A small coastal village with a population of a couple of hundred people might not be the obvious choice for a top class sporting venue, but then The Cove is happy to confound expectations.
Just over five years ago, the bar in Hope Cove, Devon, didn’t even exist. It was previously a traditional spot for afternoon tea. That was until Toby Robinson and his wife Shelley upped sticks from the North West and changed their careers.
They had never run an on-trade business before but have managed to create a destination sports bar that also specialises in craft beer, live music and locally sourced food.
Successfully building such a vibrant business in a remote location has led to Toby being named the BT Sport Manager of the Month.
He says: “Hope Cove is such a beautiful place we thought ‘why not give it a go?’ We sold the house, put everything into it and just went for it.”
The venue is split over two floors. Downstairs features a main bar and a casual dining area. TV’s are located throughout, but the upstairs bar, which has been converted from living accommodation, is the main area for customers to enjoy sport.
As a former sports journalist and events promoter, Toby was always keen for sport to play an important role in the business:
It is one of those things that draws people in, so right from the get-go we grew the sports,” he says.
Premier League and Champions League pull customers in, as does rugby union.
“Football is always big. It’s the biggest sport in the country but rugby is big here too. There’s a strong rugby following particularly with Exeter Chiefs so we always have a crowd in for those games.
“We follow what the customer wants so the fact that BT has so much rugby union is great,” says Toby.
The pub has also had joy with ticketed events such as pay per view boxing.
“Wilder Fury was such a big fight we thought we had to show it,” explains Toby. “It was pre-Christmas and it turned out to be a fantastic fight. It’s another niche for us that helps to make people think of us as the place to watch sport in the South Hams. It all fits together.”
Showcasing major events is one way pubs in remote locations or those with seasonal trade can drive crowds in during traditionally challenging periods.
Toby continues: “It’s also been great for us this season to have so many English clubs in the Champions League. It means busy nights for us at quieter times of year. This is why we do live sport. It works.
If there are any licensees out there in remote areas I would say sport is an easy thing to get involved with. You know people like it, you’ve just got to make it work for you and tell everyone you can that you show those events because you want to make it the place where they want to go.”
The Cove has done that not only by building its reputation but also by maximising its use of social media via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
“We see social media as part of the job. You have to be on it constantly. We update our social media at least six or seven times a day. It’s important in every aspect of what we do from the food, to the live music to the sport. We think it’s key,” he adds.
“BT Sport are very strong on their social media which makes my life easier, I can just retweet stuff and that support is really valuable.”
Sport is important but it is one of the four main elements at The Cove, the others being live music, locally sourced food and craft beer.
Last year The Cove won a national award from SIBA (The Society of Independent Brewers) for being the best rural craft beer venue in the country.
Craft beer and live sport are not always seen as natural bedfellows but Toby believes the two should go hand-in-hand.
“If people want to watch great sport they want to have great beer so why not give them both.
“We choose beers that we think will be popular and have a bit of fun with it. We just like to be different. If there’s a Pina colada IPA we’ll give it a try and make it work.
To think that sport fans just like standard lager in 2019 is crazy. If you give them great sport why not give them great beer too? That’s what we do. We serve great food, great beer and combine that with great sport and live music.”
And that combination has led to The Cove winning the BTMOTM title along with £1,000 to spend on equipment from the BT shop. The money is likely to be invested in a new sound system to further enhance the already great atmosphere at the bar.
Toby adds: “It’s great to be recognised for what we feel we do well and we are very proud of it.”