Leicester bar soars to the high point
Just five minutes walk from Leicester City’s King Power stadium the Soar Point is a sports bar with a difference. Read how this bar combines students with locals & enjoys the success of their Premier League Champions
Sometimes perceptions are there to be broken. Take Leicester for example. As cities go it’s usually not in the headlines. But recently, its fortunes and reputation have soared – more of that in a moment.
And then there are the students. The image of students as Jägerbomb-downing, penny-pinching youngsters is well worn. But recent trends suggest that many are interested in quality drinks like craft ale over multiple snakebite and blacks.
Finally, what about football, and specifically the chances of winning the Premier League? Until this season it was seen – with some degree of accuracy – as a closed shop, open only to those teams assembled with astronomical figures. And then along came the minnows of Leicester City defying all footballing logic in winning English football’s greatest prize with a squad that cost half a Raheem Sterling.
So, perceptions can be shattered. With that in mind we travelled to Leicester to witness a city transformed – which some suggest can be traced back to the burial of Richard III – to visit a bar, the Soar Point, that sits squarely in the city’s university campus.
Situated a mere five minutes walk from Leicester City’s King Power stadium the Soar Point is a student sports bar with a difference. It’s not just inhabited by students for starters. We spoke to deputy general manager Matt Stretton to find out more.
Deputy General Manager: Matt Stretton
Number of Screens: 10
History: Until 2014, the pub was part of the student-orientated stable, Scream. After major refurbishment to the tune of £223,000 it reopened as Soar Point with a complete overhaul in terms of product range.
Our offer grew up: “One of the aims when we rebranded was to attract a more grown-up clientele. We stopped all the £1 drinks and introduced the craft range. We think it follows the trend that we have seen – that customers are looking for quality now, and that’s what we provide.”
We target three demographics: “Students, young professionals and sports fans. Of the three demographics, sports fans are a massive element. Not only are we on the doorstep of the students, but we’re one of the closest pubs to the KP Stadium. It’s just a five-minute walk away.”
Our key trading periods are consistently sport-related: “If we have a Leicester City game on TV that is the busiest time – that’s how much importance sport has. Even more than a Friday or Saturday night. Getting sport right is so important. Sunday, for example, is when we get the most fans in. That’s our showcase, and if we do that well we find that people come back in on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
We get a lot of people in here before the games: “We have a massive footfall on matchdays, both before the match and after. We seem to appeal to a lot of lads and dads and we’re really family focused on matchdays.”
We’re five or ten minutes away from Welford Road Stadium so we get a good following from rugby fans: “But traditionally Leicester City fans have been a bit more focused on the Soar Point. I think they’re more fanatical.”
“If you’re going to show a match and you’re going to be serious about sport you want to commit to it 100%. There’s a consistency to our sports delivery.”
We turn up the volume: “We don’t want a fan to come in one week and the volume to be on and the next week for it to be music. You need that consistency.”
Because we’re so close to the University we have people from all over the country studying here: “There’s interest in all the games. It might just be two lads that come in to watch the Derby game or the Sheffield United game – that happened the other week. We zoned the sound in one area and changed the screen to that game so they could have the full experience.”
We have a great following for the Champions League matches:“Again it goes back to being a pub on the University campus – there are lots of international students around so you will find that the larger Spanish teams and the larger Italian teams will have a huge following. We can be just as busy for a Barcelona game as an Arsenal game. For major competitions like the Champions League we have a party atmosphere in here. If there’s a Spanish fanbase in the pub it can feel like a carnival. They really go to town when they celebrate. It’s brilliant.”
If the delivery is on point and your product range is excellent then customers will pay: “And you can see that in our sales. There isn’t any need to discount if the atmosphere is right, the sound is good and your staff are genuinely excited by the football and adding to the experience. There’s no need to do offers. The offer is the atmosphere and the entertainment itself. You have to get it absolutely right because when you do people come back. If you get it wrong, and you only have to get it wrong once, then you can lose customers.”
There’s been more interest in the midweek European games this season: “Customers are using those games as an event to go out and have a few drinks and something to eat rather than stay at home.”
“So when we deliver our sports we need to deliver it with the same excellence as a cinema.”
When it comes to sports delivery: “How many times do you go to the cinema and find the lighting is wrong, or the sound is wrong or they’re showing the wrong film?’ You don’t. The sound, the lighting and the content all have to be spot on for our customers. And that’s the biggest parallel I’d draw.”
