Sports stadiums – do communities and the needs of business-to-business engagement fit?

Most sports stadiums are not financially independent. Just consider the value of the ground and the associated running costs - the venue only uses a very small percentage of the available capacity and time for its main purpose, i.e. getting people to pay to watch an event.

A typical football club will only have around 23 home games in a season and even if the venue has multiple ‘home’ teams in residence (football and rugby), it will still only have 46 days of ‘events’ in a year, which leaves plenty of empty seats for over 300 days!

So how do they survive from a business perspective?  Well, some do not.  Those that do either have large injections ofexternal cash or have recognised that sport stadium do not have to be just about sport.

They can host many other events, concerts and conventions to help pay the bills for the facility.  For example, the John Smiths Stadium in Huddersfield has previously hosted the likes of REM, The Eagles, Bryan Adams, Beautiful South, Bon Jovi and Elton John!

An interesting recent development has seen Wasps Rugby Union Club in Coventry launch a £35m bond to create a sustainable business model. The club has been actively increasing attendance not just at matches but also at a whole host of non-sporting events.

They see an opportunity to inject much needed funding and tie-in multiple stakeholders. The bond is open to investors and is intended to provide them with a potentially lucrative financial return. Through this the club gets access to cash and some measure of independent financial security.

But should others follow suit? There are certainly risks involved, but from an operational perspective the increased confidence that the financial security brings can allow clubs to really use their core asset – the stadium – to the full. Opportunities to enhance and expand business-to-business (B2B) relationships and networking events should create a positive, virtuous circle.

A little closer to home than Coventry finds Scunthorpe United's plans for a new 12,000-seater football stadium approved this month. The new ground will replace the current 9,000-capacity ground, which opened in 1980s, and includes a bar, gym, hotel and offices.  The challenge they face will be to make it financially sustainable – this will no doubt be helped through B2B activities. 

In the business world, truly original and inspiring strategic planning is only possible when funding is in place.  As sport continue to grow in popularity, from both a spectator and engagement perspective, business is beginning to realise the marketing potential.  Multi-stakeholder engagement through increasingly sophisticated advertising and direct B2B engagement within the stadium operation arena are creating numerous business opportunities.

Of course, there is also the societal benefit - having some forms of financial autonomy will allow clubs to provide a more varied offering to the communities they are based within.  If managed well, the future of sport stadium operations in the UK could be a win-win.

What are your views? Let us know in the comments section.