heineken Champions Cup, which is club rugby’s number one competition in Europe.
In the province, we have been the pouring partner with Ulster Rugby for over seven years from the original Ravenhill ground with its one grandstand consisting of 1000s in capacity to the new state-of-the-art Kingspan stadium with its 18,000 capacity. Here Heineken managed the installation of its cold rooms, pythons and multi-sercs to service its four public bars, two members’ bars and its premier level hospitality areas. Our dedicated draught services engineers are on site for every game ensuring every pint served is to the highest possible standard.
As part of Heineken’s partnership with Ulster Rugby, Heineken Champions Cup & World Rugby, I have been fortunate enough to have presented man of the match at European games, witnessed the coin toss for the Women’s Rugby World Cup final, helped set up Ulster Rugby’s end of season awards dinner, and entertained customers and consumers at the premier level hospitality at the Kingspan. But the number one thing I love is enjoying a pint of Heineken whilst watching a game in one of our many on-trade draught outlets.
In 2016, we launched Heineken Ruby Club, an online platform open to everyone of legal drinking age to celebrate the game of rugby and reward real fans. Members receive special offers from a range of companies on their goods and services. It also provides information on places to eat and drink on match days around Ireland and Europe.
Rugby tourism is great for the hospitality trade in NI. The Kingspan welcomes clubs from all over Ireland, the UK, Italy and France to Belfast on at least 17 occasions throughout the season, with the highlight being the three European games played in October, December and January. This year, we can expect well over 10,000 rugby tourists from all over Europe to make the trip to the Kingspan.
Opportunities for the trade don’t just come from the visiting fans but also from home rugby fans and, with the end of free-to-view Pro 14 league games on the BBC, there is an even bigger opportunity for the trade as fans look for a quality out of home experience whilst watching the game.
Throughout the 2018/2019 season, you have Autumn Internationals in November, the Six Nations from February to March, 27 Ulster games including at least six Heineken Champions Cup Games and The Heineken Champions Cup Final on May 11, 2019. There is also the Rugby World cup beginning on September 20, culminating in its final on November 2.
To build a solid rugby following and make the most of the rugby occasion clubs and pubs can do a number of things:
• Partner with their local rugby club; there are 57 of them across the province. Or, if you are a rugby club, encourage players to make use of your bar facilities.
• Put on transport, pint and ticket deals to key Ulster Rugby games. Ulster Rugby offers a 10% discount on block booking of 10 or more tickets. By putting on a bus and pint after the game ,you are encouraging footfall back to your venue after the game.
• Put on meal deals during games. Nothing better than watching the game with a pint of Heineken whilst enjoying a burger, stew, steak or platter of chicken wings.
• Offer value in the form of pint loyalty cards, bucket deals or priced rounds to share with friends during games. I love meeting my friends in a pub watching a game and having a pint with them.
• Become involved in the Heineken Rugby Club programme. We partner with our draught customers, giving away Heineken Rugby Club merchandise, pints and tickets to Ulster Rugby games during key games throughout the year.
If you are looking to really maximise the rugby opportunity in your venue, contact your United Wines representative. We would love to talk to you.