McBride’s coach trips get fans to the game… and back to the pub

Iris McBride’s innovative matchday scheme helps her win the latest BT Sport Manager of the Month award

A pub that feeds customers first, buses them to live sport and then brings them back for a beer is the proud recipient of the latest BT Sport Manager of the Month award.

McBride’s on the Square in Comber, County Down, has been in the same family for 44 years, with Iris McBride at the helm for the last 20.

The traditional family freehouse offers a wide range of sport, with rugby union one of the biggest drivers of custom. Hundreds of fans watch Ulster on BT Sport in the pub and also go to enjoy matches at their home ground, the Kingspan stadium, 10 miles down the road in Belfast.

Iris ensures those fans start and finish their matchdays at McBride’s courtesy of the pub’s Ulster Rugby Package. She explains: “We do the package for every single home match. What we put together is a coach trip with a burger at the pub for everyone before hey go, the match ticket, and a pint for them here on their return.

“Everyone normally meets in here around 5.30pm or 6pm for the burger and a chat. They jump on the bus for the game and come back for a pint and a post-match review.”

The package, including the ticket, costs each customer between £20 and £28, so the pub makes little in the way of profit. However, it ensures they are in their customers thoughts when they are not in the pub.

160919_MOTM_BELFAST from Lauren Rankine on Vimeo.

It builds our brand and builds loyalty and helps put our name forward as the place to watch rugby.”

Between 50 and 100 people take up the offer for every match, meaning that for games, such as important Heineken Cup clashes, at least two 53-seat coaches are required. The trips not only get people to and from the game, but they have created new friendships.

“The coach is a full mixture of a lot of season-ticket holders, young and old. It’s a super event. We have had people who don’t know anyone but they’ve made friends and now they go out for dinner with them,” says Iris.

“We have built up a really good relationship with Ulster Rugby club over the years and the girls at the ticket office always give us a heads-up when tickets are going on sale, especially for big Heineken Cup games.”

Game on

The pub itself is full of fans on the days when Ulster are screened live on BT Sport. Iris says that on such days the pub will get through 1,000-plus pints of Guinness.

Match days are super. You feel a different buzz in the air. They are all wearing their Ulster shirts. It’s just electric and really good fun.
We have an upstairs here and if it’s a really good match you can hear the roars up there. Sometimes we wonder if the roof will or won’t stay on.”

Ironically enough, the roof literally did come off at McBride’s 20 years ago. They knocked down what was then a small watering hole and rebuilt the entire venue. It has increased the footprint of the pub and allowed Iris to incorporate new elements including the restaurant upstairs and an off licence. The latter, just like the rugby package, ensures customers think of McBride’s, even when they are not in the pub.

“It’s a great way for us to have a fantastic range of drinks that we can also showcase in the bar. On Champions League nights if people can’t come out, they can always nip in and pick up a six pack of beer and go home. It works really well for us,” she adds.

As does showing a variety of live sport, which Iris says is vital to the business. “Live sport is massively important for us. In a small town it makes a difference between people not coming and coming out. We have grown from, in 1975, just showing the horse racing to having eight TVs and showing the rugby, football, Champions League and Premier League. We put a lot of effort into it.”

The combination of live sport and bringing new ideas such as the Ulster Rugby Package to what is a pub at the heart of its community has led to Iris being named BT Sport Manager of the Month for September. Not that she was expecting to pick up such a prize.

Being BT Sport Manager of the Month is surreal. It’s something that I never thought a small place in Comber or myself would win or be on the radar for winning. I’m absolutely delighted and chuffed to pieces. It means the world to me.”

As well as the title and the trophy, which will be displayed in the bar, Iris has also won a £1,000 voucher to spend in the BT Shop.

She joins other recent winners including The Cove, in Hope Cove, Devon, and The Cleveland Arms in Wolverhampton.

  • BT Sport’s Manager of the Month prize is designed to reward passionate and innovative sport-loving licensees who go the extra mile for their customers. To nominate yourself or someone else who you believe would make a worthy winner get in touch with us on Twitter at @BTSportBars using the hashtag #BTMOTM.

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