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Sport Shack plays the small but beautiful game

We visit Sheffield to check out what could be the first micro sports bar business in the country

In Sheffield FC, the Steel City lays claim to being home to the first ever football club.

And the same city could also be the birthplace for a new type of sports bar too.

Micropubs have emerged as an alternative type of venue in the last decade or so, but until now, the movement has mainly been about providing quality beer in small freehouse establishments.

Sport Shack is bringing live sport to the party with a business that the owners hope to grow across Yorkshire.

Business partners Danny Grayson and James Dobson already have two sites with a third due to open in April.

Danny explains: “We were setting out to achieve sports bars that provide good atmosphere, and food and drink for customers on a smaller scale. Eventually we want 10 to 20 of these, Yorkshire based within an hour’s drive of the original site.”

The first Sport Shack opened in the popular student spot of Ecclesall Road towards the end of last year. A second in Hillsborough followed in February and a third is on the way in Woodseats.

The model is based on finding small premises in locations with high footfall. So far, they have converted a Gregg’s, a wedding shop and a jacket potato café and are employing more than 20 staff.

Danny, who used to run two Champs Sports Bars, says the size is key to the business.

Smaller venues with smaller running costs are the future without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t think people are doing what we are doing with micro sports bars.

So, what do you find inside a Sport Shack?

In Ecclesall Road, there are more TVs than tables (six to five) which means the bar is never likely to have many more than 50 people in, but everyone will always get a good clear view of what is going on.

Exposed brickwork and sporting memorabilia provides a design look that Danny and James refer to as “Shacky chic.”

The bar has standard and premium lager, cask ales and a selection of gins that have proved popular in attracting a mixed client base.

The limited space means there is no kitchen, but hot dogs and paninis have proved to be a popular bar snack.

And, of course, there is a big menu of sport to feast on.

“We are sports purist. You come in here to watch sport and have good drinks and food,” says Danny. “We will never do karaoke or live music, where a lot of sports bars are branching off to do that.

“Our tagline is ‘Think sport think Sport Shack’. We want people to come straight to us when there’s a big match on and not think ‘is there going to be a quiz read out over the top?’”

Naturally football has been a big driver of trade. The venues are Sheffield neutral and welcome both Blades and Owls.

Champions League football on BT Sport has proved to be a big winner on midweek nights.

James says:

Champions League has gone really well, especially with the staggered kick offs. That works for us. It’s pulling people in and the BT Sport matches are busy in the pub. We have a lot of students from different areas. They might be from Manchester or Liverpool so they come in to watch their team.

Boxing, UFC and rugby are also big hits.

“If you get a good pay-per-view boxing or UFC fight we get absolutely rammed,” says Danny. “We will show any sport, if people come in and ask for the tennis, we will put it on.”

In terms of bringing people to Sport Shack, word of mouth and social media have been the tools of choice, with Facebook a key component.

James says: “Normally we plan our posts over breakfast and think about what we can do that will get the greatest number of likes. It’s normally one post a day and more if there is extra news. You don’t want to overdo it.”

The less is more approach, which so far seems to be working out well for a business that might well be punching above its weight.

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