CORPORATE HOSPITALITY: The battle of the stadiums

With Wembley nearly finished, Simon Ellery asks how the big sports venues are catering for corporate clients.

The corporate hospitality industry – last year worth £956m according to market researcher Market & Business Development – is dominated by sport. Indeed, the prospect of seeing Wayne Rooney or Jonny Wilkinson snatch a last-gasp victory at a major sporting event has contributed to two per cent annual growth in the hospitality sector.

In a recent poll by hospitality firm EventWise, 65 per cent of hospitality bookers said sporting packages were the most popular corporate events.

And with Wembley Stadium set to finally open in the summer, and Arsenal FC’s Emirates arena launching new conferencing suites, London’s revamped stadiums are going head to-head to claw back business from Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

The ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade?
In February, Wembley and Emirates signed up top chefs Tom Aikens and Raymond Blanc respectively. Meanwhile, the home of English rugby, Twickenham, has unveiled state-of-the-art conference facilities with five-star bars and restaurants.

Wembley Stadium PR and comms manager Kirsty Bowles says: ‘Corp­orate entertainment remains big business. Many high-profile names have sealed some of their most profit­able deals over a game of football.’

Although horse-racing has also invested heavily in hospitality – such as Ascot’s £200m grandstand redevelopment, unveiled last year – it is football that sets the standard. Once derided by former Man United captain Roy Keene as the ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade, corporate clients are lured to more than just the largest Premiership venues – Bolton FC’s Reebok stadium, for instance, brings in £8m worth of hospitality business a year.

Arsenal head of hospitality Steve Brice says: ‘People are now benchmarking football against racing. The experience of corporate events has moved a long way.’

The new stadiums have brought with them US-style hospitality packages, with Wembley and Arsenal both offering long-term exclusive seat deals.

Wembley’s Bowles says the stadium’s Club Wembley product – which offers special seats to corporate clients for a ten-year ‘licence’ – quickly sold out. ‘People said it must have been a hard sell, but it wasn’t,’ she adds.

However, some are dismissive of such extended packages. Peter Selby, chairman of hospitality firm Keith Prowse Corporate Entertainment, says: ‘The world doesn’t work on ten-year deals. People need short-term solutions for this week, this month and this year.’

Selby adds that clients are seeking higher quality and greater value from events: ‘But above all, it is the demand for tickets that fuels this market. Firms want to provide their guests with something they can’t otherwise buy.’

Brice points to interactivity as a key selling point – the chance, for example, to meet Arsenal legend Charlie George at the Emirates.

PRWeek spoke to the hospitality teams at some of the newly modernised sports venues and asked them exactly what they have to offer (see below).

WEMBLEY STADIUM

In a move that is causing ripples in the sector, the stadium has adopted a new brand of US-style corporate hospitality. Of the 90,000 seats in the new venue, 17,000 have been dedicated to Club Wembley, which offers corporate clients a ten-year ‘licence’.


Tom Aikens

Club Wembley members have access to first-class restaurants, bars and cafés, four of which are claimed to be the biggest restaurants in London. Catering will be overseen by Delaware North Companies, with chef Tom Aikens creating a range of special desserts.

 

Wembley rejects accusations that the ten-year deal restricts opportunities. PR and comms manager Kirsty Bowles says: ‘On the contrary, guaranteed seats and first-class hospitality have proved to be an attractive proposition for businesses. Our customers know the prices won’t fluctuate over the ten years and can budget accordingly.’

Robin Bartolomy, head of corporate hospitality at Group 4 Securicor, was one of the first to buy seats at the new stadium. He says: ‘As an international business, we take corporate hospitality very seriously. We definitely didn’t want to miss out on having seats at the new Wembley, and we are all looking forward to taking our clients to the exciting events that will be held there.’

Bowles says PROs need to offer clients ‘something extra’ to retain business. She adds: ‘PR is hugely competitive, and agencies need more than a proven track record and good media contacts.’

Also on offer: Besides Club Wembley, there are four grades of corporate seats available. The Corinthian Club offers seats on the halfway line directly beneath the royal box. Club seats are behind the goals, Silver seats are on the wings, while Gold seats are closer to the halfway line. Prices range from £3,900 for Club seats to £16,100 for Corinthians.

