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#SBS24 Global audience engages in key Summit talking points

Images: Paul Heyes

Images: Paul Heyes

An international audience of delegates spanning more than 30 countries across five continents congregated at Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester earlier this week to strike new connections, meet old friends and unpick the biggest topics at the heart of the stadium sector.

The two-day conference programme for the 15th edition of TheStadiumBusiness Summit began in earnest on Tuesday after delegates were treated to a fascinating site tour of the nearby Etihad Stadium and AO Arena – two of Manchester’s state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facilities.

At the Etihad Stadium, delegates learned about the inner workings of developments such as the expanded North Stand, a new club shop, museum, a 400-bed hotel, and a large-scale premium catering operation. Meanwhile, ASM Global’s 23,000-capacity AO Arena has recently undergone a £50m redevelopment which included doubling its standing floor capacity and becoming one of the first music venues to work with Michelin star chefs.

When the conference got underway, connectivity at the heart of an increasingly tech-driven fan experience, reimagining underutilised spaces, the growing importance of food and beverage, and creative solutions to convert stadiums into 365-day-per-year venues were among the key themes to be highlighted.

Stadium hotels, sustainability and the growing influence of AI in the fan experience and stadium security were also explored during a packed agenda of insightful sessions.

The opening panel of the programme, entitled ‘Rising to the Challenge’, set the tone for the discussions to come. A panel featuring BC Place general manager Chris May, AO Arena general manager Jen Mitchell, Eden Park chief executive Nick Sautner, and DHL Stadium CEO Gina Woodburn came together to dissect what lies ahead.

The participants agreed unanimously that diversification is essential if the financial sustainability of stadiums is to be secured.

“Diversification of every part of your business is the key thing to maximise revenue,” said Mitchell.

Woodburn spoke of how DHL Stadium used to be seen as a white elephant in Cape Town but is now a source of pride for the city’s residents due to its packed-out event calendar that has hosted concerts from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, and Imagine Dragons.

Eden Park, meanwhile, has found success in hosting golf events and even releasing its own fragrance.

Stadium hotels

One of the most effective routes of diversification in stadiums has been the opening of a hotel, as delegates heard from a separate panel comprising Daniel Gidney, Chief Executive of the Summit’s host venue Emirates Old Trafford and Lancs Cricket, Tynecastle Park Hotel Hospitality Operations Director Graeme Pacitti, and Adelaide Oval General Manager – Food and Beverage Matt Omond.

The Tynecastle Park Hotel is the first hotel in the UK to be built, owned, and operated by a football team as it is part of Heart of Midlothian FC. It has had a bright start to life with a 97% occupancy rate since its opening on February 3.

Gidney stated that “having high-quality rooms allowed Emirates Old Trafford to thrive in the conference space” and that the hotel alone is forecast to make more than international cricket at the venue for the first time this year.

Winners

The day ended with the TheStadiumBusiness Awards naming worthy winners in 10 categories.

New Zealand’s Eden Park triumphed in the Venue of the Year category while Head of Stadium at Juventus FC Francesco Gianello received the Outstanding Achievement Award.

The final day of the Summit got underway with expert insights from Head of FIFA Women’s World Cup Rhiannon Martin into the evolving opportunities within women’s football.

Positive operational changes are also being made in stadiums as a result of the growing reputation of women’s sports. Changes to dressing rooms have been implemented to make the players feel more welcome, while parents’ rooms are becoming increasingly common for people to care for their children in comfort.

Sustainability

An expert panel also lifted the lid on proactive strategies to embrace sustainability, with BC Place, Croke Park and Lincoln Financial Field the facilities to come under the spotlight. “Any stadiums that get ahead of the game now will benefit, because this is something that Gen Z is demanding,” said Norman Vossschulte, Vice President of Fan Experience & Sustainability, Philadelphia Eagles, who had provided an engaging earlier presentation about his team’s GO GREEN initiative.

The Summit’s penultimate session featured Tony Porter OBE QPM LLB, Chief Privacy Officer of Corsight AI, who delivered a compelling argument for stadiums to embrace AI-driven facial recognition technology to strengthen the defence against potential terror attacks.

The final session then explored opportunities to diversify the premium and hospitality offering at stadiums, with a variety of experiences, as well as price points, emerging as a vital step for future success.

Emirates Old Trafford will host TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2025 from June 25-26.