Be a sport! The importance of corporate hospitality

When it comes to business these days, it pays to be seen as the ‘host with the most’. While a lot of business is done over the phone or email, or via social media and video conferencing, you cannot beat a bit of face-to-face time when attempting to secure a highly beneficial business deal, or when you’re trying to gain the trust of a potentially lucrative client.

Meeting up with clients just ahead of a crucial football match or a day’s cricket may be one ideal way of creating an important positive impression, but it’s also an expensive venture, and one that savvy sports teams are taking advantage of. Very recently, Manchester United hiked their corporate hospitality prices up by fifteen percent after securing qualification to the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League – this was following on from last season, which was the Old Trafford giant’s first Europe-free season since 1990.

Sports hospitality is undergoing something of a resurgence of late. In the first penny-pinching days of the recession, sports hospitality was one ‘extravagance’ that was deemed something that was easy to cut out when it came to budgeting. In 2009, it was reported that some firms slashed their hospitality spend by up to ninety percent. Finance-wise, 2009 was a terrible year for sport as austerity measures began really to bite. Sales at all the big summer events such as Wimbledon and test cricket plummeted, and the Six Nations championship saw revenue tumble by twenty-seven percent.

Thankfully, the recovery of the economy and the impetus generated by the London Olympics of 2012 has helped sports hospitality become a business norm once again.

Companies have been jumping on the sporting bandwagon since the 1970s, when businesses were first allowed to sponsor sporting competitions. Schweppes were the first sponsors of cricket’s County Championship in 1997, and have been followed subsequently by Britannic Assurance, AXA, Cricinfo, Frizzell and LV.

It seems bizarre to think it now, but football was initially against the ideal of sponsorship, and it wasn’t until the early 1980s that clubs were even allowed sponsors’ names on their jerseys. Even more bizarre – the first competition that the FA allowed to be sponsored was the League Cup, and the first sponsors, in 1982, were the Milk Marketing Board.

Things have certainly moved on a pace since then as business now fall over themselves to be associated with major sporting events and competitions. It’s also a tactic that’s gathered momentum all over the world – in May 2015 it was announced that the US-based company FedEx were to become the main sponsor of UEFA’s Europa League until 2018.

Lots of companies now make their commercial living by offering sports hospitality packages for major sporting events, and over the past few years it has certainly become a profitable business. One leading UK hospitality company, Keith Prowse, has been providing sports hospitality deals since 1886, and announced in 2010 that they expected the market to reach almost £1.47 billion by 2015. That’s certainly enough money to buy anyone’s most important business clients a few prawn sandwiches!