Last bastion falls: Wetherspoon pubs to get TVs

No-music, no-screens chain relents but 'they're not being put in for the World Cup'
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The Independent Online

JD Wetherspoon, the cheap and cheerful pub chain known for its strict no-music and no-television policy, is to break with tradition by introducing TV sets across its estate.

Wetherspoon pubs do not have juke boxes and only a handful, mainly those at airports, currently have TVs. But the group has now decided that every pub in the 640-strong estate will be fitted with two plasma screens, at a cost of around £2,500 per outlet.

The decision comes just a week after Wetherspoon warned that the World Cup would hit sales in June and July, as it expected punters to desert its pubs for bars showing England games.

But chief executive John Hutson insisted that the chain was not seeking to cash in on the tournament. "They are not being put in for the World Cup," he said. "It's more to do with the extended hours. It's just an extra facility."

As at Wetherspoon's airport pubs, the volume on the new televisions will be turned off and, for the moment, they will just show rolling news captions.

Mr Hutson said he expected the service to appeal to customers who use the pubs in the morning - following the recent changes to the licensing hours, Wetherspoon outlets have started opening at 9am, selling coffee and cooked breakfasts.

Mr Hutson conceded that managers would be consulted as the World Cup approached about the possibility of showing games. But he added that the group would find it hard to compete with dedicated football pubs that have multiple TVs and large screens. "We won't be making it an environment to come and see the World Cup. We just don't have the facilities."

However, the pub has had positive feedback from showing sporting events in the past, such as cricket and tennis, and Mr Hutson said the decision to introduce TVs was taken just before the Ashes last summer.

Ever since chairman Tim Martin founded JD Wetherspoon - the group was named after one of his teachers and a character from the Dukes of Hazard TV series - the pubs have enforced a strict policy banning music and screens. The intention was to create an environment where people could enjoy a drink in peace.

Earlier this month, Wetherspoon revealed that underlying sales for the year to date had slipped 0.3 per cent. As well as concerns about missing out on trade this summer, the group has been hit by slower business at its 49 non-smoking pubs.

Despite this, Mr Martin is in favour of a total ban on smoking in pubs and has been lobbying the Government on the issue.