It looks like one of the UK’s biggest and most well known brands may be about to sold off in what may be one of the biggest sales in bingo history. Gala bingo has been a recognised brand on many of our high streets for over a quarter of a century, some of their clubs being located in stunning locations such as Gala Bingo in Mitcham Road, Tooting.
Owners Gala Coral are potentially set to float on the stock market later this year. Only last year they sold off their Gala Casinos and it looks like the bingo sell off is a move to make their stock more attractive by clearing out their less profitable arm of the business.
The bingo business did not do well last year, although that is not a reflection on Gala per se, as many gaming outlets suffered as a result of the extended summer. Reports of another uncharacteristically long summer are already forecast for this year, which again does not bode well for the UK’s bingo halls, but, at least they have had the recent good news of the bingo tax reduction in the 2014 budget.
Whether or not the group will float later this year, it does appear that the 137 clubs are going to be sold anyway, and it will be interesting to see what happens to the brand we have all been so familiar with. Bearing in mind the the fact that ‘familiarity’ may not have done Gala any favours over recent years it may be a very opportune time for a rebrand.
One of the problems facing many bingo halls is that of it’s ‘tired image’. Apart from traditional pantomimes, and comedy clubs, today’s bingo halls are the nearest you will probably to get to that old ‘music hall feeling’ that bit of ‘public theatre’, with a stage and a personality conducting the proceedings. Unfortunately, ‘public theatre’ in our culture now takes place like much of our lives, from the armchair. Television took away the need for cinemas, and basically crushed the cinema industry in the sixties. Many of our bingo halls are located in those very same cinemas, those cinemas themselves many of which were originally theatres until cinema itself put the kibosh on the stage performance industry.
What we are left with now is ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, among other reality TV and talent shows. The jeering of the music hall is replaced by shouting at the television and the texting of a vote. In short, Britain can now access that ‘public connection’, albeit in a watered down version, from their armchair.
Many clubs are doing a grand job of trying to get new punters through the door by tying in a bit of entertainment to the proceedings, everything from live music to strippers and comedy. This is something that the casinos have been doing for a while now, a game at the tables is just part of the whole ‘night out experience’. The majority of casinos offer a restaurant, and regular live entertainment. And, that industry is actually slowly growing, although there are other factors contributing to its success.
It may be enough for current bingo regulars to munch on a plate of cod and chips that has been sat slowly drying up in the warmer for eight hours, but, if clubs want to turn themselves around in terms of attendance then something has to change. As bingo players ourselves the way clubs conduct business (which hasn’t changed that much over 40 years) is what we love about the halls. Although we might not welcome the soggy chips, there is something reassuring about a part of our culture that hasn’t changed over the years.
However, if the industry is to remain healthy, then change it must. And, a rebranding of a chain such as Gala (if it doesn’t get split by the sale), is an opportunity to create something new. What shape that would take is the big question. 40 years of heritage is not easy to change, and a mere update in technology such as introducing more palm devices is not going to cut it. If you are a bit of a bright spark who has some ideas as to how clubs could change to get new players through the doors please do bingo a service by leaving your ideas in the comments section below. We don’t have a ‘direct line’ to the big bingo movers and shakers, but, we’re pretty sure that they read this blog!