Catch-22: Sports pub may have to switch off expensive live TV football despite risk from rising bills

For a popular sports pub, it’s drastic to have to consider canceling your BT and Sky subscriptions in order to stay open.

But that’s the dilemma facing Gerard Keenan (42) and his wife Sinead, who own Dan’s Bar in West Belfast and have six children aged between 3 and 13.

Their last bill for a month’s electricity use was triple what it was, and after investing in energy-saving measures like sensor lights a few years ago, they must now look at what other cuts they can make.

“We can’t save anymore,” Gerard said. “We now have all the sensor lights and we turn off our lights in the morning and try to rely on daylight coming through the door instead.

“But after hearing the electricity bill would be so high, I told Sinead we had to cancel our Sky and BT Sports which were costing us around £1,400 or £1,500 a month. But she said if we did that we would lose the small number of customers we have who rely on us to come and watch the football.

It is also awaiting a gas bill, with SSE provider Airtricity announcing a 35.4% increase two weeks ago.

“Fortunately, we haven’t refueled for a while because the weather has been pretty good, so it’s not even worth thinking about right now,” he added.

The feeling of anxiety about the future has spread to the staff.

He explained, “We have an employee who was on maternity leave and found another job because she was so afraid that there was no work for her here. In her head, she watched everything that was happening and she was scared, because she had just had a baby.

“I was devastated because we kept all of our staff on during the pandemic.”

He said he felt more supported during Covid, when Stormont ministers took part in daily updates on the restrictions.

“It doesn’t help now that we don’t have anyone to help us,” he added.

“We had Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill standing there trying to pacify everyone and say, ‘I know you had to close your business, but bear with us.’

“Someone on the front line always made you breathe easier, even though at the time we had no money and the bank took all the money that went into our account.

“But we always found comfort in the idea that someone was there and worked hard. But now nobody is doing anything and I don’t think that’s fair.

Yet cash grants of the kind given during the pandemic will not suffice now.

He believes that the threat to hospitality is more fundamental.

“This time we knew from the start that we would have a chance to open and the subsidies etc. were just a temporary band-aid,” he said.

“But it’s not something that if someone took money from us it would be fine. If someone could give us a grant of £5,000 or £10,000 now it would be swallowed up by the bills in some months.

Some of the older children experience anxiety.

“I do my best to stay positive, but the kids say, ‘Is everything okay, dad?’ The older ones know more and don’t ask for anything more, and they even walk around at night turning off the lights.

Consumption habits are also changing, with fewer customers.

“The same punters don’t come, and when they come, they come for a drink or two at the end of the night, instead of floating around at three or four different times of the day.

“It’s just a matter of retaining what we have, which is why Sinead is so opposed to the scrapping of Sky and BT Sports.”

He added: “But it’s going to have to be canceled so that we can survive, which is a problem in itself because we’re a sports-focused pub.

“Who’s going to want to come back to Dan’s to watch football when it’s not even on the air?”

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