Sporting backdrop

A summer of the Ashes, a football season in full swing and the Olympic venues rising in the East of London, the great sporting venue is never far from the headlines. Paul Colston sees if it is still a winner for meetings.There is little doubt that during the past decade, the use of sporting venues, has experienced significant growth within the events industry.

From an ever increasing supply, corporate and association organisers are now spoilt for choice in their sporting venue selection; but what is it that makes these venues so popular?
Experience of hosting large volumes of people, effective delegate management and ample free parking are certainly attractions for organisers. Add an often easily accessible location, the inclusion of a stadium tour or guest appearance from a sporting personality, and much improved levels of on-site catering, and the image of a rather out-of-date sporting venue is replaced by a high profile competitor to the conference hotel or dedicated centre. 
The correlation with sporting excellence can also be a specific pull factor for events. Evidence of success, achievement and optimum performance are professional traits with clear ties to commerce which can be leveraged by companies and delegates alike.
There are many recent examples of sporting venues investing substantial sums in conference facilities. Recent investment and developments at both Ascot and Twickenham have resulted in the addition of modern meeting spaces equipped with the latest technology. Such long-term investments clearly illustrate the importance of conference custom as a secondary function to their principal use. 
A further recent trend highlighted by many sporting venues is the inclusion of on-site accommodation in the form of a branded hotel. Early adopters in this field include Chelsea and Reading football clubs, with recent announcements from The Oval and Old Trafford cricket grounds further continuing the trend. Being able to offer residential conferences certainly broadens a venue’s appeal.
Many smaller venues with a sporting emphasis are now promoting the provision of corporate meeting facilities. Ice rinks, karting tracks and clay pigeon shooting venues, for example, have all entered the industry as venue suppliers, eager to gain a slice of the events pie. Whether tied into a sporting activity, or purely offering the use of meeting facilities, the commercial attraction is clear. 
Looking forward, a hurdle to be cleared by sporting venues in the race for enhanced industry standing is attracting increased repeat business. Once clients have experienced the initial ‘wow factor’ of the venue, the hope is that an impression has been made also by the professional levels of customer service, technical equipment and catering standards.

_Spur to performance
Kudos Hospitality runs the events side of the business at White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. CN asked general manager Antonia Wilson whether the good start on the pitch has affected bookings on the meetings side. 
“If we have a good start to the season it works well for match-day hospitality, but it really has no significant bearing on the number of event bookings we will take for conferences and banqueting,” says Wilson. “We do find that during non-match weeks or during quieter footballing months bookings for conferences and banquets increase, due to more room availability and more days for us to sell.” 
The Oak Room at Spurs attracted logistics company Gist when it came to choosing a venue to impress clients. Gist brought 48 guests on a matchday and received a champagne reception and a tour of the famous venue before a 
four-course lunch was served, including some speeches from football legends. 
Gist director, Paul Littmoden, says his business demands high-end corporate hospitality facilities to entertain clients and Spurs delivered with a “high standard of cuisine and service”. 

?and keeping the Bluewing flag flying
Over at Chelsea there are now 21 private suites, a choice of restaurants and bars, a health club and spa, 275 hotel rooms and on-site parking. The club reports meetings and events revenue this year have held up to last year’s levels despite the recession.
Head of hospitality at Chelsea’s Bluewing events centre, Simon Hunter, says: “We are hosting fewer large events, but a greater number of smaller ones, due partly to organisations breaking their events down into departmental style meetings rather than whole company events. 
“The event extras, such as room theming and production, have reduced; and lead times, from initial enquiry to event date, have become shorter. Bookers are looking to more venues for quotes before committing. In order to cater for the growing demand in smaller, simpler meetings and team catch ups, we’ve just launched a new low-cost package.”
Hunter makes the point that Chelsea Football Club isn’t just a venue for hire; “it’s an inspirational brand with global recognition”. He says: “Simply by association, a meeting or event held at Stamford Bridge will have a touch of glamour.”
People need not assume, however, says Hunter, that the club’s event facilities are designed to cater only for glamorous product launches. In May, Bluewing hosted the Labour Party’s annual dinner attended by the Prime Minister, and TNT brought their Global Sales Summit, which turned the Great Hall into a giant changing room, with a five-a-side football court in the middle. This year there’s also an Arabian-themed Christmas party package at a price most non-Russian oligarchs can afford.

Trent Bridge
As the world’s third oldest Test cricket ground, Trent Bridge in Nottingham offers a number of meeting facilities, including the 80-seater Long Room and the Derek Randall Suite, which can hold 250.

_“Sporting venues in Nottinghamshire always prove popular with corporate clients,” says conference tourism co-ordinator at the Nottinghamshire Convention Bureau, Andy Melton. “They have an iconic quality about them, and many believe that holding an event in such a venue adds a certain degree of prestige.
“We’ve seen an increasing trend for sporting venues in the county to be used for training and corporate meetings. The sense of team bonding and success that these locations evoke means that they have a substantially lucrative offering for this type of booking.”
And, when Notts won the county cricket championship a few years back, Trent Bridge eclipsed Nottingham Forest’s City Ground across the road as the place to bring an event if you wanted a sporting backdrop. Organisers and their clients are not above a bit of ‘glory hunting’ it seems.
A multi-million pound redevelopment in preparation for this summer’s ICC World Twenty20 tournament has seen ground capacity upped to 17,000.
It is often difficult for venues to combine a sense of heritage alongside modern facilities without it appearing incoherent. However, Trent Bridge business development manager, Mark Worrall, believes Trent Bridge strikes the balance.
“With our conferencing facilities, we offer traditional standards of service in modern surroundings. When you’re dealing with a venue that has a history dating back to the early 19th century, it’s important that you reflect it.
“We don’t offer ‘anonymous’ rooms that are devoid of character. In the Derek Randall Suite for example, we have a glass screen spanning the length of the room, looking out onto the ground.” Lancashire County Cricket Club, perhaps stung into action to invest following the ground’s losing out to stage an Ashes Test this year, is moving ahead with its new events facility The Point, due for next June. One of the largest purpose-built conference and event facilities in the country, the £12m development will accommodate a conference or formal dinner for 1,000 people.
A balcony, 2.5m wide, will run the length of the suite, overlooking the famous Old Trafford pitch. There will be a 68-bedroomed lodge and parking for 600 cars “We are very excited that Manchester is to have another first-class facility for events and there is ample car parking availability at LCCC. The in-house facilities that have been incorporated in the venture take into account the needs of event companies and their clients,” says organiser Liz Taylor from the Taylor Lynn Corporation.
A £8m investment in the Slick Systems stand at Project Sixways Development at Worcester Warriors Rugby Club is providing a 365 day a year income stream, of which non-rugby activity is now 20 per cent.
Sixways is also scoring conversions off the pitch as well as on. Non sporting venues may just have to get in better shape to compete.

‘There are many examples of sporting venues investing substantial sums in conference facilities.’ 
 

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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