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Winning formula: choosing a sporting venue for your next event

Why choose a sporting venue for your next event, and what type of experience can you expect? CN dons its colours...


Why choose a sporting venue for your event?

A lot of people go down this route because they support a certain team. However, Dom Garner, executive producer at Ten Thousand Hours, says an interesting take on it is a focus of winning performance. He tells CN: “Here’s the thing about working with sporting venues: how prepared are you to compromise your event narrative in favour of one that more easily connects with the venue?

“It’s a philosophy of mine that an event experience should not be determined by the four walls within which it’s set and yet awards ceremonies, celebratory events and sales conferences typically occupy sporting venues that so easily convey a sense of winning, performance and achievement.

“Does that mean sporting venues impose significant restrictions?  Actually, no. In my experience, sporting venues have worked hard to develop their events offer, focusing on incorporating light, bright events spaces into exciting architectural stadia developments, integrating an improved catering offer born of quality hospitality packages and thinking flexibly about how to use spaces both indoors and out.

“I’ll continue to wrestle with the notion that sporting venues inherently celebrate performance and winning but I’m encouraged that architecture, technology, sustainability and flexibility can now influence event experiences in equal measure.”

Sporting events can drive an increase in conference and meetings business, as Leeds is seeing in 2019. Perhaps the most prominent addition to the city is the brand new Headingley Emerald Stadium, the home of Leeds Rhinos, Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Yorkshire Carnegie. The venue is undergoing a major redevelopment which will change the scope and breadth of Leeds’ conference offering, and also allow the city to become home to even more international sporting events. 

This new space, which is due to open in time for the Cricket World Cup and the Ashes Test happening this summer, will see the rugby and cricket grounds sharing conference and banqueting suites through dual-aspect and combined catering and bar facilities. 

Of course, if Leeds United FC end up getting promoted back to the Premier League, then Elland Road will command a touch more consideration.



Around the grounds

Sporting venues are now events destinations in their own right, and with the increasingly popular marketing organisation Stadium Experience ensuring high standards of product and service, event organisers can now take their events to them in the sound knowledge that they will be suitable.

Stadium Experience run an annual awards event, the Stadium and Hospitality Awards (which in 2019 runs on 20 June at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium), which gives organisers a good steer on the types of venue that are offering the highest standards.

The Etihad, which in 2018 won Best Matchday Hospitality (2,000+ seats) and Operations Team of the Year has, perhaps unsurprisingly, invested a lot in their events offering, with F3, which runs the events business on site.

Rebecca Pickard (pictured above), director of sales for F3, says: “It’s all about providing a flawless experience at each client touch point and raising the bar on the quality of catering that’s achievable in a sporting venue. We do this by investing heavily in our most important assets, our employees.
We provide rigorous training and the tools to do the job, then allow our staff the autonomy to make it their own.”

Partnering with contractors is certainly one way stadiums have made progress. By handing the events management side of things over to professionals, the client gets the best experience. Sodexo Prestige is one of the big names in the field, and they are in partnership with Brighton & Hove Albion at the AMEX Stadium, which in 2018 won Best Stadium Events Venue in the aforementioned Stadium and Hospitality Awards.

General Manager Andrew Boon outlines what’s on offer: “Our 36 event spaces allow us the flexibility to benefit a diversified selection of events catering from as few as two people for a 1-1 meeting in a box to 550 for a staff conference. 

"As well as the more traditional events such as meetings, conferences and seminars, we also are a popular choice for large and small banqueting events, including awards dinners, charity balls, weddings and proms. Our concourse areas, with ground level access, lend themselves perfectly to large exhibitions and indoor team-building events.”



Healthy kick

Sporting venues also offer the opportunity to promote healthy eating, something that a lot of event organisers are taking seriously at the moment. Speaking about a new menu, First Team Sport Science and Nutritionist at Chelsea Football Club, Jack Christopher, says that at Stamford Bridge, delegates can eat like footballers.

He says: “The new menu has been inspired by the type of dishes we serve the club’s first team to help them deliver a winning performance. We’ve incorporated slow releasing carbohydrate options with a low glycaemic index into the menu – for example porridge oats, sweet potato and lentils – to avoid sharp increases in blood sugar. This ensures delegates benefit from a sustained source of energy throughout their meeting or event.”


On the racing line

It’s easy to concentrate on typical stadiums when considering a sporting venue for your event, but don’t be afraid to look beyond into
the world of racing, for both horses and cars.

Silverstone, the home of British motorsport, has brand new facilities that must be seen. By way of example, Angela Colley, head of MICE and hospitality outlines what’s on offer: “The Silverstone Wing is a 12,500sqm exhibition and conference facility and comprises five exhibition halls, a President’s Suite meeting room, 40 pit garages, and an auditorium – all kitted out with the latest AV and conferencing technology – as well as numerous conference and meeting rooms, many with trackside balconies for delegates to watch the circuit action.

"The Silverstone Wing is ideal for hosting everything from large exhibitions for up to 3,000 delegates, to conferences, meetings for as few as just two people, as well as car launches and award ceremonies.”