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Are the Euros driving your customers to DIY sport? - Ed’s letter



The hospitality sector has been looking forward to the Euro football tournament for some time. The vision was one of bubbling-over pub gardens, lots of crisp and maybe barbecue sales, a people united by a love of wearing the same shirt and eager to get out and about and express it. Apologies to all the Welsh readers out there.


At the time of writing, the tournament has yet to inspire. There have been some nasty injuries and a whole lot of disallowed goals, which have been diverting, but nothing gripping.


But that’s not it for sports-with-drinking this summer, because the rise of competitive socialising continues apace. After all, much of watching sport is about how you could do better than the manager/goalie/striker on screen, so you might as well do it yourself.


Helping to drive all this are two things: falling alcohol consumption levels and a move towards experience (the latter is also a function of the former - it’s not so much fun sitting around with your mates if you’re sober, is the frequent truth). Helped along by pent-up demand from the pandemic and Savills described the sector as having grown “at unparalleled levels over the past five years”.


Competitive socialising encompasses a mix of experiential leisure activities, including urban mini golf; darts; axe-throwing; pin-pong; stop the clock, including breakout rooms; bowling; and virtual reality. There are ‘solo’ operators that offer a single activity and ‘combo’ brands that have multiple Competitive socialising concepts under one roof. The market was in its relative infancy in 2018, and while it has grown as a whole since then, some sub-sectors have accelerated faster than others.


Many brands have opted for a blended offering as the competition becomes fierce, with the likes of Boom Battle Bar and Lane7 contributing to the 455% uptick in ‘combo’ attractions over the past five years, whereas cinema operator The Light has adapted its most recent developments to incorporate a broader leisure offering. ‘Solo’ competitive socialising, meanwhile, has grown by 162%. Mini golf, a more established sector revolutionised through innovative design and imaginatively themed layouts, has seen an increase of 96%.


That’s right. Mini golf. Last year saw Swingers Crazy Golf close on a $52m round of funding to expand its adults-only miniature golf model, including the development of a 40,000-square-foot flagship venue in Las Vegas that will consist of five crazy golf courses over three floors at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.


“These venues have shown that people love to socialise when there's competitive activity involved and it's a theatrical and immersive venue,” co-founder Matt Grech-Smith told Forbes. “So, taking our investors along for the ride has definitely been straightforward. They can see the demand and they can see the potential or the places that the Swingers brand could go.”


$52m!


Hospitality venues are used to having a spot of darts. Although, given that this correspondent’s aunt took a dart to the head in a pub as a child, maybe approach the axe throwing with caution. But precautions taken, is it time to pit your customers against each other?

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