Sporting prowess

As host destination to major sporting events such as the London 2012 Olympic Games, The Grand Depart, the Commonwealth Games, and the recent Ryder Cup, the UK’s sporting infrastructure is clearly up to the global events challenge. Whether hosting a sporting  or business event, the aim is always the same: to produce a winning performance.

“Football and rugby stadia are experiencing great interest in the unusual venues they have on offer, most of which have superb facilities with a unique backdrop, stadium tours and plenty of outdoor space” says Collette Salmon, Chair of Stadium Experience.

When once it was just dedicated conference centres and hotels that were considered for conferences, sporting venues have come to the fore as more than capable of hosting even the most complex corporate event. And with their ability to handle large numbers, offer plenty of onsite parking, as well as good road and rail links, sporting venues are steadily climbing the events venue league table.

Twickenham Stadium is one venue doing just this. The stadium’s events arm Twickenham Experience has reported a 52 per cent year-on-year increase in sales for September.

The magnitude of match-day operations at the stadium is a key factor in its ability to host large scale corporate events, according to Twickenham Experience MD Chris Morris.

To put this into context, Twickenham’s largest match day this year, the RBS 6 Nations England vs Ireland match, saw the stadium handle 9,751 hospitality covers. Its largest corporate event, O2’s ‘Back to Back’ conference, saw the venue serve 16,000 bowl food dishes to 1,000 delegates across four days. Still impressive, but perhaps an easier win, when compared to a match day.

Lords Cricket Ground expects to exceed its events business target by 13 per cent when 2014 comes to a close, according to Nick Kenton, Head of Sales: Meetings & Events and Hospitality. He says the advent of Twenty20 has meant clients now hold meetings, combined with teambuilding and cricket.

Lisa Carpenter, Events Manager at Events Inc. says the agency has noticed that when hosting an event at a sporting venue delegates don’t want to miss out on a more interactive and informal experience at the venue.

“The opportunity for this extra dimension can help reduce conference claustrophobia if, as sometimes is the case, the venue buildings are relatively small in terms of meeting room space  – a situation magnified by their extensive outdoor surroundings,” she says.

Examples to top and tail a conference from Events Inc. include tours and teambuilding activities. As part of a conference at Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium, the agency organised  a ‘Zorb Football’ tournament.

From sports to events business
As host venue of this year’s Ryder Cup, The Gleneagles Hotel, is hoping to capitalise on the global media coverage to bolster its events business. The push comes hot on the heels of the announcement of a new 2,500sqm events space, The Gleneagles Arena.

“After celebrating our 90th anniversary and hosting The Ryder Cup, this has been one of the most memorable years in Gleneagles history, and we are delighted to keep the momentum going in 2015 with the launch of this new space,” says Stuart Smith, Gleneagles’ Director of Events and Leisure.

Dorothy Walsh, Director of Sales and Marketing at Gleneagles adds that hosting the Ryder Cup was a huge opportunity to grow awareness of the venue as a destination for business travellers. “We witnessed a significant surge in web traffic during the run-up to the event and during the week itself – the numbers were astounding,” she says.

Gleneagles can hope to follow in the footsteps of previous Ryder Cup host venue Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales. Celtic Manor hosted the competition in 2010 and Marketing Director Vanessa Russell says hosting the event helped the resort win the contract to host the 2014 NATO Summit.

“First of all it showed we could host a major event on a global stage?and hold it well. Secondly, some of the infrastructure we had put in for the Ryder Cup was used to deliver the NATO Summit, such as the sites for police compounds and media centres,” says Russell.

Following the golf trajectory  and remaining in Wales, the Vale Resort in Hensol, is renowned for its championship-standard golf courses and training facilities, which have seen the resort become the official home of Wales’ national rugby team, the Cardiff Blues and Cardiff City FC. It also regularly plays host to visiting professional football teams including Manchester United FC and Real Madrid.

The venue was named an official Team Base for the Rugby World Cup 2015 earlier this summer, alongside 40 other venues including St George’s Park and Celtic Manor.

Alongside hosting top professional sports teams, the Vale has seen a resurgence in corporate events and secured 30 new business contracts this year for meetings and conferences. The venue offers 12 meeting spaces including its Castle Suite for 700 delegates. Corporate clients are encouraged to incorporate a sports activity into events, with golf a particular draw.

With experience hosting professional sports teams such as UEFA Super Cup winners Real Madrid, rest assured any requests considered ‘slightly out-there’ are not likely to cause much alarm. Prior to their two-day stay ahead of the Cup final, Real Madrid provided an ‘extremely detailed list’ of the foods the team required, outlining everything from how the mashed potato should be prepared (with olive oil, no butter), to the exact ratio of sliced boiled eggs (two white-shelled eggs and one red-shelled egg).

