FSC client Arc Inspirations won the award for Best New Bar at the Publican Awards 2019 for The Box in Leeds city centre, which opened in September 2018. Chief Executive Martin Wolstencroft explains the thinking behind the venue and why it’s a game-changer for modern-day sports bars.
Live sport in pubs has come a long way during my time in the sector and particularly in the two decades since I co-founded Arc Inspirations. Before then, a sports pub basically amounted to a community boozer with a sticky carpet and smoke-filled bar full of blokes (probably wearing football tops) which happened to have a dusty TV in the corner.
Investment in sports coverage by the major broadcasters, in tandem with advances in audio-visual technology, has meant people can now enjoy a superb, immersive viewing experience from the comfort of their own sofas. As operators, our venues need to, at the very least, match that experience and offer compelling reasons for people to keep returning. Customer expectations have clearly increased; people think carefully about where to spend their money eating, drinking and watching sport – they want venues that can provide high-quality, memorable moments.
When it comes to watching the big match, fight, or race, the shared experience of being alongside like-minded fans in the pub is really second only to being at the event itself. You simply cannot bottle the electric atmosphere that draws people through the doors and provides that thrilling, communal buzz, like we all witnessed during last summer’s fantastic football World Cup.
We believe Arc has been at the forefront of changing the game when it comes to sports bars. No more is this evident than at The Box in Leeds city centre, which opened in September last year.
Prior to opening, we thought long and hard about how to evolve the concept; we wanted to create the place to eat, drink and play in the city – an antidote to the outdated sports pubs of the past. I spent a lot of time researching venues in the US (where they really take their sports seriously) and this heavily shaped our thinking with The Box.
It needed to be more than simply a great place to watch live sport, it had to deliver an unmatched experience. As a sports fanatic and someone with strong connections to various teams and clubs across Yorkshire, I was emotionally invested in creating a venue that I knew those teams would enjoy, as well as an inclusive space that appealed to a broad customer base seeking entertainment – not just guys watching football.
I think we have achieved that. In fact, I know we have. We’re thrilled that the success and innovative approach embedded at The Box has been rewarded by being crowned Best New Bar at the recent Publican Awards. It’s validation of our thinking as a business and huge recognition that we have created something special for our guests.
The layout is flexible with bookable booths and bar stools, sharing tables and relaxed ‘social seating’. The industrial-style furniture is designed with sharing in mind and for guests to get up and dance on the benches when the live music or DJ gets going. The solid wood oak floors and wall panelling with a monochrome tiling details nods to a motor racing chequered flag theme.
Two full-size Maplewood European shuffleboards take centre stage, surrounded by sharing tables for groups to book. As you enter the bar there is an impressive ceiling-suspended TV rig with feature lights and glitter balls to illuminate the dance floor in front of the stage. One of the bar’s private dining rooms has its own darts lane for hire with electronic score board.
Our focus on experience is reflected by the drinks-led innovation featuring Budvar tank beer suspended above the bar, making it a real focal point. It sets the standard, so when customers step foot into the venue they know you are dedicated to serving them a quality pint. It’s our best-seller on draught, averaging about 2,000 pints a week.
The Box also features exclusive cocktails on tap, our own recipe Pornstar and Espresso Martinis to name just a couple – a real point of difference that drives guest loyalty and shows our commitment to running an inclusive venue that offers entertainment in its broadest sense for all.
Our pizza oven is also on show in an open style kitchen, offering a sense of theatre and inviting customers to enjoy being part of the overall experience. This means the bar transforms into an eating and socialising spot all at once.
We think we’ve created a blueprint for the modern sports bar. Feedback from our customers supports this and we see it in our sales figures, with The Box trading well above expected levels.
Next time you’re in Leeds, come and see us – it’s a game changer.
Martin Wolstencroft is Chief Executive of Arc Inspirations, the fast-growing operator of bars and bar-restaurants across the north of England