10 best sporting arenas for events
Sporting venues make unique, dramatic and memorable event locations. Choose from football grounds, Olympic venues, shooting schools and the O2.
I love sport. I genuinely believe it's pretty much the answer to everything. If war could be replaced by the World Cup, the world would be a better place. Except we'd all be speaking German, of course, and, arguably, there’s a distinct danger that the terraces would become the trenches. Actually, we're probably better at war. But, in all seriousness, it's the positive and iconic nature of sports and the great cathedrals of sport which are a towering manifestation of its self-perpetuating popularity - whether it be a Stadium, an arena, a multi-faceted specialist complex (like the Aquatics centre or Velodrome) or even a simple sports ground.
Sporting venues have become increasingly sophisticated and relevant in today’s market.
Being a huge sports fan, I love the buzz and the banter, the intensity, the expectation, the passion, the pain, the elation, the awe-inspiring sensationalism of the big games and the big names. I used to love going to Old Trafford in Beckham's heyday. I was there when Rooney burst into the scene with his sensational half volley from miles out (after an argument with the referee) against Newcastle. I was also there for Ronaldo's debut and to see that level of skill and athleticism cannot be rivalled. By (almost!) anything at all. So with all this in mind, I used to find it somewhat deflating to visit the big grounds on non match-days. However, that's all changed. These sports grounds are now destination venues. They are multi-faceted complexes all by themselves, with world class facilities, first class catering, an abundance of space and, of course, parking. Lots of it.
The fact that sports grounds are often iconic and, by default, associate your brand with a distinct sense of grandeur, achievement and success is a great big bonus!
And don't underestimate how views of the pitch, a tour of the dressing rooms or even, in some cases, actual corporate team-building with first team coaches, on or off the field of play, add an almost 'once in a lifetime' aspect to an otherwise flawless logistical experience. And most of these grounds now offer this added dimension as standard.
Perhaps the main shift in non-match day hire of sporting venues is the importance of events to the Clubs, from a business perspective. And don't underestimate this - your business is crucial. This is because the number of match days for an average club stadium is less than twenty. In an entire season. So the down-time far exceeds the up-time. Most clubs are highly protective of their pitches though, so on-pitch action is strictly limited in most cases as it takes an age, as well as a bunch of science boffins with ultra-violet heatlamps and carpet-like rolls of replacement turf, specially cultivated to withstand an almost atomic frenzy of thrashing boot blades, to prepare for the next game - how ever distant that fixture may seem. There's one huge exception though and that's at Allianz Park for reasons I'll come on to. On the other hand, Wembley Stadium is at the other end of the spectrum as there's quite a bit of professional on-pitch sporting action - from England's home Games to NFL 'home games' (strangely), domestic play-offs and Cup Finals to Rugby League Championship show-downs and even car racing.
And then of course there's the concerts - from Eminem to Bon Jovi, it's still the ultimate place for stadium bands to play...However, Wembley is so iconic, so new, so state of the art and so well appointed that, as a destination venue facility, it's venue spaces and iconic views of the colossal colosseum that unfolds in front of almost all the major event spaces, that its breathtaking from the outset and therefore a real draw...
So, with these notions and seemingly endless possibilities in mind, what are the best sporting arenas available for hire in and around London? Here's our top 10.
1. Wembley Stadium, North London
I visited Wembley for the first time in nearly three years last week and it blew me away. I know the stadium well and have attended several events there. But it wasn't the stadium that surprised me, it was Wembley itself. Having driven there from the office (a mere 25 minutes door to door from Fulham) it was as if I’d arrived at Disneyland. Or, at least the Westfield Centre. The entire facade of the stadium was ablaze with large format LED displays encouraging fans to support England (fairly dramatically, it has to be said). What's more, the entire area was immaculate. A 'Main Street USA' style high street unfolded in front of me with bars, restaurants, designer retail outlets, even five star hotels and it was buzzing. Glass towers, up-lit walkways, topiary, an outdoor ice-rink, artificial grass - Wembley really is the place to be! Oh, and think it's miles away? Think again, it's two stops from Baker Street on the tube. That's TWO STOPS!
