Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reflections On The Event We Could Not Name

The rugby tournament whose very name may only be used by companies with a commercial relationship with it is over. During the years leading up to the event there had been a presumption that hospitality businesses in New Zealand, and in particular those in cities hosting games, must thrive with the influx of thirsty supporters. Fortunately being in business during two Wellington Sevens tournaments made us wary of such presumptions. We have learned that a number of effects take place during a big event, particularly a sports event:

1. big televised sports events play havoc with our trade. Generally we suffer a net loss.
2. a really big event in Wellington like the Sevens or an All Blacks test might give us a modest boost in takings, although we have to put up with uncertainty, ebbs and flows in trade and, typically, a number of irregular customers who don't understand what sort of a bar they're in.
3. televising overseas sports events, particularly North American ones, has worked better for us than local ones, and we seem to do better from soccer supporters than rugby.

We told ourselves and hoped that international supporters of national rugby sides would be different from the typical Sevens reveller, for whom the quality of the beverages they consume (and perhaps even events on the field) are of low significance. Nevertheless we went into the rugby with some trepidation. We spent a little on some very targeted advertising, had a security guard on a couple of extra nights and rostered extra staff a couple of times.

Seven weeks later our most modest expectations were pretty much correct. But not without some pretty dramatic peaks and troughs. We had some great afternoons when good natured spectators waiting for an evening game in Wellington came in to watch an earlier game on TV. And the quarter finals weekend was hard work but very busy.

When the All Blacks played we lost business except when they played Japan and we were inundated by Japanese supporters.

By the semi-finals weekend it really felt as if the circus had left town. The games were only on TV and people seemed to be watching them at home or at the "fanzone". It seemed as though everyone's apprehension over the All Blacks' fortunes was drawing them into their shells. Our trade collapsed.

Then came the final. In stark contrast to the semi-finals tens of thousands descended on central Wellington - the fanzone filled up, every other bar filled up and by kick off we were swamped by spectators, a high proportion of whom were strays looking for a screen but who barely purchased a thing off us. Later we would find bottle caps for drinks that we definitely don't sell in the bar. When the final whistle blew the strays exited and were replaced by a steady flow of other customers, a high proportion of whom seemed to be drifting from bar to bar as well and struggled to comprehend our product list.

The net result was a record for Sunday trading that I doubt we'll ever break. But it was hard, funless work.

So after seven weeks of raised hopes, targeted advertising, apprehension, tension, hard work, no-shows and occasional packed houses we probably had a boost in takings that just exceeded what we spent chasing it.

It's tempting to have a good old whinge at the people who insinuated that the tournament would make us all rich. Even now the media seem conflicted between reporting the horror stories of suburban restaurants whose business has dried up and the claims of the payments clearing houses saying that tens of millions of extra money has gone through their systems. The fact is that simple logic suggested that a bonanza was on its way. And for a booze barn in the right location in Auckland or Wellington flogging beer in green bottles it probably has been a bonanza. But we almost all overlooked the alternative but suddenly obvious facts, that corporate travel and conventional tourism would dry up and people's angst over the All Blacks' fortunes would inhibit their socialising for weeks.

Fortunately Christmas comes every year and the trading patterns ahead of us should be more predictable. And before Christmas we've got a succession of events of our own design that we think will excite our regular customers.

Speaking personally, my main complaint isn't with the misconception that the tournament would bring a windfall - it's with the absurd legal and commercial protection bestowed on the event's sponsors. The capitalist system is supposed to use competition to drive efficiency. But at events like the Cricket and Rugby World Cups competition only takes place when would-be sponsors bid. Thereafter competition is outlawed and the actual ticket-buying consumers and their cash are directed toward the sponsors' products. And when the sponsor's product is as mediocre as HEINEKEN consumers are being treated with contempt.

In the last few years I've witnessed:
  • English supporters wearing actual replica shirts at the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean told to wear them inside out because the shirts carried the logo of a rival to a tournament sponsor.
  • Children arriving at a Bledisloe Cup game in Hong Kong given toys by an "ambush marketer" on the way to the ground only to have them confiscated at the ground.
  • Hashigo Zake "inspected" to check that we didn't mention the name of the tournament that we were showing on a TV channel that we pay a commercial subscription for.
Clearly the rights of common or garden spectators, who generally paid a fortune to go to these events, are not being considered. New Zealand's Major Events Management Act is the local manifestation of a bizarre worldwide convention that says that rich corporate sponsors need protection from the random acts of individuals and small businesses.

I think it's time for a bill of rights for spectators at major events and fellow businesses in countries hosting them:
  • No monopolies at match venues.
  • Free drinking water
  • Adequate toilets
  • Freedom of choice in attire (subject to decency)
  • Maximum volume for stadium PAs
  • The right to use the name of any event important enough to have streets closed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pacific Beer Expo

The near-final list of beers for the Inaugural Pacific Beer Expo is up here.