Pub chain Wetherspoons has seen its recovery from the COVID-19 crisis dented by the Euros – thanks to its longstanding policy of not screening most matches.
The company revealed in a trading update – hours ahead of England’s semi-final against Denmark that is expected to prove a bumper evening for landlords across the country – that it had seen performance tail off during the tournament.
Euro 2020: Live build-up to England vs Denmark
Wetherspoons said that for the period from 17 May to 10 June, like-for-like sales were 8.1% lower than during the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.
But from 10 June to 4 July, after the Euros began, sales were down by 20.8%.
The group said: “Apart from a limited number of exceptions for individual matches, Wetherspoon pubs have not televised UEFA Euro 2020 football matches.”
A spokesman told Sky News that pub managers would be allowed to show Wednesday evening’s England-Denmark match if they wish – though some sites have no televisions and most have only one or two small screens.
Despite sales still failing to reach 2019 levels, the figures illustrated the big impact that the reopening of indoor hospitality on 17 May had on its performance.
From 12 April to 16 May, when only outdoor service was allowed – and about 500 of its pubs were open – like-for-like bar and food sales were down by 49% on two years ago.
By 4 July, 850 of its 860 pubs were open – with most of those still shut accounted for by airports.
Wetherspoons said it was still expecting to make a loss for the financial year to 25 July.
Trade bodies have argued that, while the gradual reopening from lockdown has helped breathe life into closed pubs and restaurants, ongoing restrictions under which they must operate are holding back their ability to make any money – threatening jobs.
Wetherspoons said it “remains in a sound financial position” and was planning talks with its lenders for further waivers on its agreements with them.
Meanwhile, the company also reiterated its well-worn grievance over what it sees as the unfairness of VAT rates charged to pubs compared with those faced by supermarkets.
Wetherspoons focused this time on the 20% charge it must ordinarily pay on food, which is zero-rated when sold by the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
The hospitality sector has benefited from a reduced VAT rate of 5% over the past year but the chain now says that, as it starts to return back to normal levels, it will have to increase the price of meals by about 40p.
Shares fell 1% in morning trading.
Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Although across the sector outside terraces are heaving and revellers are making the most of their new found social freedoms, sales at the chains are still like a weak pint of beer.
“The company may be ruing its decision only to televise a handful of matches as much of the football fan crowd has clearly gone elsewhere.”
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