On another occasion, the five meals required per day by the British and Irish Lions during their five-day boot camp, were all prepared according to the exact nutritional needs of each individual player, following instructions from the team’s nutritionist. Menus were calculated to ensure each player consumed 7,000 calories per day, including 400 grams of protein.

Battle of the blues
Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City Football Club has invested heavily in its hospitality and events facilities in recent seasons and scooped the Best Football Club Hospitality award in the annual Football Business Awards.

The stadium now offers a packed squad of 66 venues for meetings and events, with capacity for up to 500 delegates.

Just launched, is the new Platinum Experience Box. Purposefully neutral in style, this space allows organisers to project their own personality into the space to truly ‘own’ a piece of Premier League real estate.

Battling both on and off the pitch with Man City, Chelsea FC recently won the rights to host the global Leaders Sport Business Summit for a further three years  to 2017.

The 2014 summit took place in October and included a 35+ stand exhibition in the 1,400sqm blank canvas Great Hall.

Branding the stadium both inside and out, the summit ran across the entire Stamford Bridge site, using all 24 function rooms, 60 syndicate rooms, the Chelsea Museum, live music venue Under The Bridge, as well as hospitality and accommodation from Chelsea’s onsite hotels and restaurants.

Now plying its football-trade in the Championship, Bolton Wanderers’ Macron Stadium offers an integrated hotel, the Bolton Whites Hotel, which recently hosted the National Union of Students (NUS) Students Union 2014 Conference and Award Ceremony.

The event took place throughout the entire hotel over a two-day period and saw over 1,000 delegates in attendance. In total, 57 conference rooms, three restaurants and 125 bedrooms were used with spaces required for delegate registration, the conference itself, workshops and an awards ceremony.

Being able to host all components of an event at one venue is a bonus of sporting venues and something Helen Davis from Top Banana says contributed to a successful event the agency ran for a pharmaceutical company.

“We ran a successful event at the Ricoh Arena for 1,500 people, which included a full day event, plus a celebration dinner all in one place and the venue delivered on all fronts – the right space, in the right place, at a realistic cost and a seamless delegate experience.”

Davis adds, however, that the downside of many sporting venues “is they can lack charisma. There’s not much that’s unique about most football or cricket grounds”.

To bring the charisma back, if it is indeed missing, incorporating a sporting activity could be just the ticket.

English Heritage site and home to both Sport England and Carnegie Great Outdoors, Lilleshall, which offers 11 meeting rooms, auditoriums and 148 en suite rooms, also has a range of sporting activities on offer.

Management says approximately 30 per cent of its conferences each year build a sporting element into their stay as a standalone event or as a team incentive. The most popular activities include:

  • ‘Have a Go Archery’ (as the venue is the home of Archery GB)? Wheelchair Basketball
  • Orienteering courses
  • Segways around the 330-acre grounds.

Another venue incorporating its sporting prowess into corporate events is Emirates Old Trafford, which has developed a range of cricket teambuilding packages. The Boardroom and Bowling package allows clients to combine a meeting with three hours of coaching and games in the Indoor Cricket Centre led by its ECB coaching staff.

Not one to rest on its laurels, the UK sporting community is looking ahead to next year when all eyes will be on England as it hosts the Rugby World Cup 2015.

“We’re busy preparing for an influx of visitors, with English venues from Newcastle to Exeter hosting games in September and October,” says Simon Gidman, Head of Business Visits and Events at VisitEngland. “Playing host to so many exciting global events, it’s no surprise that England has such an impressive range of sporting venues capable of hosting every type of business event.” Let the games begin.

Breakout: Top of the class
For the past few years, Sunderland Association FC’s Stadium of Light has played host to the annual graduation ceremonies for the University of Sunderland.

In 2014, it welcomed 2,500 students and guests at each of the six ceremonies, catering for a total of 15,000 overall.

In order to accommodate such a large crowd SAFC erected a stage on the pitch, similar to that provided for concerts.

The Stadium’s events team met with student representatives prior to the graduations to get a clearer idea of their desires, as well as the university organisers, to make sure to satisfy both within the specified budget.

The events team also met with the same representatives after the event to gauge their reactions and highlight any areas of potential improvement for the next year.

Management says it is this level of dedication and success which has earned the Stadium of Light an extension to their contract with the University of Sunderland, which will see the venue host the graduations for at least the next two years.

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

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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