Meet at a sporting venue

While sporting venues’ primary business sees them host thousands of sports fans, hosting delegates for conferences and events is now becoming second nature for many sporting stadia.

Sporting venues are now receiving recognition as key contributors to the value of the events industry, as a whole, with the recent Meeting Professionals International Foundation’s UK Economic Impact Survey reporting the popularity of ‘unusual and unique’ venues (under which umbrella term stadia sit) for conference organisers.

Jo Austin, Head of Sales at Lime Venue Portfolio, says: “Stadia are built to house anything up to 82,000 fans on a match day, so they have easy accessibility, with great space for large conferences, and also more intimate boxes, often with fabulous outlooks, for smaller meetings. Likewise, their catering facilities at stadia designed to produce meals on a grand scale in a timely fashion.”

Event management agency Zibrant has organised events at Wembley Stadium and The Emirates in recent months. Among the benefits of holding an event in a sporting venue, its Creative Services Director, Lex Butler, highlights the central location of most of these venues meaning they are easily accessible for national and international delegates.

“Sporting stadia also have a number of boxes that provide plentiful breakout spaces along with views of the venue. They also often offer great rates compared to major city centre venues with the same floor space and that ‘wow’ factor when events work in tandem with the club the venue is linked to.”

One major drawback of these venues, according to Butler, is the need to work around any sporting fixtures.  
She says they would only discount a venue if the venue was sponsored by a competitor of the client or had a conflict of interest. “We wouldn’t put a BMW meeting in the Porsche meeting/track space at Silverstone.”

Ellis Salsby, MD of Midlands-based booking agency Ellis Salsby Ltd, has used the Ricoh Arena for the last three years for a professional association’s sales conference for 600 delegates, which consisted of a plenary in the tiered auditorium, an exhibition with 30 stands, and three breakout rooms.

“The flexibility of the venue has been its main selling point together with the ample space and onsite car parking,” he says.

 Salsby has also used Twickenham Stadium for events including the recent HBAA forum. He says sporting venues make a welcome change from hotels or conference centres.

“The masses of onsite parking and flexibility of event space makes them the perfect alternative, especially for large numbers. Delegates love the space and environment of these venues and it certainly adds kudos to the event,” he says.

60-second gallop around a selection of sporting venues

This year saw Emirates Old Trafford, home of Lancashire County Cricket Club, open its Players and Media Centre, as well as the redevelopment of its Pavilion. When combined with the facilities at The Point, the venue can now accommodate 1,700 delegates. The continuing development of the venue is a high priority, according to Venue Sales Manager, Angela Hodson. “We are looking at a new hotel to provide increased onsite accommodation and a hoist-lift to assist us getting vehicles into The Point.”

Scotland’s Perth Racecourse conference facility, The Galileo, has panoramic views of the racetrack and Scone Palace, and can accommodate up to 300 guests in a theatre-style auditorium with a separate space for refreshments, seminars and workshops. New investments include the £70,000 Racing UK Pavilion, which will be used for hosting events including weddings and will provide additional conference space.

East Midlands-based-Welford Road, the home of rugby club Leicester Tigers has space for up to 1,000 delegates and an additional 900sqm of exhibition space, as well as 40 suites. The venue hosted a conference for PaperlinX earlier this year based on the British and Irish Lions where four nations became one team. “Our three operating divisions have merged into one so we used the synergies of this metaphor to show what we needed,” says PaperlinX Marketing Manager, Paul Cassidy. “Leicester was best placed for a nationally-based team being central to all.”

Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge recently hosted 1,000 football leaders for the Leaders Sport Summit 2013. Every inch of the venue was used, with the new purpose-built Sky Deck from Delta Airlines providing a welcome entrance to seminar rooms, workshop suites, pitch-side dining and exhibition.

At Lord’s Cricket Ground, non match-day events account for almost 10 per cent of the total club turnover, which now exceeds £4m.

“The popularity of sporting venues seems to have increased in conjunction with England’s sporting successes,” says Nick Kenton, Head of Sales for Meetings and Events at Lord’s. “The prospect of walking in the footsteps of Ashes winners is a real draw to delegates.”

This was first published in the November issue of CN. Any comments? Email

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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