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31 July 2014

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London 2012- a V&E how-to guide

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Olympics - Stadium olympic_site.jpgFirst, the basics
London 2012 will be the first Olympic Games to have three official ticket and hospitality providers, serving three types of market.

Prestige Ticketing (tel: 0844 728 2012), the joint venture formed by catering giant Sodexo and sports hospitality agency Mike Burton, has bought a premium ticket allocation of around 80,000 seats across several events.

These have been turned into onsite packages at a number of games locations around London and went on sale in March. Prestige has put in place a linkage scheme to ensure that tickets are not just sold for the most popular events but across the board to reduce the number of empty corporate hospitality seats. Sports are split into three grades (A, B and C) and the top tickets can only be purchased together with the same number of C-grade tickets.

This is our third hospitality joint venture with the Mike Burton Group after successfully selling packages together for the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and this year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand,’ says Prestige Ticketing sales and marketing director Tony Barnard. ‘It simply made sense to team up for the Olympics in London as well.’

Thomas Cook (tel: 0844 800 2012), meanwhile, has around 100,000 tickets, which are now on sale with overnight accommodation as Games Breaks and Games Breaks Plus packages. While Cosport, the public-facing vehicle of Jet Set Sports, is supplying the inbound overseas market with tickets, travel and accommodation packages.

Looking further afield, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has appointed nine different agents around the world, selling around one million tickets to specific regions. German firm Dertour found itself in the media spotlight recently when punters learned its allocation of 50,000 seats could be bought on a first-come-first served basis, negating the need to await the ballot results. EU competition law allows Brits to apply for Dertour tickets but most people were unaware of their existence until reports appeared in the press in May. There are no hospitality packages, however.

Olympic Map - Pre9317-Olympic-Park.jpgHot tickets
According to Prestige, teen poster boy Tom Daley’s diving nights have already sold out for the Aquatics Centre, the rowing is more than half sold and certain nights at the hockey have also sold out.

‘Prior to going on sale, we took 7,000 expressions of interest,’ says Barnard. ‘Obviously the athletics, cycling and opening and closing ceremonies are big draws but we’ve also seen a great deal of interest in events such as the canoe sprint and rowing at Eton Dorney. A few people have suggested to me that Team GB excel in those sports that involve sitting down, such as cycling, rowing, and equestrian, and that did marry up with our initial expressions of interest but British medal hopes are strong in other areas as well so we’ll have to wait and see.’

Barnard says that, at Beijing 2008, beach volleyball emerged as the hottest ticket in town. Mark Howell, director of 2012 media and logistics for London & Partners (formerly Visit London), remembers being ‘blown away’ in Athens during 2004 by the party atmosphere surrounding the beach volleyball. Thomas Cook’s head of Games Breaks Plus Packages, Pete Moore, predicts that once the public gets a glimpse of the action and atmosphere at
the beach volleyball test event planned for Horse Guards Parade this summer (9-14 August), hospitality interest in the sport will rocket skywards.

‘All the action within the Olympic Park will also translate into must-have tickets simply for the added bonus of the park atmosphere,’ he adds. ‘In particular, I expect high demand for the men’s hockey finals and even the handball finals in the basketball arena from companies interested in treating guests to the experience of lesser-known but still adrenalin-fuelled Olympic action.’

‘Companies will already be getting excited about seeing British medal hopes such as Alistair Brownlee in the triathlon and Team GB in the Velodrome, as well as key sporting rivalries such as the return of Ian Thorpe, up against Michael Phelps in the swimming,’
says Howell.

At the end of the day, hospitality sells best when tickets are scarce, and that is certainly going to be the case at London 2012, particularly now that private buyers have discovered how little cash, if any, LOCOG has lifted from their bank accounts. Even London mayor Boris Johnson was ‘cheesed off’ (though ‘proud to be British’) to discover he’d been unsuccessful in the ballot.

‘Demand for tickets is at an unprecedented level compared with previous Olympic Games, says eVent Advisors MD and 2012 hospitality consultant Simon Gillespie. ‘The allocation of tickets for top-tier sponsors is never enough normally, but this time around sponsors are hungrier than ever because London is such a high-profile Games location. LOCOG has been strict with the number of tickets set aside for overseas markets as well. It knows and expects the Games to be a sell-out, despite no other Games in recent history having sold out. The public ballot being so over-subscribed supports their view.’