2. Allianz Park, North London
This ground is a rare breed as its one of the few Rugby Union grounds which bridges the gap between football and the rest of the world. Okay, so it is the home of current Rugby Champions, Saracens, so you'd expect a decent grandstand and the 10,000 capacity it boasts but there’s far more to the place than meets the eye. The conferencing, exhibition and event spaces are immense and beautifully presented. The advantage of it being a new build event complex is palpable too and a potent mix of vast, unobstructed event spaces, large scale bar and catering facilities, natural daylight, state of the art audio-visual equipment and impressive views of the pitch all set Allianz Park apart. Their players lounge is a plush area for a variety of events and their traditional Fez Club is a veritable fez-fest as their Chairman famously sent their marketing guy to Turkey to 'collect as many different styles of fez' he could get his hands on. He did well judging by the floor to ceiling display in this particular event space. But, it's the sporting accessibility which is the real USP of Allianz Park. They are not at all fussy about their pitch. In fact, you can have a corporate kick-around the day before a match if you like because their pitch is possibly the most sophisticated playing field in the UK. It's 4G and therefore, as far as I understand it, bulletproof! And weatherproof. How about a first team coaching/team building session or a kicking competition after your conference? Or what about sitting in on an actual pre-match team-talk before watching a big game? Well, this club is so accessible, it's all possible and it’s not surprising how similar the Board Room can be to the Dressing Room! Oh, and they have an indoor running track too in case you wondered...!
3. The Olympic Velodrome, East London
A visit to the Olympic park is, in itself, an inspiring experience that emphatically ticks the first box every time. Having been one of the first to experience a self-propelled, high-octane corporate team-building afternoon in this ergonomically awesome structure, I simply can’t recommend it enough. Cavendish Hospitality lay on a truly world-class day (or half day) with full training, equipment, time-trials and, if you’re really up for it (which you absolutely should be!), racing! It’s a challenge too as one look at the 43 degree bank at each end will make many feel somewhat daunted. In reality, it’s easier than it looks because even a little momentum carries you safely round (there wasn’t a single accident the day I was there) and your professional coaches will explain why (there’s the science bit!). I know countless law firms, banks and FMCG’s who have tried it and it’s been a resounding success every time! What’s more, the Velodrome lends itself perfectly to a wide variety of alternative events. Besides the obvious (and largely unbeatable) corporate away-day and team-building opportunities, with excellent transport links (and plentiful parking) it’s perfect for something more off the wall (excuse the pun!) - an exhibition or conference inside the track, for example. Followed by a bike ride of course…!
4. Stamford Bridge, West London
This iconic West London football stadium has become home to one of the most famous clubs in the world, Chelsea FC. In fact, I remember goading the comedian, Sean Lock, at a wedding there once as he’s a huge fan. After enduring several minutes of my crap about how they ‘bought the title’ due to Abramovic’s billions, he waited for his moment and simply retorted “So, I suppose you won Rooney in a f**king raffle, did you?” Genius. Anyway, Stamford Bridge is now a world-class, multi faceted series of event spaces, incorporating hotels, bars, restaurants and even a massive night-club (with an even more massive sound-system!). With more than twenty four different function rooms and many more syndicate/break-out rooms, Chelsea FC is right up there with London’s most diverse event destinations. Food can be covered by Compass Group’s Levy Restaurants or you can even choose to dine in Marco Pierre White’s on-site restaurant if you prefer? With a capacity of up to 1,000 guests in their Great Hall, Stamford Bridge really is a Champion’s League events venue.
