Pub landlords have criticised an “offensive” advert claiming their premises would be “delightfully empty” if they did not sign up to BT Sport.
A spoof letter was sent out by the broadcaster to pubs claiming they were venues where people could drink “in utter peace and quiet”.
Several pubs that received the advert described the move as insulting.
BT Sport apologised for any offence caused and said it was intended as a “tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign”.
The spoof letter, purporting to be from the founder of the “Quiet Pub Guide 2016”, told the owner they were in the running for “Quiet Pub of the Year”.
It read: “With hardly any customers, your staff wages can be up to 50% less.”
Charlotte Stanley, co-landlady of the Chemic Tavern in Leeds, said: “Last year we faced closing the pub due to a rise in business rates, so the letter was especially insulting for us.
“It must have been a slow day in the office when they thought this was a good idea.”
She added it was “ironic that one of our top selling points as a pub is we don’t have screens”.
Sarah Evans, landlady at the Saracen’s Head in Little Brington, Northamptonshire, said: “I think it’s offensive as it’s implying that you’re not doing a good job if you don’t show sport – it’s not true and it’s not what everyone wants.
“I think they’ve made a big mistake, judging by the reaction from it.”
Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing at the Birmingham Business School, said: “It’s using a fear approach, which is quite an old-fashioned approach to marketing.
“It’s setting it up in the minds of the recipient that there is something wrong with what they are doing if they don’t purchase their product.”
In a statement, a BT spokesperson said: “This direct mail was intended as a tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign highlighting how sport can make a difference to some pubs by bringing customers together through a shared love of sport.
“Many pubs are successful without the need for televised sport, and we apologise to anyone who has been offended by the letter.”