Build it & they shall come
Specific plans for the Olympic Park’s hospitality venue are still under wraps but when it goes up in January 2012, it will be a three-storey structure built by Neptunas, featuring two giant hospitality wings separated by a glass atrium. It will cater for 3,000 covers and be located just 50 metres from the stadium.
In Greenwich Park, Prestige will occupy a double-deck structure catering for 500 covers during the equestrian and modern pentathlon events. The design brief is for a Ralph Lauren Polo boutique vibe, with a glass bridge beneath which horses will pass. Double-deck 500-capacity structures are also planned for St James’s Park (by the beach volleyball practice court), with a Maldivian island resort feel, and Eton Dorney (rowing and canoe sprint), which will be inspired by New Hampshire beach houses. At the basketball finals and gymnastics at The O2, Prestige will take over the corporate boxes for either 20, 24, 28 or 40 guests. Boxes can be purchased for linked sessions or single events. Prestige’s computer mock-ups of the hospitality structures should be ready for July.

The cost
In February, The Daily Mail accused Prestige Ticketing of charging the second-most expensive non-touted seat price in world sport (second only to top hospitality seats for the 2011 Super Bowl in Texas). It was referring to the tag of £4,500 for an A-grade event such as the opening and closing ceremonies, the athletics or cycling.

The newspaper had calculated that the most expensive package on offer comprised 60 tickets to see both Opening and Closing ceremonies, combined with the first four nights of gold medal athletics and cost £270,000. This was an extreme example. A-grade or B-grade event tickets do have to be purchased in batches of 10 or 20 but C-grade tickets for activities such as the canoe sprint or the equestrian are available in smaller numbers.

‘It is possible to take just six guests to, say, the hockey finals and pay only £795 per head,’ says Concerto Group chairman Mike Kershaw.
If A-grade events are the preferred choice, 10 or 20 tickets must be bought in conjunction with the equivalent number of tickets for two C-graded events.

‘This is why The Mail’s coverage was so ridiculous,’ says Prestige’s Barnard. ‘There are great packages comprising 10 A-grade event tickets plus 20 tickets for two C-grade events and the overall cost is £54,000. That works out as £1,800 per head, which is cheaper than taking clients to a whole host of other major sporting events [see opposite].’

The most expensive B-grade event tickets are for the men’s and women’s beach volleyball final, on sale for £1,250 each. B-grade tickets are required to then be linked with only one C-grade event, but again the same number of tickets have to be added.

Finally, take note: you can’t link A-grade events to B-grade events. You can link either A or B-grade tickets to C-grade only.
Thomas Cook offers only pre-described packages and no linkage requirements. ‘Tickets and accommodation start at £99 per head and our Plus Packages include hosts, hotel hospitality meeting space, food and beverages plus transport,’ says Moore. ‘When compared with hospitality at the FA Cup Final at £3,800 per person, a high-end package worth £2,500 with all our extras, two nights in a hotel and Games ticket is exceptionally good value.’

Further a field

Millennium Stadium - theatre-of-dream.jpgAccording to Barnard, Prestige Ticketing is currently in extended talks with LOCOG to decide what to do about the hospitality offer originally planned for the sailing events at Weymouth and Portland. It appears that limited opportunities to view the action out on the water has called for a rethink. A final decision on whether or not to ditch Prestige hospitality around the sailing will be made by August.

‘Olympic football will be an attractive proposition for regional entertaining,’ says Gillespie from eVent Advisors.

‘Especially with some of the world’s best players taking part and the possibility of a British team, maybe captained by David Beckham.’ Thomas Cook is currently offering football tickets with accommodation, while each of the six stadia hosting the competition will sell their own individual hospitality packages.

City of Coventry Stadium, Hampden Park (Glasgow), Millennium Stadium (Cardiff), Old Trafford (Manchester), St James’s Park (Newcastle) and Wembley are all accepting expressions of interest but details have yet to be released.

Trafalgar Square - trafalgar_sqaure.jpgGoing off-piste

London 2012 won’t just be about the sport. It also promises to be the longest-running and most spectacular celebration ever held in the UK capital, providing a wealth of client entertaining opportunities.

Agencies such as Concerto Group (tel: 020 7378 2970) and eVent Advisors (tel: 07895 759 342) are currently working with a number of clients to maximise hospitality arrangements.

Paragon Sports Management (tel: 020 8332 8640) MD Mike Martin has launched alternative packages involving meet-and-greets or dinners with Olympic legends – though tickets are not part of the offer.

Three of London’s green spaces (Hyde Park, Potters Fields and Victoria Park) will become official live sites, providing big-screen coverage and a host of festivities. Promoter Live Nation will manage activity at these sites, plus Trafalgar Square. A series of concerts planned for Hyde Park and Victoria Park look likely to offer the best hospitality opportunities but packages won’t go on sale until later this summer, with
line-ups yet to be announced. And remember, many venues are offering themselves as unofficial bases. Square Meal favourite the Cinnamon Club (tel: 020 7222 2555), for instance, is a stone’s throw from the beach volleyball at Horse Guards. You could simply book private dining or a small party there.