Executive boxes can be booked for three to ten-year periods, with deals ranging from £60,000 to £270,000.

High-profile Corinthian members are reported to include David Beckham and Roman Abramovich.

Non-match-day: All facilities, including the restaurants, are available for hire for AGMs, product launches and conferences outside of major sporting events such as the FA Cup final.

Contact: T 0845 676 2006; www.wembleystadium.com

Next event: Depending on approval from Brent Council, Wembley hopes to host the FA Cup final on 19 May.

TWICKENHAM STADIUM

The aura surrounding English rugby has dissipated a little since the high of 2003, when Jonny Wilkinson snatched victory from Australia with a drop goal 20 seconds from the end of extra time. But Twickenham Stadium is undergoing a revamp, with a new south stand due to be unveiled at the end of this year.

Rugby Football Union events media manager Sally Price says: ‘By choosing Twickenham Experience, clients are guaranteed official RFU hospitality packages and the peace of mind this brings. Clients are ensured first-class facilities, service and cuisine, allowing them to relax and entertain their guests.’

She adds: ‘The south stand redevelopment allows us to increase the number of corporate dining packages we are able to offer.

 


Twickenham

'In addition to the increased capacity, there will be world-class hospitality, conference and dining facilities, a four-star Marriott hotel, Virgin Active Classic Health Club and a performing arts centre for local residents.

All this will enable Twickenham to host larger events that need conference and exhibition space in close proximity.’

The stadium hosts 155 corporate boxes, while the new 156-bed hotel has six suites that overlook the pitch.

Twickenham says in a statement: ‘With the passion of the Six Nations, the power of the southern hemisphere nations and the opportunity to experience the magic of the Rugby World Cup, it’s no wonder that our boxes are among the most coveted in British sport, providing a perfect vantage point from which to savour the matches.’

Also on offer: There are four main facilities for corporate hospitality – Obolensky’s, Wakefield’s, Invincibles and North Tryline – plus the River Suites and Players’ Lounge. Prices for these depend on the match being played and the facilities used.

Packages include the Players’ Lounge for 200 people in either the east or west stand. This includes a four-course meal and guarantees the attendance of four England squad members post-match. For the England v France clash on 11 March, this package costs £879 per person.

At the other end of the scale there is the Emirates Airline London Sevens match on 27 May. A Sports Bar package with buffet costs £139 per person. Corporate hospitality boxes, which seat up to 20 people, are available on a match-by-match basis, with the next package for the England v France match costing £799 per person. The entry-level hospitality packages start at £499 per person.

Non-match-day: The stadium caters for conferences, AGMs and product launches, with 12 main conference and theatre-style meeting rooms accommodating 40 to 400 delegates. There are 155 Executive Boxes overlooking the pitch for six to 56 people. The new south stand also has a 400-seat purpose-built lecture theatre, and a banqueting room for 800 diners. The existing south stand is open 365 days a year for corporate hospitality events.

Contact: T 0870 143 2400; www.twickenhamexperience.com

Next event: England v France in the RBS Six Nations on 11 March.

THE EMIRATES STADIUM

Arsenal FC’s new Emirates Stadium provides a greater range of corporate hospitality products than the club’s old ground, Highbury, was ever able to offer.


The Emirates

Commercial director Adrian Ford says: ‘We wanted to segment our market and provide a range of facilities. Highbury was lovely but it was antique and not fit for purpose. The 9,000 premium seats in the Emirates produce the same revenue as the whole of the former stadium.’

Arsenal head of hospitality Steve Brice denies accusations from some quarters that prices of up to £4,750 for certain packages are too high: ‘This is a market where people have limited time.

 

'When they do have time for leisure they try to get the best package. There is a shift towards more than just the experience of football.’ He adds that football clubs can no longer ‘get away with a windy stadium, poor audiovisual equipment and bad food’.

 

Emirates Stadium offers four open-plan suites – The Royal Oak, Woolwich, Dial Square and Highbury – with floor-to-ceiling views over London and the pitch.

