Crying foul over alcohol

01/11/2011 - 00:00
Catering is a valuable contributor to football club revenue, but potential growth is being stymied by draconian alcohol licensing rules and the stadia sector’s failure to adapt to changing consumer trends, says The Lindley Group’s CEO Adam Elliott.


The rules on the sale and consumption of alcohol at football matches are ludicrous and often illogical. They are as hit and miss as the offside rule, they change more frequently and there are any number of interpretations and anomalies that vary from ground to ground and match to match.

At all football stadia in England and Wales it is a legal offence to possess alcohol in view of the pitch while the game is on. In hospitality boxes overlooking the pitch fridges have to be locked before kick-off and alcohol can’t be served to VIP guests at half-time even though they are in an enclosed environment – or, quite bizarrely, curtains have to be drawn so the pitch can’t be seen.

But it is perfectly legal to have a drink on the stadium concourse while the game is in progress as long as it’s not in sight of the pitch.

Anomalies mean, though, that on some occasions bars on the public concourse have to be shut 15 minutes before kick- off – the peak selling period – and at some matches you can’t sell alcohol to away fans.

The disparity with other sports is brought into sharp contrast at stadia which are home to both football and rugby union or league teams. On football match days stringent restrictions apply, while at rugby matches alcohol can be served without restriction before, during and after the match in full view of the pitch.

The controls were introduced with the aim of tackling poor fan behaviour in the 1970s and 80s, but the pendulum has now swung too far the other way.

Today’s all-seater stadia, with CCTV, family areas, no fences, more sophisticated stewarding and canny policing, are a far cry from the environment in which the legislation was created. It’s outdated, discriminatory against football fans and needs to be reviewed.

The call for change is gathering momentum with the launch the Terrace Equality Campaign for the relaxation of licensing restrictions at football matches. This aims to open up the debate on alcohol consumption at football grounds, push for a full risk analysis of alcohol consumption at football matches and bring the rules into line with other sports.

The current legislation is also counter-productive. The short time windows for serving alcohol lead to concourse congestion and don’t reduce drinking – it just means fans consume alcohol in a shorter time or they drink in pubs before they come into the ground leading to a surge of fans turning up at the turnstiles just before kick-off.

It’s also effectively driving business away from stadia where there is greater policing control, and costs football clubs hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost catering revenue every year.

Another area where sports stadia are playing catch up, and there needs to be a sea change in thinking if the industry is to move forward, is in the range and quality of food available to fans.

While consumer expectations and standards have changed enormously in virtually all other avenues of catering – from school and staff canteens to pubs and casual dining – sports stadia remain the last bastion of old-style food culture and are proving resistant to change.

It is a very fine line to tread as for many fans a pie and cup of Bovril is seen as a treat and an integral part of the match-day experience.

But there is a lot more that club caterers could be doing to improve and bring a better balance to the food on offer, and it would also be commercially beneficial in terms of attracting more fans to eat at the ground and increasing spend per head.

Two years ago a survey on ‘football fans and food’ highlighted both the opportunity and need for change in key areas including: the range of food available to children; catering for vegetarians, people with special dietary needs; the growing number of women fans; and viewing football fans as modern consumers.

Healthy eating is not traditionally associated with football grounds, and past experience has shown that specialist ‘healthy option’ kiosks won’t succeed. The way forward is for the industry to provide generally better quality healthier food and offer more choice.

At Lindley, for example, we have just rolled out a range of retail concepts at Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane stadium including New York Jack’s Hot Dogs, developed to offer a premium hot dog in the sports environment. It has been naturally smoked over kiln-dried beech wood and is made with high-quality pork and a natural casing. There is also the N17 Deli, which offers fresh, high-quality deli sandwiches, baguettes, wraps and boxed pasta salads, and The Pie Factory selling our new bespoke pie range, made with no artificial flavours or preservatives.

There’s also a tremendous opportunity to develop the mid-sector market. The current focus is on the formal three-course meals, jacket and tie hospitality option at one end of the spectrum and the fast-food kiosk on the public concourse at the other, but there’s a significant proportion of fans from their mid-to-late twenties upwards who would willingly pay extra to have access to a warm, comfortable lounge where they could meet their mates in an informal setting that serves home-cooked food or a gastro-pub style menu.

The Yankee Stadium in New York points one way forward. In a stadium with a seating capacity of 50,287, as well as two restaurants – and here’s the rub – there are two-tiers of pitch side bar lounges such which are aimed at this type of clientele.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but if clubs are going to maximise their catering revenue they will need to invest in expanding their facilities and they’ll need to make it easier, more attractive and provide a more welcoming environment for fans to eat and drink within the stadium.
If the Terrace Equality Campaign is successful in relaxing the alcohol licensing legislation at football matches, perhaps this will provide the additional kick-start which will ignite the industry to challenge the status quo.

