A total of 250 pubs have joined the Grassroots Sports Champion programme, launched in March by PubAid and Sky to recognise and reward pubs' support for local sport.
The Grassroots Sports Champion programme is open to any pub involved in local sport, whether they host a pool or darts side, sponsor a football team or put on a post-match spread for the cricket side. It's free to join and pubs receive a marketing pack of staff T-shirts and window stickers to help them shout about their support for the sports that are so important to local communities. Pubs can sign up on the dedicated website: pubaid.co.uk/grassroots
Information from joiners shows the wide range of sports supported by pubs. While football, pool and darts are the most popular, the long list also includes fishing and cycling clubs, bootcamps, majorettes, rambling groups, archery and Aunt Sally - a traditional pub and fairground game, a bit like a coconut shy. Women's rugby and football and mixed darts and pool also feature, as well as a number of veterans teams, demonstrating the inclusive approach favoured by many pubs.
According to a survey by PubAid (1), pubs contribute £40m every year to grassroots sport, either through direct sponsorship or donations, or in-kind support. With a lack of funding the biggest challenge for many local teams, pubs are providing a lifeline that helps clubs to stay afloat and enables thousands of people to play the sport they love.
Des O'Flanagan, PubAid co-founder said: "We're delighted with this enthusiastic response to Grassroots Sports Champions. These pubs are providing invaluable help to local sports teams, who are frequently only able to operate thanks to their sponsorship or in-kind support, and they thoroughly deserve this recognition."
Damian Saunders, Managing Director, Sky Business TV said: "It's wonderful to see so many pubs become Grassroots Sports Champions. The scale of involvement is impressive, with many pubs supporting teams across several sports and age groups in their locality.
"We are keen for as many pubs as possible to become Grassroots Sports Champions. It doesn't matter whether your pub sponsors half a dozen local teams or provides free refreshments for one darts side, the support provided by pubs for all grassroots sports deserves recognition in this programme."
Pubs in the Grassroots Sports Champion programme
One Grassroots Sports Champion is The Cresswell Arms in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland. Last year, licensee David Haggerty started sponsoring a new Sunday football team, which was set up by Nick Storey, a pub regular who works for Newcastle United Foundation.
He says: "Nick started the team as a way of combating social isolation and the mental health issues around it in our community, particularly among young men. It's been amazing to see how these players, most of them in their 20s, have developed: playing football once a week and socialising in the pub has connected them to the community, giving them confidence, social skills and a new group of friends. And they've had a really good first season on the pitch too, losing in the league final by just one goal."
Paul Sandford, owner of The Railway Tavern in Dereham, Norfolk, made sport a focus when he bought the pub 13 years ago and now supports football - including ladies and veterans teams - rugby and cricket clubs, who have all moved up their leagues; the ladies' football team recently came within one match of a trip to Wembley.
He says: "I've always played or coached sport, so I wanted it to be part of the pub. Sport's at the heart of The Railway: customers either play for one of our teams so they're in the pub after matches and training, or they come here to watch the live sport. Sport is a great way of bringing the community together." Back in 2018, Paul built a grandstand for 500 people to watch the World Cup, and is making plans now for this year's tournament.
The Lord Nelson is a traditional pub in Sheffield, close to the United FC ground. Owner Stefan Lowrie bought the pub two years ago and has developed its men's and ladies pool and darts teams, who compete in local and Yorkshire leagues.
The pub also took on a new football team at the start of the 2021/22 season, as Stefan explains: "I heard about the team through some regulars and discovered they had no base and no sponsorship, so decided to take them on. Within a week we'd got them 2.5K in sponsorship from local businesses, and they've have really flown in their first season, getting promoted and reaching two finals.
The team are young, local lads, who've maybe not had the greatest start in life, so it's great to see them succeed - and not just on the pitch; we've just employed one of them behind the bar and he's doing really well."
He added: "Sport is such an important part of this pub; of course we see some commercial benefit as teams drink with us after matches and so on, but it's more about creating those connections that bring people together and make a stronger community."
Grassroots Sports Champions comes at a time when Sky is highlighting the vital role that pubs play in their community through their Everyone Loves A Local campaign. Running throughout 2022, the campaign puts local pubs in the spotlight with sports fans as well as giving pubs access to unique experiences which can only be delivered by Sky including footfall driving activations and customer rewards.
According to PubAid's research, football is the sport with the most support from pubs (40%) followed by darts and pool (30%), cricket (16%), rugby union (10%) and rugby league (4%).
To find out more about the Grassroots Sports Champions programme, visit: pubaid.co.uk/grassroots
(1) Pubs & Sport, The Perfect Match, based on a survey of 1,400 pubs conducted June - September 2018. To read the report, visit the PubAid website