The Royal Oak has blackout facilities, catering for up to 500 delegates; Woolwich is the largest area, catering for 550 dinner guests; Dial Square has ‘ambient lighting catering’ for 400 people; while Highbury’s functions include cabaret events for 400 people and cocktail evenings for 1,000 guests.

 

 


Royal dining at the Emirates

'Elsewhere, four corner suites – the 49’ers, Centurions, Legends and Champions – each cater for 150 delegates, including intimate dinners. All can host events independently, or can be combined. They offer high-definition TV screens and other audiovisual equipment, while some have ‘breakout rooms’. All catering is provided by Delaware North Companies, which has developed a range of dishes from a light lunch to a banquet meal.

Emirates Stadium also has a tiered media centre with a capacity for 150, and as part of hospitality packages, clients can have tours of the stadium with legendary players, or hire the director’s box, which can host civil wedding ceremonies.

Also on offer: The Diamond Club offers a modern take on the art deco style of 1930s Highbury, with solid dark walnut panelling, bronze metal work and polished plaster walls. However, all 168 seats in this flagship offering have been sold out. The Diamond Club has 84 members, who pay a fee of £25,000 for a 35-year ‘licence’, as well as an annual season fee of £25,000. A waiting list is in operation.

The stadium’s 9,000 premium seats comprise 7,000 at ‘club level’ and 2,000 within 150 executive boxes (including four for sale on a match-by-match basis).

The club level seats are priced per seat and per season on one to four-year licences. They cost £2,500 in the corners, £3,250 behind the goals, £3,500 in the midfield positions and £4,750 on the halfway line (the latter are restricted to four-year licences only). A waiting list is now in operation with a holding deposit of £250.

Executive boxes cater for between ten and 12 guests, ranging in cost from £4,000 to £12,000, while the Boardroom has a capacity for 15 people and costs between £3,750 and £6,000.

Arsenal is also looking at how it can use its nearby museum as a corporate hospitality venue.

Contact: T 0845 262 000; www.arsenal.com

Next event: Arsenal v Reading in the Premiership on 3 March, or Arsenal vs PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League on 7 March.

Best of the rest

The smaller clubs do not want to be left out, as proven by Championship side Coventry City’s recently refurbished £113m Ricoh Arena. Clients have access to five-star bars and restaurants, and seats are transferable so members can offer them to staff or customers...


OLD TRAFFORD

Constantly undergoing work to boost its hospitality facilities, the world’s most famous football club plays on its heritage. Recent additions include the New Quadrants in each corner, offering executive facilities with lounges, bars and restaurants. There are also 24 event suites with views of the pitch, offering catering for up to 1,000 people.

Packages include: The Manchester Suite, hosting up to 800 guests

Contact: T 0870 442 1994; www.manutd.com

Next event: Man United v Lille in the Uefa Champions League on 7 March.


THE MILLENNIUM STADIUM

Millennium Stadium head of commercial and sponsorship Rupert Moon is unfazed by the possible loss of the FA Cup final to the new Wembley. He says that if the match stays in Cardiff, the stadium will be ready: ‘We will always be available. Also, we have many events in the pipeline, and by proving we can deliver, Millennium Stadium and Cardiff should manage to attract these customers back.’

Packages include: A total of 976 hospitality seats include 123 hospitality boxes. The stadium has virtually sold out of its Club 200 ‘annual licence tickets’ in the refurbished Dragon Suite on the halfway line, with prices from £2,200.

Contact: T 02920 822 409; www.millenniumstadium.com

Next event: Wales v England in the RBS Six Nations on 17 March.


HAMPDEN PARK

North of the border, Scotland’s national stadium and home ground of its football squad offers various hospitality options.

Packages include: Twenty-six executive boxes for up to ten guests with views over the pitch, as well as seven hospitality suites catering for between 380 and 600 people. Corporate events can also include a tour of the stadium and the Scottish Football Museum.

Contact: T 0141 620 4020; www.hampdenpark.co.uk

Next event: Scotland v Georgia in the Euro 2008 qualifying match, 24 March.

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