24 July 2014

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20/20 Vision


The racy younger sibling of Test cricket is now being touted as the fastest-growing team sport in the world. We round up the reasons Twenty20 is hitting the headlines and why it makes a top hospitality experience

Cheerleaders - SAT20453.jpgTwenty20 is changing the face of cricket. Remember the game that saw men falling asleep in the stands? Well it’s given birth to a fiery young upstart. T20 has brought all manner of new fans to cricket and they’re filling stadia all over the world with colour, noise and a different kind of atmosphere.
T20 has been labelled the fastest-growing team sport in the world. And what’s more, here in England we’re pretty good at it. Winning the World Cup last year did a lot for the game’s popularity. Never before in the summer of a football World Cup had replica cricket kits outsold football shirts. Boys weren’t asking for Rooney on their backs, they wanted Pietersen and Broad.
It’s the balance of sport and entertainment that’s bringing people to the game. A match lasts only three hours, putting it in a similar ballpark to football and rugby, and the action is fast-paced with high scores guaranteed every innings. ‘T20 gives you a result on the day and some explosive performances with both bat and ball,’ explains Ted Walker, marketing manager at sporting hospitality specialist Keith Prowse.

ramprakash - SAT20459.jpg Cricket needed to move with the times. As fans became more time-poor, they couldn’t devote days to a Test match. In 2001, the marketing manager of the ECB (English Cricket Board), Stuart Robertson, came up with a revolutionary idea: to strip the game back to its bare bones. Tea breaks were scrapped, a leisurely pace between balls became punishable by fine and players were given microphones, so they could be interviewed by commentators in the middle of a match.
Sky Sports had a hand in things, too. Counties got nicknames like ‘Lions’ (Surrey), ‘Eagles’ (Essex) and ‘Panthers’ (Middlesex) to add a US-style edge to the sport. Sky encouraged outlandish kits, resulting in some embarrassing consequences for the players. Middlesex, for example, spent last year playing in an attractive shade of fuchsia pink.
The new game also had a social impact. Huge amounts of money were ploughed into community integration, to encourage children from under-privileged communities into cricket. Some of the sport’s biggest stars went into council estates, giving out free equipment to raise T20’s profile. It worked. There are now more kids than ever before playing cricket, giving the country a wider pool of talent and creating a better image for the sport.

Kia Oval 2011 - India Room 0311_india_room_4.jpgA FRESH LOOK FOR HOSPITALITY
Test cricket wrote the rulebook that other hospitality events learned to follow. You invite fans of the game and share a languid day chatting and watching generally slow-paced sport, breaking for a lavish lunch and some afternoon tea followed by a few sundowners.
Twenty20 gave hospitality providers the opportunity to create a new product and in turn, open the sport up to a new market.
As the sport operates over a three-hour period and generally starts in the evening, guests don’t have to justify taking a whole day out of the office. A cheaper price tag of around £130 has also widened the remit of guests, allowing companies to invite clients’ partners and even children.
‘We’ve found T20 is popular when used in conjunction with meetings,’ says Rebecca Hawksworth, sales manager at The Kia Oval. ‘We’ve developed a package where guests come in to use our conference and meeting facilities in the afternoon, then enjoy evening hospitality at the cricket.’
It’s also more accessible to women and those who don’t know a great deal about the sport. ‘I’d never experienced live cricket before,’ Megan Newberry, PA at Maris Interiors told Venues & Events. ‘The music between balls was great fun. I’d never associated the sport with a party atmosphere – people in the stands were up dancing.’
It’s a deliberate ploy from the sport’s guardians to make it appeal to a wider audience. Many compare T20 to baseball and the similarities are more than coincidence. Much of the game was modelled on the popular American sport. Shorter boundaries encourage batsmen to hit over the rope, dugouts give a closer view of the players and roving beer sellers create an atmosphere not seen before in cricket.
Taking elements from one of America’s best-watched sports and relaxing the somewhat stuffy atmosphere associated with cricket has proved a masterstroke from the powers that be. Whether T20 will have the longevity of Test cricket is yet to be seen, but it couldn’t be more in tune with what clients are currently seeking from contemporary corporate entertaining.

Tried & Tested – T20 at The Kia OvalOval - SAT20244.jpg

We couldn’t have asked for a better summer evening to entertain clients at the Surrey v Somerset T20 match last year. Not only did the Lions beat our West Country cousins, but the fact that play started at 6.30pm on a Friday meant everyone arrived with smiles on their faces ready to start the weekend. Without exaggeration, we’ve got to say that the view from the private balcony is one of the best in sport – you feel as though you’re right on top of the players. The curry served up at half time really hit the spot, but our top tip is not to sit down to eat, as there’s only 20 minutes between innings. Factor in loo breaks and jovial chatter among guests – by the time we had sat down and been served, the game had started again and we missed a few second innings wickets. Rather treat it as a buffet: grab a plate, sit back and get ready for round two.

This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, spring 2011

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