Ahead of TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2023, Gené Willis, Head of Operations at Bath Rugby, shares her thoughts on the current state of the stadium and events marketplace, along with the latest on the English Premiership club’s plans to revamp the Recreation Ground.
Willis started in her new role at Bath last week, having spent over seven years with former Premiership club Worcester Warriors until their demise last year. She joined the Warriors in April 2016, initially as Safety Officer, before adding the roles of Head of Operations, Head of Sustainability and COVID-19 Manager to her responsibilities.
The Warriors were expelled from the Premiership in October after being placed into administration the month prior. In her new role, Willis oversees the running of the Recreation Ground and Farleigh House – Bath’s head office and training facility.
Bath last month unveiled revised plans for a major redevelopment of the Recreation Ground. The Stadium for Bath project proposes a new 18,000-capacity stadium to be built on the site of the existing venue.
TheStadiumBusiness: What are the key current challenges and opportunities in the stadium and events marketplace?
Gené Willis: “The biggest challenge is lack of cashflow. Professional sport on its own is generally loss making. Arenas and stadiums are increasingly having to be creative in how they raise additional cash to ensure their primary sport is able to continue.
“With many professional sports clubs going into administration, very few are safe. Professional rugby lost three Premiership clubs (Worcester Warriors, Wasps and London Irish) to administration this season alone, with at least two more in significant financial difficulty.”
TSB: What are the most interesting trends you are witnessing in the stadium and events sector?
GW: “The most interesting trend is definitely the diversity of events stadiums are offering. It really is great to see all kinds of events taking place, from golf in a stadium, to pop up pooch parties, to music events.
“The pitch itself is also being diversified – in the ‘off season’ a ground is being used for other sporting events, like a rugby pitch being used for American football or football pitch being used for rugby sevens. Stadiums and arenas are having to be continuously creative to make their venue attractive to new opportunities.”
TSB: After last month’s announcement of revised stadium redevelopment plans, what’s on the roadmap for Bath Rugby and the Recreation Ground over the next six to 12 months?
GW: “As much as I would love to say having a new stadium ready for the 2024-25 season would be great, I think we still have a long way to go! So, I think the next six to 12 months will involve a lot of planning applications, addressing objections and licencing requirements, all with a full season of rugby to contend with and hopefully a top six spot for next season.
“It’s a really exciting time for Bath Rugby, both on and off the pitch, and we hope to continue with the momentum gained towards the end of last season. We will have our usual events at the Rec and maybe, hopefully, squeeze in one or two more.
“There is a vast difference between managing The Rec and managing Sixways (home of the Warriors) when it comes to events. Sixways was not in a residential area for a start and it was also owned by the club so we could do any events on any days – within reason – without additional permissions or requirements. This is not the case at Bath, there are significantly more challenges that need to be addressed before we can embark on a new event.”
TSB: What are you looking forward to most about the Summit?
GW: “The whole thing! There are many conferences and summits and exhibitions for us to go to, the majority of which are ‘snoozefests’ or a jolly or ‘skive day out of the office’. This is the only event I have been to where I am so busy all of the time, I’m exhausted at the end of it! I’m a newbie, this is only my third year, and I’ve loved every one of them so far and got so much out of them.
“Not only is it a great networking event, but there are always so many good subject matters to listen to, new ideas to benefit from and innovations to consider. Vary rarely is there a session where you don’t want to listen to one or the other stage with delightful silent disco headphones on!
“In my first year, myself and three of my colleagues had to write a report for our manager on our return to work. I think he thought we’d just had three days out of work for fun! We presented to him for over two hours with all the new and exciting ideas we’d come away with.
“It’s a brilliant Summit and I highly recommend it to anyone considering only going to one conference this year!”
JOIN GENÉ WILLIS – AND HUNDREDS OF COLLEAGUES FROM THE SECTOR – AT THESTADIUMBUSINESS SUMMIT 2023 IN MANCHESTER ON 28-29 JUNE. SIGN UP HERE.