The lighting and the audio are incredibly important in delivering sport effectively: “And seeing that return – you spend a lot of money providing sport. So if you’re going to spend that money you need to be taking the time before the game kicks off walking around to ensure that the lighting is right, to ensure that the sound is right, making sure that every TV is on the right game. You have to get it absolutely right, because when you do that it leads to loyalty and people coming back. If you get it wrong, and you only have to get it wrong once, then you can lose customers.”
Leicester City games have always had a great following: “Even when it appeared they’d go straight back down at Christmas time 2014. Even then the matchday fans would come in – they were great. But for the TV games the atmosphere – that party atmosphere – has increased in the last 18 months.”
Leicester City being in the Champions League will totally revolutionise our midweek nights: “If you’re hosting teams like Barcelona it’s going to be a carnival in here, especially with the international fans that we already have. It will be a carnival-like atmosphere in here, and I think that’s what we’ll try and pursue. Making it a party every time Leicester play – in actual fact, every time there’s a Champions League game on.”
Every moment has bettered the last: “We thought it wouldn’t get any better than Vardy’s 11th consecutive goal. We thought it wouldn’t get any better than beating Liverpool, and then City 3-1. But beating Swansea 4-0 bettered that. And even though it wasn’t one of the Top Four teams, without Vardy, and at such a crucial time as the pressure ramps up was wonderful. Every goal is celebrated more fanatically and raises the roof just that little bit more.”
Food and Drink
We see a general spike in food sales when the football is on: “Particularly for a big fixture. People come in, get a table, enjoy their food, have a few drinks and watch the football. It’s a full experience.”
Craft beer is really popular: “It accounts for a much larger share of our draught offer than it did. It has its fans. We have people that come in who will only drink craft beer. We also give people a taste – ‘If you like Stella or if you like Estrella you might like this’. Or, ‘have you tried this, it’s a bit different?’ We find that when people do try it they will often switch. And it’s a great way of upselling.”
It’s not just hipsters either: “It’s across the board. It helps that we’ve got members of staff who are passionate about the beer and the quality of the product. That way we find that if you’re prepared to give people a taste then anybody can really see the benefits of drinking craft beers.”
About one in twenty pints we sell is a craft beer: “It might not sound like a lot in volume but in terms of quality and profit delivery it performs brilliantly for us. And that’s increasing all the time.”
We do a lot of our communication via Facebook: “It’s a massive part of our business now. For all the money that you would spend on hard copies – posters etc – if you put that time and effort into social media you see a much bigger reward.”
We focus on Facebook rather than Twitter: “We like to focus on one thing and do it well. We know Twitter is there, we’ve used it in the past, but we find that the best results come from Facebook so we put a lot of our time and effort into that.”
It’s noticeable out of term time: “Our demographic does change. But that coincides with other patterns too. In the summer, when the students are away, it coincides with the break in the football and rugby seasons so we lose a few of our demographics. It’s not just the students. We lose some sports fans too. This summer will be different because of the Euros. We’ll keep the sports fans for that.”
We’re inclusive: “We have a More card – which is a loyalty card. It gives you the equivalent of 10% back of what you spend. It’s like a Nectar card – but our rate is 10%. That’s available to everybody. It is popular with the students who might be more price conscious, but it’s also got a great following with the Leicester City fans. The regulars who come in every matchday will use their More card and then they save up their points over the year. Come the last few games of the season they can have a free day out. The card costs a pound. But when you register it online you get £2 worth of points immediately so it pays for itself.”
The student market has changed: “Ten years ago everything was price driven but now they don’t want a student experience they want a full experience. If you go to the cinema you don’t expect to sit in a ‘student’ seat, they want the same experience as everyone else. And that’s what we do here. We deliver an experience that is excellent for everybody at a price that’s affordable for everybody.”
Pubs in 2016
It’s not just about the beer you sell: “It’s about how you sell it and what you offer to your customer. We have pool tables and free retro gaming , which is a huge draw. We also have a great sports offer, with live content that is free to the customer – you have to put in the effort. Look at the up and coming trends and commit to it.”
“Whether you are a craft beer pub or a real ale pub, or a student bar or a sports bar, or all four, the key to it is consistency of that customer experience.”
Excellent customer experience is what it’s all about: “ And, making sure that every time that customer comes in they know what they’re getting and you deliver that brilliantly.”