Perfect pitch

Football grounds are the perfect venue for corporate hospitality events, and football clubs are increasingly using it as a way of supplementing match-day revenue, says Martin Croft

Football is no longer the working class sport it was. Over the past 20 years the UK has gone football crazy and supporters are now increasingly middle class. Alongside this move upmarket has been an explosion in demand for space at football stadiums for corporate entertaining – which must be a relief for clubs which have been forced by recent legislation to overhaul their facilities.

Following the 1989 Taylor Report into the disaster at Hillsborough, Premier League and First Division clubs must have all-seater stands, increased security and crowd-safety measures. While the increased revenue from gate receipts, television rights and licensing deals helps pay for these stands, corporate hospitality provides valuable income for cash-strapped clubs – and one which potentially can be on-tap not only on match days but seven days a week.

Most stadiums being built will have corporate entertaining facilities, including restaurants, lounges and perhaps syndicate rooms for meetings and conferences. Some, such as the new Chelsea development, will include retail space and even a hotel.

Proof that corporate entertaining at football grounds is taking off was found at the recent Confex exhibition, which for the first time had a pavilion devoted to football clubs and their facilities, with a number of clubs marketing themselves to the corporate hospitality industry.

As Amanda Whitehead, marketing manager at Keith Prowse (now a subsidiary of Wembley plc, the company responsible for building the national stadium for the Football Association) says: “Everybody wants football, all the time. We will always have more demand for space than we can provide.”

Whitehead explains that there is a strict hierarchy in demand for corporate hospitality facilities – the FA Cup at the top, followed by the semis for the Cup, then European matches, followed by Premiership and England International matches “and then everybody else”.

Keith Prowse marketed corporate hospitality packages for the FA until last year, but its contract ended when the last match was played at the old Wembley. Now it acts as an agent for FA international matches, the FA Cup, and the Football League. Increasingly, says Whitehead, football organisations and clubs are taking the marketing of corporate hospitality in house (a move she says we will see in all sports).

At the Reebok Stadium, home of Bolton Wanderers, there are significant entertaining and conference facilities, as well as the De Vere Whites hotel. Roland Ayling, general manager of the hotel, says that it offers the best of both worlds – pitch-side bedrooms, a 300-seater restaurant and conference facilities away from the pitch for those companies less interested in watching 22 men kick a ball around.

Executive boxes

There’s another reason why stadiums can sell corporate hospitality space with no view of the action: one of the Taylor Report’s recommendations, adopted by the FA, was a ban on the consumption of alcohol within sight of the pitch.

The Reebok Stadium has 60 executive boxes which are used mainly on match days or on days when other events are hosted in the stadium, such as rugby matches and concerts.

Tottenham Hotspur sales manager for Scott Gardiner, who was previously doing the same job for Glasgow Rangers, points out that a lot of big companies have corporate seats with more than one football club, depending on where they have offices, factories or clients. On a match day, Spurs’ ground, White Hart Lane, caters for between 3,000 and 4,800 enjoying its corporate hospitality – it has 120 boxes seating from eight to 18, plus a number of lounges.

Business edge

Gardiner says: “Everyone is looking for an edge in business, and relationship building is important. There may be 20 companies pitching for a contract, but if one of them has spent a full day with the client, entertaining them at a football match, that could make all the difference.”

He has also seen a sea-change in the industry over the past decade. “Ten years ago, it was just big companies which used corporate hospitality facilities at football matches – now small companies are doing the same. Future growth in our market will continue to come from small to medium-sized companies. It’s more difficult to sell to blue-chip businesses as they have to go through 40 levels of management to get approval.”

Gardiner admits that there is some resentment from certain sections of a club’s fan-base at the idea of corporate hospitality, but he stresses that without the extra revenue, fans’ tickets would cost a lot more. “If corporate guests weren’t bringing in the millions, then we would have to find that money somewhere else.”

At Fulham, plans are afoot for a redevelopment of Craven Cottage, costing between £50m and £70m. The scheme has only just been given the go-ahead by the local council (and could theoretically still be scuppered if the Government bows to pressure from some local residents for a public enquiry). However, it is certain that there will be a significant increase in corporate entertaining space. At present, Craven Cottage offers 25 boxes.

In the redeveloped stadium, there will be about 50 boxes as well as some lounges which will have views over the River Thames. This takes into account the ban on alcohol consumption within sight of the pitch as well as the fact that the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race starts only a few hundred yards down the river.

