Big sporting events are worth millions today when it comes to TV and sponsorships, so how do you stand out from the crowd? Rory Heron and Sam Coates, two of the biggest names in hospitality behind Chestertons Polo in the Park, Wimbledon and the Aegon Championships, tell The Resident how London’s best sporting events keep getting better
Words: Mark Kebble
‘Londoners have a wealth of fun events to visit in the summer, so we have to continually ensure that our offering is the best that we can deliver,’ says Rory Heron, Managing Director of Sportgate International. The international event management and sports marketing agency runs Chestertons Polo in the Park, the Hurlingham Park sporting showpiece that runs every year in June.
‘Thanks to social media there is no hiding place,’ says Heron, ‘so we have to continually evolve and improve in order to keep our guests satisfied. The event has grown from attracting 7,000 guests in year one, to nearly 28,000 attendees last year.’
Heron is full of praise for Hurlingham Park as a venue, but it goes much further than beautiful green open spaces. ‘There is a real history attached to Hurlingham Park and polo,’ he explains. ‘Hurlingham Park is where some of polo’s greatest matches have been played over the years. The original rules of polo were agreed and written down at Hurlingham and all polo players still play using “Hurlingham handicaps” [rating of how good the player is]. Hurlingham Park has played host to two Olympic polo tournaments and, up until 1939 when the polo fields were dug up, it was the most famous polo ground in the world.’
It may not be the most famous tennis venue in the world, but The Queen’s Club is certainly a name that elicits excitement, considering it’s often seen as the curtain raiser for Wimbledon – not to mention it is 130 years old in 2016. Sam Coates, the Head of Marketing at leading hospitality provider Keith Prowse, is certainly one who values it highly.
The Queen’s Club, named after Queen Victoria, is a truly iconic venue in Britain’s diverse sporting history. It was the first multi-purpose sports complex ever built
‘The Queen’s Club is a truly iconic venue in Britain’s diverse sporting history,’ she states. ‘It was the first multi-purpose sports complex ever to be built, anywhere in the world. It was named after Queen Victoria, its first patron, and is widely renowned as one of the premier Lawn Tennis and Racquets clubs in the world. Throughout its history, it has been an exceptional sporting venue.
‘It boasts 28 outdoor tennis courts, of which 12 are arguably the finest grass courts in the world, ten indoor tennis courts, two Real Tennis courts, two rackets courts, three squash courts and a gymnasium.’
Itself no stranger to history – it was back in the 19th century that William Keith and Robert Prowse pioneered the concept of selling theatre tickets – Keith Prowse is now a top hospitality provider with over 20 official appointments at legacy sporting and cultural events, which includes Wimbledon and the Aegon Championships (running 13-19 June 2016) at The Queen’s Club.
‘The advent of social and digital media means that more booking activity is carried out online, therefore meeting face-to-face with the customer can be a highly beneficial way of developing a long-term relationship,’ Coates says on the ever increasing demand for high-end hospitality. ‘Unlike day-to-day meetings, sporting events are not time-bound or restricted by a one or two hour window. Therefore, a day can be leisurely spent in a relaxed and inspirational setting, resulting in a more engaged and productive gathering, whilst ensuring the very best customers and clients are in attendance.’
This year, the Aegon Championships, an annual event on the men’s professional ATP World Tour, will see defending champion Andy Murray join 14-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal and French Open champion Stan Wawrinka
For the West Kensington area itself, the Aegon Championships are huge and is an ideal opportunity to see some of the top male stars in the game up close. ‘The Aegon Championships is an annual event on the men’s professional ATP World Tour and one of the highlights of the grass court season – it was voted ATP 500 tournament of the year in 2015,’ Coates points out. ‘This year will see defending champion Andy Murray join 14-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal and French Open champion Stan Wawrinka in a star-studded field.’
Whereas tennis is undoubtedly in the sporting elite, there is the feeling that polo is solely for the elite and, perhaps as a result, doesn’t quite have the same global draw – and is something Rory Heron is only too aware of. ‘Of course it is perceived to be an elite sport – it has been known as the Sport of Kings for a long time,’ he agrees, ‘but that doesn’t mean the everyday person cannot enjoy the event.’
Heron and his team have tweaked the rules of polo to make the game faster and to bring spectators closer to the action, where teams representing six different cities from around the world will compete over the three days.
‘I would guess that 80% of our guests have never been to a polo tournament before coming to Chestertons Polo in the Park,’ Heron says on bringing a new audience to the game. ‘We look at creating a show that encompasses not just polo, but also good food, really fun bars, champagne gardens, shopping villages and plenty of interaction with the players. We don’t want our polo tournament to be intimidating.’
In short, whether it’s the tennis in West Kensington or the polo in Fulham, it all comes down to the overall experience. ‘You can see how much sporting events are improving in the UK, as we perhaps try to emulate the level of hospitality that is seen in the US,’ Heron concludes. ‘We must put on the best possible polo spectacle, but in the same breath we have to give people a fun social experience that allows them to enjoy an entire afternoon’s entertainment. There is a huge array of shopping, we have some of London’s best restaurants, and if you want to bring your children then you can drop into our Little Hooves Club. The event is aimed at creating a variety of experiences.’