Keeping the conference balls in the air

The Rugby World Cup tournament, last month, put the spotlight on the nation’s sporting stadia

From Usain Bolt, seemingly defying the laws of physics to global superstars gathering to wish Nelson Mandela ‘Happy Birthday’, most of us have our favourite sporting stadium moment.
But away from the headline grabbing events, sporting venues provide a valuable service day-in, day-out to event organisers.

Jo Austin, sales director at the Lime Venue Portfolio, says: “Sporting venues are an established and recognised sector of the venue market and event organisers rightfully judge the venue on its facilities, service, and catering delivery rather than its performance in its sporting world.

“Delegates are much the same. Although they still enjoy the excitement and energy of the venues, they attend on location, quality and content, and are often pleasantly surprised by how well these venues perform from a service delivery perspective.

“There is still the X-factor of CEO’s who will drag their entire company across town so they they can host their conference at the home of their favourite team, or will steadfastly veto ‘enemy’ venues, but these are growing fewer and farther between … thank goodness!”

Natasha Carr, venue and events marketing manager for Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events, which caters for 45 stadia, museums and tourist attractions across the UK, says: “There are numerous advantages to using stadia – not least because most are well known and much loved venues in their own right.
“Very often the meeting and event spaces offer views of the pitch or the racecourse and there is often the opportunity to incorporate a behind-the-scenes look at the venue into the corporate package.

“Delegates could enjoy dinner in the Jockey’s changing room at Ascot Racecourse, for example, or in the board room at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium, and often it is possible to incorporate a match or race day with a meeting.

“Stadia also usually have plenty of outdoor space for teambuilding activities – in fact the Headingley Carnegie Stadium at Leeds can arrange activities with the club’s players.
“Because of their size, most stadia offer a wide choice of meeting and break out spaces, ample parking and good accessibility, while our teams at all venues can offer a wide choice of flexible catering options.

“Match day fixtures can be subject to change and availability is sometimes limited in peak sporting season, but generally speaking the advantages far outweigh those.”
For example, Newcastle United’s footballing superstars have been honoured in the renaming of a suite at the club’s St James’ Park stadium.

In tribute to the likes of Alan Shearer, Kevin Keegan, Paul Gascoigne and Jackie Milburn, it has renamed its Club 206 function room, the Heroes Club.

It is also the first suite in the stadium to feature a live cooking station, where chefs from Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events, which manages conferences and banqueting at St James’ Park, will cook dishes such as Pad Thai noodles and Poached Eggs Benedict on match days.

Available to hire, the suite incorporates a private bar, offers natural daylight and free Wi Fiand can be utilised for conferences and meetings, seating up to 250 guests theatre style. It can also be used for private dining for around 250, with each table named after a former player or manager.

Samantha Doyle, sales and marketing manager for Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events, said: “We are delighted with the new Heroes Club, which is not only supremely stylish but allows us to cater in situ for all manner of events and celebrations.”
As the final whistle blew on the Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham, Ernst & Young (EY), demonstrated the business end of the tournament in its RWC Economic Impact Study,
The pan-England event covered 10 host cities in England plus the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and featured 41 team bases.
According to the study, benefits were spread across the country as each host destination geared up to maximise the potential for economic growth and job creation linked to the high-profile sporting tournament.

The EY study revealed that Rugby World Cup 2015 delivered nearly £1bn of additional value into the UK economy. It generated up to £2.2bn of output into the economy and added up to £982m of value to national GDP.
With many of the match venues and team bases improving their facilities ahead of the tournament and host cities committing to improving transport links, the report estimated that £85m has been invested in infrastructure. This includes the £76m redevelopment of Twickenham Stadium by the Rugby Football Union. These infrastructure investments are expected to continue to deliver benefits to the local communities long after the tournament has finished.

For those who prefer to mix playing sport with business Southport in the north west pitches itself as England’s Golf Coast.
A spokesman for the destination points out the area is home to 15 golf courses. He says: “There are three Open Championship venues including Royal Birkdale in Southport, which has hosted The Open nine times and will do so again in 2017. But the quality doesn’t stop there, with Hillside, Formby, Southport & Ainsdale and Hesketh Golf Clubs all within 15 minutes of the town centre, there’s a choice of five championship courses to play.

“For corporate events organisers, accessing these courses couldn’t be easier. England’s Golf Coast has a dedicated team who can assist with all aspects of arranging tee times at the courses and – if needed – advice and assist in booking accommodation in the area from four star boutique hotels to well-known brands.”
Neil Brownlee, head of business events at VisitScotland, said: “Scotland is known throughout the world as the undisputed Home of Golf, so it’s no surprise that the sport plays a key role in numerous world-class events and incentive trips available to corporate event organisers. Famous courses such as Gleneagles, St Andrews and Trump Turnberry don’t just offer incredible playing surfaces and stunning scenery, but they also boast outstanding facilities suitable for all kinds of business event.”

The Macdonald Berystede Hotel & Spa offers packages to watch horse racing at the nearby Ascot Racecourse and Macdonald Botley Park Hotel & Spa can help delegates get their sea legs with a sailing experience on the Solent.

Jockey Club venues, meanwhile, offer corporate event organisers a prestigious portfolio of 15 event locations in some of the most beautiful settings throughout the country. A newly launched website for corporate event organisers ( includes a search function by geographical area as well as event type and size. There are fast facts on each of the 15 racecourse venues as well as the opportunity to request bespoke event proposals.

And a one-stop shop for organisers keen to compare stadia countrywide, the site is worth checking out.




Conference News resides at the heart of the conference industry examining the issues affecting organisers, venues, destinations and suppliers. Published monthly, Conference News features the latest news, interviews and industry analysis from market influencers.

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