* Football Fans and Food: A case study of a football club in the English Premier League. (2009) Robin Ireland and Francine Watkins. NS Public Health and Nutrition Catering is a valuable contributor to football club revenue, but potential growth is being stymied by draconian alcohol licensing rules and the stadia sector’s failure to adapt to changing consumer trends, says The Lindley Group’s CEO Adam Elliott

The rules on the sale and consumption of alcohol at football matches are ludicrous and often illogical. They are as hit and miss as the offside rule, they change more frequently and there are any number of interpretations and anomalies that vary from ground to ground and match to match.

At all football stadia in England and Wales it is a legal offence to possess alcohol in view of the pitch while the game is on. In hospitality boxes overlooking the pitch fridges have to be locked before kick-off and alcohol can’t be served to VIP guests at half-time even though they are in an enclosed environment – or, quite bizarrely, curtains have to be drawn so the pitch can’t be seen.

But it is perfectly legal to have a drink on the stadium concourse while the game is in progress as long as it’s not in sight of the pitch.

Anomalies mean, though, that on some occasions bars on the public concourse have to be shut 15 minutes before kick- off – the peak selling period – and at some matches you can’t sell alcohol to away fans.

The disparity with other sports is brought into sharp contrast at stadia which are home to both football and rugby union or league teams. On football match days stringent restrictions apply, while at rugby matches alcohol can be served without restriction before, during and after the match in full view of the pitch.

The controls were introduced with the aim of tackling poor fan behaviour in the 1970s and 80s, but the pendulum has now swung too far the other way.

Today’s all-seater stadia, with CCTV, family areas, no fences, more sophisticated stewarding and canny policing, are a far cry from the environment in which the legislation was created. It’s outdated, discriminatory against football fans and needs to be reviewed.

The call for change is gathering momentum with the launch the Terrace Equality Campaign for the relaxation of licensing restrictions at football matches. This aims to open up the debate on alcohol consumption at football grounds, push for a full risk analysis of alcohol consumption at football matches and bring the rules into line with other sports.

The current legislation is also counter-productive. The short time windows for serving alcohol lead to concourse congestion and don’t reduce drinking – it just means fans consume alcohol in a shorter time or they drink in pubs before they come into the ground leading to a surge of fans turning up at the turnstiles just before kick-off.

It’s also effectively driving business away from stadia where there is greater policing control, and costs football clubs hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost catering revenue every year.

Another area where sports stadia are playing catch up, and there needs to be a sea change in thinking if the industry is to move forward, is in the range and quality of food available to fans.

While consumer expectations and standards have changed enormously in virtually all other avenues of catering – from school and staff canteens to pubs and casual dining – sports stadia remain the last bastion of old-style food culture and are proving resistant to change.

It is a very fine line to tread as for many fans a pie and cup of Bovril is seen as a treat and an integral part of the match-day experience.

But there is a lot more that club caterers could be doing to improve and bring a better balance to the food on offer, and it would also be commercially beneficial in terms of attracting more fans to eat at the ground and increasing spend per head.

Two years ago a survey on ‘football fans and food’ highlighted both the opportunity and need for change in key areas including: the range of food available to children; catering for vegetarians, people with special dietary needs; the growing number of women fans; and viewing football fans as modern consumers.

Healthy eating is not traditionally associated with football grounds, and past experience has shown that specialist ‘healthy option’ kiosks won’t succeed. The way forward is for the industry to provide generally better quality healthier food and offer more choice.

At Lindley, for example, we have just rolled out a range of retail concepts at Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane stadium including New York Jack’s Hot Dogs, developed to offer a premium hot dog in the sports environment. It has been naturally smoked over kiln-dried beech wood and is made with high-quality pork and a natural casing. There is also the N17 Deli, which offers fresh, high-quality deli sandwiches, baguettes, wraps and boxed pasta salads, and The Pie Factory selling our new bespoke pie range, made with no artificial flavours or preservatives.

There’s also a tremendous opportunity to develop the mid-sector market. The current focus is on the formal three-course meals, jacket and tie hospitality option at one end of the spectrum and the fast-food kiosk on the public concourse at the other, but there’s a significant proportion of fans from their mid-to-late twenties upwards who would willingly pay extra to have access to a warm, comfortable lounge where they could meet their mates in an informal setting that serves home-cooked food or a gastro-pub style menu.

The Yankee Stadium in New York points one way forward. In a stadium with a seating capacity of 50,287, as well as two restaurants – and here’s the rub – there are two-tiers of pitch side bar lounges such which are aimed at this type of clientele.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but if clubs are going to maximise their catering revenue they will need to invest in expanding their facilities and they’ll need to make it easier, more attractive and provide a more welcoming environment for fans to eat and drink within the stadium.

If the Terrace Equality Campaign is successful in relaxing the alcohol licensing legislation at football matches, perhaps this will provide the additional kick-start which will ignite the industry to challenge the status quo.

* Football Fans and Food: A case study of a football club in the English Premier League. (2009) Robin Ireland and Francine Watkins. NS Public Health and Nutrition

Copyright 2017 Cost Sector Catering
Dewberry Redpoint Limited is a company Registered in England and Wales No : 03129594 Registered Office:
John Carpenter House, John Carpenter Street, London EC4Y 0AN, UK, VAT registered, number 586 7988 48.

Design & Development by Eton Digital