Once the pinnacle of the VIP stadium experience, is it game over for the traditional executive box?

In years gone by, the stadium hospitality divide was clear. Either you braved the elements to watch the game on the terraces, or you were wined and dined as a corporate client in an ivory tower, a.k.a. the executive box. 

But as ticket prices have increased, so have expectations. And lifestyle changes such as the demise of smoking and rises in disposable income now mean that fans in all hospitality tiers arrive at a fixture prepared to spend on food and beverages.

According to a recent global survey by Oracle Food and Beverages, 94% of respondents bought food – ranging from a snack to a sit-down meal – and/or drinks at sporting events, with 58% claiming that they would buy even more if they didn’t have to queue. At every level, choice, quality and convenience has become a critical part of the sporting event experience. 

And at membership or corporate level, the standard is even higher, with consumers craving exclusivity, atmosphere and an overall high-end experience. The once-desirable executive box – think blue carpet tiles, A3 prints of footballers in clip-frames and a minifridge stocked with beer – hasn’t cut it for a long time, just as the entry-level experience has progressed well beyond a pie and a pint.

Cue the trend in sporting stadiums up and down the country knocking through these dead spaces and creating new versatile hospitality lounges, bars and eateries. Tottenham and Arsenal were just two major UK clubs who reinvigorated their hospitality spaces in 2019: Arsenal by creating the 700 sqm Avenell Club from 14 outdated executive boxes and Tottenham, who The Sun recently reported generate £800,000 per fixture from their brand spanking new food and beverage offerings.

It’s worth noting that the word ‘versatile’ is vital here. Although sports hospitality execs have long been attuned to the money-making potential of these spaces beyond match days, making them commercial in other guises is now definitely more than a fortuitous ‘add-on’ – it’s essential. Ensuring that they can be ‘sold as seen’ or easily adapted to accommodate events such as conferences, AGMs and product launches is a top priority for many of our clients.

RDA recently delivered a project at the home of a well-known Championship team where we completely refurbished a space formerly occupied by over 10 executive boxes. The team transformed them into a first-class hospitality suite, comprising a stunning entrance lobby, opulent Art Deco-styled clubroom and 17 catering kiosks. However, the new suite’s functionality goes well behind entertaining VIPs on match days and generates a significantly higher ROI than previously with regular weekday bookings for conferences and other events.

We’ve been carrying out similar work in the leisure and entertainment sector too, with some clear overlap between this work and our sports stadium projects. At the end of last year, RDA transformed a tired, outdated suite at the O2 Arena in London to create an innovative and flexible hospitality venue: The Compass Suite. Premium details such as marble table tops, brass light fittings and handmade oak wall and ceiling features satisfied the brief’s requirements for effortless high-end style without overlooking the functional needs of the space. 

Also in 2019, we carried out a major refurbishment project at The SSE Arena Wembley, creating a 160 seat capacity Empire Bar and Grill Restaurant as well as a modern-yet-glamorous VIP lounge for ticket holders to relax before a show. 

These are exciting times in the world of sports and leisure hospitality. We’re seeing clients getting more adventurous in their ideas which we’re happy to realise with creative solutions.

Want to talk about the potential of your sporting venue hospitality space? Get in touch with the team or give us a call on 0844 873 4993.

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