It might seem obvious that sports stadiums and hotels go together, but in the U.K., these stadium hotels need to be sustained with events and by the right infrastructure.
REPORT FROM ENGLAND—Hotels within United Kingdom sports stadiums are becoming more common as guests choose to incorporate attendance at sporting events with weekend and overnight leisure stays, according to sources.
The British market for such travel differs from that of the U.S. in that it is more feasible to leave home, attend a game and return all within the same day, sources added.
Soccer, rugby and cricket are the most popular sports for travelers, but facilities at horse-racing courses also incorporate hotels, such as the 54-room Holiday Inn Wolverhampton-Racecourse in Wolverhampton, 15 miles northwest of Birmingham.
At the September opening of the Hilton Garden Inn Emirates Old Trafford, which is part of Lancashire County Cricket Club’s Old Trafford cricket stadium, Nick Smart, Hilton’s VP of development for North and West Europe, said “10 more hotels would be developed (by Hilton) at sports stadiums around the U.K., predominantly at soccer, rugby, cricket and horse racing venues.”
One critical point about sports-stadia hotels in the U.K., sources said, is that they cannot survive merely on business emanating from sporting action.
Justin Hopwood, sales and marketing director at LCCC, which owns and operates the Old Trafford hotel, said his anticipated revenue mix would come from domestic and international cricket matches, but mostly from conferences and events business at both the hotel and the stadium.
“This is best-run cricket club in the world, and that underpins the model of sustainability,” said Anthony Mundy, operations director at LCCC.
To Hopwood and Mundy’s point, cricket at Old Trafford follows a boom-and-bust scenario, with some years having no or few blue-ribbon sporting fixtures but 2019 seeing five Cricket World Cup games and a five-day Test Match between England and Australia, cricket’s biggest rivalry and which can only happen in the U.K. every four years or so.
“It is not Premiership (soccer) or the (National Football League),” Hopwood added.
Despite almost 20,000 attending the domestic “War of the Roses” cricket game between Lancashire and Yorkshire and 61,481 attending across five days for this year’s Test Match between England and South Africa, meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions business has to anchor everything, Hopwood and Mundy added.
“We welcomed 750 events in 2016 with a combined revenue of £3.7 million ($4.9 million),” Mundy said.
Not just soccer
Even the allure of Britian’s favorite game cannot assure 100% hotel occupancy, sources said.
“There are very few sporting clubs that would be able to operate a hotel based on their sporting criteria because the core support lives within two to three miles from the ground, and as (soccer) is so locally popular, Reading only allocates 1,500 tickets to away supporters. Anyway, most them are also able to travel within a day,” said Ruraigh Whitehead, GM of 201-room Madejski Stadium, home to football club Reading, which currently pays in the second tier of English soccer, and rugby club London Irish.
“Only very few teams, ones such as Manchester United, have worldwide support,” Whitehead said.
“Stadiums are ineffective uses of space. Sports clubs only play on x number of days, so if you were to rely purely on that business, you would not do very well at all,” Whitehead added.
“What’s more important is the location of the stadium and the supporting infrastructure in the community. In the case of (the soccer team) Reading, there is no doubt that stadium events brings leisure business and F&B, but the core business is corporate Monday to Thursday.
“This whole area has expanded. There now is a commercial hub within Reading, and that was always anticipated when the owners decided to add the hotel,” Whitehead said of the property just west of London Heathrow Airport.
GMs at similar operations agree.
“(Soccer) is 20% to 25% of business. The strategy for this hotel was always to be a standalone. You have to think outside the box,” said Suzanne Speak, GM of the independent, 125-room Bolton Whites Hotel at Macron Stadium, home of soccer club Bolton Wanderers, which also plays at Reading’s level, known as The Championship.
Unique and special
Hoteliers also spoke of the special nature of sports stadiums as sites for meetings and events.
“We have a unique stadium, which can put a different light on an event,” Whitehead said, adding that Millennium & Copthorne also operates hotels at soccer clubs Chelsea, the current English champions, and Sheffield United, yet another team playing at the second level.
“Our net turnover outside of (soccer) is higher than that brought in by soccer. We are the original Hotel Football,” Speak said, referring to the independent Hotel Football, which sits in Manchester between the Old Trafford cricket ground and Manchester United’s home, also known as Old Trafford.
Speak said her hotel and stadium facilities they possess the largest conference space in Northeast England and the largest venue in Greater Manchester. Seventeen of her guestrooms overlook the soccer pitch, and there is space for events of up to 5,000 guests.
Her challenge as an independent is that she and her team have to do their own marketing and outreach and lack the muscle a brand would have when it comes to distribution.
Hopwood and Mundy also knew from the outset their product had to be self-sustaining.
Their initial task was to replace the destination’s 68-room hotel with the new, 150-room Hilton, which includes 85 rooms overlooking the pitch that can be sold as overnight accommodation and/or day use for fans.
“The original hotel did not really support our conferences and events business. It was a standalone,” Mundy said, adding that 2016’s operational profit came in at £1.2 million ($1.6 million), a 60% increase on the prior year.
The cricket stadium’s largest indoor events space has room for 1,200 people, and there also is the pitch itself. One event that utilized the entire stadium was the “One Love Manchester” concert, which was arranged quickly following the May 2017 bombing at the Manchester Arena and drew 55,000 attendees.
“The challenge is consistency, as now there is a level of expectation. Hilton has brought to the party its training and service, and there has been an excellent learning curve dealing with such experts,” Hopwood added.
“As far as sports stadiums are concerned, we have a big connection with them, some 6,000 rooms associated. There is a massive pressure to increase the value of the experience and … to monetize that, and that has to be extended to non-sports days, which are more in number than those with sports,” Hilton's Smart added.