Alexandra Palace - alexandra_palace_venue_resized.jpgVenues & hospitality houses
‘Many brands will wish to build their own money-can’t-buy Olympic experiences,’ says Zanine Adams, head of event solutions and UK sales for London & Partners. ‘These will range from major sports brands hiring venues for the duration and hosting clients, to companies who just want to take over a restaurant for an evening and be close to the action. Then there are the National Olympic Committee Hospitality Houses. We’re anticipating around 40 NOC Houses, with many open to the public. Companies may consider taking clients to soak up the Dutch atmosphere in Heineken House at Alexandra Palace (pictured here, tel: 020 8365 2121) or the Swiss culture at Glaziers’ Hall (020 7403 3300).’ For an up-to-date listing of available venues, visit squaremeal.co.uk/2012

Don't forget the Paralympics

To give clients the full Olympic Park experience at a lower cost, consider Paralympic tickets as an alternative. Prestige Ticketing has graded all Paralympic events as C-grade and priced them at £395 per head. The opening and closing ceremony packages are also C-grade and cost £795 and £595 per head respectively.
Thomas Cook is still developing its Games Break Plus and Games Break packages for the Paralympics but is not planning to launch its offer until the autumn.
Pete Moore says: ‘Many corporate clients will want to look at the Paralympics as a cheaper option as guests will still receive the Olympic atmosphere and be able to experience the venues and park.
‘We just need to assess the demand and to determine our pricing structure.’
Remember, booking hospitality at the Paralympics will earn a big tick for your company’s corporate social responsibility programmes.

Key London 2012 Hospitality Questions Answered

What can we expect from the catering at official Prestige hospitality?
We’re told that the food served to corporates and their guests will be high-quality British produce, with an emphasis on provenance and sourcing food from multi-generational providers. Expect this ‘Great British Experience’ to be a big part of the sell – the country will be basking in patriotism after the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Prestige Ticketing is currently in the process of appointing catering companies for each location, with no celebrity chefs in sight. 

Olympics - Lord's - Lord's_Archery.jpgWhy is there no hospitality being offered at venues such as Lord’s (archery)?
Any venue with poor sight lines to the action or limited group appeal has been withdrawn from offering official hospitality packages.

What about all the fighting and table tennis action happening at ExCeL?
It’s likely that Prestige Ticketing will come up with packages for the Olympic action at ExCeL as the venue can’t produce its own. No package details were available at time of press.

Will corporates be able to access the Olympic Park for picnic entertaining during the Games?
It is anticipated that there will be restrictions in place to prevent access to the Park without an event ticket, but this may involve buying day passes. Agencies are advising clients that restrictions on taking alcohol and food into the Park may also be imposed to protect sponsorship rights holders. That said, Venues & Events understands that LOCOG is looking into allowing non-sponsor-branded food within the Park after complaints in Beijing that the only snack available was McDonald’s.

Which brands are likely to feature heavily on the hospitality circuit?
The Worldwide Olympic Partners signed up for London 2012 are Coca-Cola, Acer, Atos Origin, Dow Chemical Company, GE, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Procter and Gamble, Samsung and Visa. LOCOG then has seven domestic Tier One Partners: Adidas, BMW, BP, British Airways, BT, EDF and Lloyds TSB. And seven domestic Tier Two Supporters: Adecco, ArcelorMittal, Cadbury, Cisco, Deloitte, Thomas Cook and UPS. With a further 24 domestic Tier Three suppliers and providers and Sainsbury’s signed up as the one domestic Tier One Paralympic Games Partner, there is sure to be a host of activity from everyone involved. 

Will Olympics hospitality cause a decline in the sale of packages at other sporting events such as Wimbledon?
Ted Walker of hospitality agency Keith Prowse is confident that there will be no impact on hospitality at annual blue riband events. ‘The fact is we are blessed with a decade of iconic sporting events for which the demand for hospitality will be high. It started with the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor and will include the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and the Rugby League World Cup in 2013. Clients are allocating their budget to buy into not just London 2012 but a whole decade of sporting excellence in the UK.’

Should companies be worried about how the Bribery Act will impact on their 2012 hospitality plans?
No. Section Nine of the Act makes it clear that corporate hospitality, which seeks to improve the image of a commercial organisation to present products and services, or establish cordial relations, is an established and important part of business. The Act’s intention is not to criminalise such behaviour.


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

Words: Mike Fletcher


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