Belfast Telegraph

Stay-at-home football fans set to score a £4m boost for Northern Ireland's economy

Supporters predicted to spend big on food and drink as they cheer on teams

Marcin Rog and Matt Madill wearing Northern Ireland T-shirts from Ski and Sports
Marcin Rog and Matt Madill wearing Northern Ireland T-shirts from Ski and Sports
Pub owner Bernard Lavery
Keyrings for sale across the country
One of items for sale across the country

By Rachel Martin

This month, the fuss may be all about France, but the Northern Ireland fans who stay at home are the ones who will be scoring all the points for the region's economy, according to researchers at Ulster University.

Fans who stay in Northern Ireland are expected to spend an extra £4m on beer, food and confectionery during the Euros as they cheer on their team. And in total, the tournament is expected to bring an extra £8.5m into the economy.

Fanzones encouraging supporters to cheer on Northern Ireland are expected to bring in £2.8m through food, drink and transport spending.

Belfast pub owner Bernard Lavery said he would need 140 extra staff members to cover the trade at his two bars, Lavery's and the Pavilion, on each of the match days - June 12, 16 and 21.

He added: "We expect to be at capacity on each of the matchdays. It's good because there are three matches on each of the days, so fans can come down early while they are waiting for their team to play and stay on and watch the next match after.

"Fans love the atmosphere of the pub - it'll be like a festival of football.

"Because a lot of fans will follow Premiership teams, you'll also have a lot of interest around other team's matches. You've got favourite players who will be playing for England, Wales, Germany or Spain, so you'll want to see how they get on too."

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Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill also urged supporters to "get off the sofa".

"The build-up to the Euro finals in France has been fantastic, and the hospitality sector is ready to help fans enjoy and celebrate whatever team they are supporting over the next few weeks," he said.

"We expect trade to be swift and want everyone to have a great time. We are encouraging people to get off their sofas and get into an atmosphere where they can cheer on their team together in a safe environment."

Off-licences and drinks distributors are also expected to be winners in the Euros, with predictions that alcohol sales will increase by around 16%.

Co Armagh firm United Wines distributes beer, cider, spirits and wine to more than 1,000 bars, restaurants, hotels and off-licenses. Director Emma Haughian said she expected a surge in sales after kick-off.

But on the shirt front, it appears there is little love for the independent retailers. Sports giant JD Sports was awarded the contract to be the only official retailers of the three UK qualifying nations' shirts. The Northern Ireland shirt is the best-selling top for the team of all time, with 30,000 sold so far, fetching a total of £1.65m.

But the Irish Football Association (IFA) - Northern Ireland football's governing body - said it could not given a breakdown of how the price paid for a shirt was distributed between the manufacturer, the retailer and the IFA, adding the information was "commercially sensitive". Official IFA-branded clothing will also be on shelves in Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's, DW, Sports Direct and Primark.

And branded mugs, air-fresheners, keyrings, shot glasses, bottle openers, lunch bags, teddy bears, pint glasses, stickers and even gnomes are already on the shelves of Sainsbury's, Tesco and Sports Direct.

But despite the bar on selling the official shirts, Euro 2016 has still delivered a huge boost to locally owned clothing retailer Ski and Sports.

Director Gary Briers, who is in France for the tournament, said sales of his own range of supporters' merchandise were accounting for 50% of the company's business this month.

And yesterday, the Lisburn Flag Shop told customers it had run out of Northern Ireland football flags.

Gary Briers from Ski and Sports said: "We started selling the range at Christmas and it's been steady since then, but in the past fortnight every second sale in our four stores has been a Northern Ireland Euro 2016 item. The T-shirts, sweatshirts, polo tops and flags are flying off the shelves. There's no sign of demand slowing up. 

"We're delighted with the business because, as any retailer will tell you, times are tough in retail and we're still feeling the effects of the recession. This is a great boost for us."

Glyn Roberts, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive, added that the timing of the Euros was complementary to the association's Independents Day on July 4. He said: "We expect the Euros will bring a much-needed boost, and I think the message we are trying to get across is that when you're out buying your snacks and confectionery, think about the local traders."

Belfast Telegraph