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Wed 9th Nov 2022 - Legal Briefing

Christmas and the cup – a festive football season by Patrick Robson

The men’s football World Cup is just around the corner, and this year’s is particularly unique. As the sector prepares itself for yet another round of the busy festive season, it must also welcome a period of daily match screenings, competitive spirit and hopefully some celebrations. The initial game kicks off on Sunday, 20 November, and the final is to be held on Sunday, 18 December, just one week before Christmas. So, there is much to anticipate and lots of opportunity for a bustling trade period.

With events like the World Cup comes a large amount of responsibility that each venue must consider to ensure legal safety as well as best practice. It is essential that business owners keep in good contact with police and the local authorities’ licensing officers to inform them of their plans for the matches. Many police forces and licensing officers will proactively contact a premises to offer advice and set out expectations.

From time to time, they will also issue ‘licensing agreements’, which lay out suggestions of what actions a venue should undertake during viewings, and operators agree to this with a signature. Although this is not legally binding, signing such agreements should be approached very cautiously as sometimes these ‘contracts’ are not necessary to commit to. One thing we would recommend, however, is attending ‘Pub Watch’ schemes. Dosing yourself up with local knowledge from fellow peers and licensing officers can be useful to gain an understanding of what the authorities are looking out for.

First of all, an operator should always check the mandatory premises licence conditions as well as those that are specifically tailored to your venue to ensure compliance. Some conditions might set out extra requirements if you are showing televised sporting events, which is why it is vital that you give them another read over to be sure your plans are abiding by the constraints. Considering whether your designated premises supervisor or another personal licence holder should be present during key games could also make the difference between a good event and a disaster.

When we see Wales and England make it to the key matches towards the end of December (there is nothing wrong with a bit of optimism), it might be worth considering ticketing the events to better control customer numbers. You should also check the maximum capacities for trading areas which should be stated in your fire risk assessment. Where your TV screens are located can make all the difference when preventing overcrowding or blockages in entrances, exits and toilets.

Consider putting some thought into their spacing so that customers do not end up frustrated and cause flashpoints of disorder. Smoking areas are likely to be busier at half-time and after the final whistle, and so may require some extra attention during this time, especially when tensions are running high during difficult games. As these viewings welcome a lot of attendees, counter-terrorism measures may also need to be considered, along with further staff training to ensure they are prepared and have a system in place to manage the risks (see for more information on this).

Refreshing your staff in all relevant policies such as drugs, refusal, anti-violence strategies and dispersals would be an incredibly useful decision, as jam-packed pubs full of passionate football fans can often lead to some conflict. Accurately assessing what an appropriate level of staffing is during these events is essential to ensure customers are served efficiently at any bar. Slow service often causes frustration among customers and may lead to further issues. Ensuring your CCTV is in good working order and has appropriate coverage over your venue can assist with preventative measures and evidence should it be needed.

Sufficient glass collectors should not be overlooked either, as not only do they ensure glassware is cleared away quickly, but they also move around the premises and keep a watchful eye on customers, meaning they can intervene rapidly to defuse a situation if one occurs. That is if you are serving in glasses – some venues opt to use plastic or polycarbonate cups rather than actual glassware. We have all been there when someone scores, and suddenly you see drinks and bottles being tossed high into the air. This new celebration trend, along with the general bustling atmosphere, might mean that alternative cup materials could save some nasty hospital trips and risky clean-ups.

During the lovely summer days and not-so-lovely covid restrictions, we saw many screenings of the men’s Euro 2020 games held outside due to less harsh rules on outdoor gatherings. While the demand for this might be less common this time round because of the miserable autumn and winter weather, if you do consider having screens outside, it is important to bear in mind that any outdoor viewing areas should absolutely be part of your risk assessment. You will need to consider many of the measures that were mentioned previously, as well as any additional licence conditions that your venue might hold. If you don’t have a licensed bar outdoors, or maybe require some adjustments to your conditions to ensure that this celebration will go smoothly, consider applying for a temporary event notice to make sure you are fully set for any outdoor expansions.

Getting these events wrong can be disastrous for operators. Over the years, we have seen summary premises licence reviews issued for altercations in venues, or closure notices put in place due to customers fighting. The outcome of these issues might not just be short-term loss of trade, but instead lengthy and expensive legal fights spanning over many months. It could become a battle to preserve the licence or push back against onerous new licence conditions that make holding future events costly and unworkable. A robust review of your plans for the World Cup is therefore a must. My colleague, Tim Shield, will be speaking at the Propel Multi Club tomorrow (Thursday, 10 November), and can discuss these important matters with you.

All of the above might be old hat to you from televising past football tournaments, but the potentially unique challenge this year is to juggle showing games alongside the festive period. Indeed, many premises will want to maximize revenue from both, but that might not be possible if England or Wales go deep into the tournament. It is not beyond the realm of possibility these key games could coincide with those work Christmas dos that you usually hold. Or it might be difficult to juggle excited Dave and his mates roaring on England mere yards away from those wanting to enjoy a quiet pre-Christmas meal with grandma.

Showing World Cup games and hosting festive period parties each come with their own considerations that the licensed industry has been familiar with for many years. This year, however, we are all faced with the unique challenge of the two occurring at the same time. Both can be crucial money spinners for operators, which are particularly essential as the industry tries to fight back following crisis after crisis. Operators will need to think very hard about how to navigate these two revenue streams to maximize profits while also avoiding enforcement that could jeopardise the business altogether. The industry is a resilient one and will be eager to take on this challenge of closing 2022 – I have no doubt we will all come out winners.
Patrick Robson is a partner at John Gaunt & Partners

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