Corporate renewal

Fulham senior sales manager Ross Hutchison has been responsible for marketing the club’s corporate hospitality offering for the past three years. He has an interesting problem – 24 of the club’s boxes are rented on a season-by-season basis (for up to £18,000 each), to local companies run by people who support Fulham. They have a right of automatic renewal, and there has been little change in the past four seasons – only two of the firms renting boxes have not renewed.

Whenever a stadium development is announced, the media tends to concentrate on dissatisfaction among grass roots fans about the disproportionate facilities given over to corporate entertaining – but Hutchison is one of many who work in the corporate hospitality business who points out that those same fans benefit directly from the rental of space to companies. Fulham is committed to keeping its season ticket prices among the cheapest ten per cent for the division it is playing in and the revenue from hospitality helps to keep ticket prices low.

Expanding revenue

Hutchison’s biggest problem is how to expand the revenue from corporate entertaining, given the restrictions on the availability of boxes. Obviously, the club has other space within the ground, including a number of lounges, but Hutchison has started to go outside the ground to win clients. For example, he will organise events at away matches. “For the recent Liverpool match, which was a mid-week game, we chartered a plane and flew to Speke airport where a coach was waiting to take our clients to Anfield.” Some of the ideas he is offering don’t involve football at all. Hutchison is offering his clients entertainment at other venues, such as motor racing and “expects to do a lot more of that sort of thing from next season”.

When the stadium is finished, those boxes which do not have pitch views will be marketed not just for corporate hospitality purposes but as spare office and meeting spaces. Hutchison expects to market them to out-of-town companies as a convenient London base.

Client base

Fulham is restricted by its location in the heart of a residential area from operating its corporate hospitality business seven days a week – other stadiums in London are not so unlucky. At the Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, sales and marketing manager Alison Digges says that only 15 per cent of the client base, which use the stadium’s facilities for entertaining, are there because of the football.

“The other 85 per cent are clients who have never used us on match days and are attracted by our seven-days-a-week offer, including conferences, banqueting, away-days and small to medium-sized exhibitions.”

Charlton can accommodate meetings from ten to 700 people, but unusually has only ten corporate boxes. Next year, the club’s north stand will be redeveloped at a cost of £9m and will include an entertainment space capable of holding 1,000 people.

Another club which offers seven-days-a-week facilities is Wolverhampton Wanderers. The club’s general catering manager Nathan White says the ground has 60 function rooms, 42 of which are executive boxes overlooking the pitch. The club also has one large function room seating 300, and eight to ten lounges which can seat between 20 and 100, an ÃÂ la carte restaurant and a nightclub. Wolves was one of the clubs which took a stand at Confex this year, which White says was a necessary move. “We have very good connections with local hotels, so together we can offer accommodation and meeting space. We’ve had major companies such as Armitage Shanks, Marks & Spencer, BOC and Tarmac use us, but we wanted to reach a wider audience. We need to put ourselves on the map.”

CHA Awards

The Corporate Hospitality Association annual awards are now in their 11th year.

This year, a new category has been added, the CHA Marketing Week Award of Excellence. This award goes to the most outstanding and innovative entry in the overall competition.

The awards are judged by a panel made up of buyers and representatives of Marketing Week, which sponsors the awards.

CATEGORY:

The CHA Marketing Week Award of Excellence

Winner: Catalyst

Client: Powergen UK

CATEGORY:

Activity Operator

(non motorised)

Winner: Catalyst

Client: Powergen UK

Merit: Motivaction

Client: Pocket Phone Shop

CATEGORY:

Motorised activity operator

No Winner

Merit: Banzai Action sports

Client: Dow Chemical

CATEGORY:

Event Management (under 200)

Winner: A Day in the Country

Client: Nortel

Merit: Maximillion

Client: Deutsche Bank

Merit: Jarvis Woodhouse

Client: GE Capital

Merit: Elegant Days

Client: Siemens

Commendation: Business

Pursuits

Client: Benson & Hedges

Jordan Car Launch

Commendation: Sportsworld

Client: Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

CATEGORY:

Agent/Broker

No Winner

CATEGORY:

Event Management

(over 200)

Winner: Motivaction

Client: Pocket Phone Book

CATEGORY:

Caterer

Winner: Relish

Client: Ross International Festival 2000

Merit: Sodexho Prestige

Client: Lords Cricket Ground

CATEGORY:

Event Services

Winner: Igloo

Product: Moduvac – The

Vacuum Loo System

Commendation: Owen Brown

Client: Global Aerospace

Industry

CATEGORY:

Venue

Winner: Madame Tussauds

Client: Mediacom Christmas Party

CATEGORY:

Enterprise

Winner: Ideas

Product: Themed Christmas Party Packages

Merit: Camp Hill

Client: Marconi

Commendation: The Incredible Event Company

Client: Siemens

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