5. Emirates Stadium, North London
As one of the newest and most spectacular stadiums in Europe, the Emirates is an aesthetically flawless venue on a grand scale. The Woolwich Suite can hold up to 500 guests, theatre style, and their world-class environment and audio-visual facilities can match even the most sophisticated of purpose-built central London conference centres. Perhaps the most unique attribute of this huge, now iconic stadium is its soulfulness. It really does feel great and welcoming, despite it’s awe-inspiring enormity. The sophistication of the interior design and subtle lighting is a cut above most other stadia in Europe and it’s somewhat surprising proximity to the City (and it’s great transport links) is another reason to set your sights on the Arsenal. Excuse the (tenuous) pun!
6. Craven Cottage, South West London
This quaint, historic and really rather smart (little-ish) football stadium on the Thames in Fulham really is unique. It has a really cosy, yet modern feel to the main event spaces which overlook the river towards Putney. Nestled into the far end of Bishop’s park and with it’s original 19th Century façade, Craven Cottage is a smart, sophisticated and tranquil riverside environment for events of all shapes and sizes. Their riverside terrace can hold up to 1,500 guests and their recently refurbished, hi-tech Director’s Lounges and Executive Suites are well equipped for meetings and events. Catering is handled by the truly world class Delaware North too (as per Wembley Stadium), which is guaranteed to surpass all your expectations – back of the net!
7. Twickenham, South West London
As the home of English Rugby and centre stage for the upcoming Rugby World Cup, Twickenham is certainly a flagship venue on the London scene and a significant event here would be a statement of intent for any brand wanting to associate themselves with such a globally recognised brand. As with Wembley, Twickers is home not only to England Rugby but also to countless other large scale events from Club Cup Finals to concerts. The conference facilities are impressive too - with twenty five dedicated event spaces as well as a hundred and fifty executive boxes and a state of the art auditorium which can seat up to 400 delegates.
8. E.J. Churchill Shooting Ground, Buckinghamshire
Less than an hour’s drive from Central London (traffic permitting, of course), you’ll discover the beautiful West Wycombe Park where the UK’s leading clay pigeon shooting school is located. The E.J Churchill Shooting Ground is a simply superb, inspiring and unique location for a superb, inspiring and…erm…unique experience! Whether you’re an expert or have never even held a gun before you’ll be shooting within minutes, with all the kit and your own private loader and instructor! And you’ll get the bug, guaranteed. I spent a wonderful day here a few weeks ago and it was one of the best social corporate experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. Kicking off with a gourmet carvery breakfast (again, by Delaware North – these guys certainly get around!) and culminating with a prize-giving ceremony hosted by one of the UK’s best shots, E.J Churchill’s Rob Fenwick, and Sir Edward Dashwood (the bloke who lives in the big house!), it’s the perfect end to the perfect day. As it happens, there were several guests who had never even shot before, both men and women. And did they succeed? Yes, they did indeed! That’s ninety-eight and three quarters percent guaranteed! Well, that’s how Dr.Seuss would have put it anyway!
9. The Copper Box Arena, East London
The dramatic (and equally dramatically named) Copper Box Arena is an iconic new venue in the heart of the Olympic Park which, during the Games was affectionately known as 'The Box that Rocks!' Originally constructed for handball, fencing and goalball (whatever that is!?), the Copper Box is ideal for everything from rock concerts to conferences, exhibitions to exercise classes (I needed something beginning with 'E'!) and just about any event of a sizeable scale which would benefit from a state of the art open-span venue space with retractable seating for up to 7,500 delegates. In fact, this would be the perfect space for a large multinational Conference or AGM.
10. The O2, South East London
Strangely, the O2 constituted my entire Olympic experience in 2012 and, even more strangely, I was invited by an American friend of mine who had a spare ticket. It was the home of the Olympic gymnastics and it was the ideal venue in so many ways. Firstly, it's an instant archetypal architectural icon, world recognised and synonymous with the London skyline. Secondly, it's the perfect wide-span exoskeleton structure, ideal for both large scale and smaller events due to its village-like entrance atrium with an array of alternative venue spaces, the most notable being Indigo at the O2 which is a great space for events with a stage and fully integrated audio-visual rig.
Will Broome CEO