Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, April 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
What a wonderful sight. Wembley lit its arch last Wednesday, a symbol that the Olympics are coming to London. From Heathrow it was clearly visible. From the 2012 offices at the top of Canary Wharf it was there in the mist. And from the British Airways London Eye the lights shone brightly, a 450 feet high symbol of the new and rejuvenated sports stadium, soon to be the finest on earth.
Last Tuesday ABTN was invited to take a private tour of what is undoubtedly a magnificent successor to the Empire Stadium, opened in 1923 with a soccer match between West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers, the crowd controlled by a policeman on a white horse. Bolton won 2-0 with the attendance estimated at 200,000.
Due to be opened in time for the 2006 Cup Final some of the statistics of this 21st century stadium are simply staggering. Over 2,500 toilets, more than any other stadium in the world; three interior concourses on different levels circumnavigating the stadium ” each over 1,000 yards long; London”s largest banqueting hall with space for 2,000 guests at one sitting plus three more nearly as big; 688 food and drink service points; 26 lifts and 30 escalators; two giant screens the size of 600 domestic TV sets. The new ”World Stadium” is approximately twice the size of the Stad de France and three times the size of Cardiff”s fine Millennium Stadium. The top row of seating is 154 feet above pitch level compared with 115 feet for the old Twin Towers. Its footprint is 83,000 square metres against 53,000 but in fact the spectators are much closer to the pitch and we are told that the atmosphere will be terrific. The whole structure has been positioned further away from the Wembley ” Marylebone railway line to enable visitors to walk around the back of the structure, not possible with the old building.
The 7,000 tonne roof is partly retractable so that the famous Wembley turf can be exposed to direct sunlight and ventilation. It will be left open between events but can be moved to line up with the touchline within 15 minutes, ensuring that every spectator can be sheltered from the elements during events. One of the benefits is that it can be set in such a way, to eliminate the heavy shadows, which are often seen on televised matches.
Wembley has a fascinating history. In the 1880s Wembley Park Leisure Grounds had football and cricket pitches, a running track, fountains and waterfalls, walkways and flowerbeds. Then in 1889, in a bid to encourage more people to use the trains, Sir Edward Watkin, chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, decided to build a main attraction at the site, linked to central London, a rival to the Eiffel Tower. Watkin's Folly, as it became known, was never completed. Post ”The Great War” the government of the day decided to hold a grand exhibition to celebrate the Empire with the centrepiece what was then the world”s largest sports complex. The Empire Stadium, as it was originally known, was built at a cost of ”750,000 and took just 300 days to complete. It was to host the Olympics, soccer cup finals, rugby, speedway, rock concerts, religious gatherings to name but a few events, and of course the original Live Aid event in 1985. Originally the terracing at each end was not covered, the familiar translucent roof added prior to the 1966 World Cup. It finally closed in 2000.
Getting to the stadium should prove no problem whether it be by public transport, coach or private car. Wembley Park on the Jubilee and Metropolitan underground lines is being completely re-built and once out of the train there is the splendid walk down Olympic Way, the Arch and the stadium itself clearly visible. Wembley Stadium station itself is connected non-stop to Marylebone and the Wembley (high road) station is only about ten minutes walk from the Stadium with direct services to Euston and charter train facilities. Road connections are being improved to the North Circular, the inner London ring road, whilst car park numbers will be much the same as previous. It is interesting to note that towards the end of its life, the car parks were never fully utilised, easily the majority of visitors coming by public transport.
The cost of the new Wembley is a staggering ”757m but once the figures are broken down, whilst still very high, they do make some sense. The actual structure itself comes to ”352m, the demolition of the old building, design and fitting out ”93m; stamp duty and extra land purchase ”106m and ”21m is to spent on local infrastructure; the management costs and pre-opening expenses come to ”83m with finance/interest and other items making up the balance. Another benefit is the rebuilding of the Wembley Area, whose main entrance will now be from the stadium side.
The new stadium has been built and will be operated by Wembley National Stadium Ltd, a subsidiary of the Football Association. Heavily involved in the project is Sport England, a strategic lead body for sport, which distributes National Lottery and Exchequer funding and aims to encourage people of all ages to get involved. Sport England has invested ”120m of National Lottery funding towards the development of the stadium. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport are also a partner in the project with a ”20m investment, which will pay for non-stadium infrastructure and improvements to the Wembley area. Also a partner is The London Development Agency, which comes under the auspices of the Mayor (the former leader of Brent Council in which the stadium is sited). Their contribution is ”21m.
When it comes to selling the seats, Wembley has come up with a unique marketing plan, effectively guaranteeing a healthy income for the next ten years. 17,000 seats are dedicated to Club Wembley, membership of which guarantees seats for the major soccer matches. Club Wembley is grouped into four areas with The Corinthian Club, the most prestigious half way line accommodation; Gold, on the half way line but of lesser style; Silver, with unobstructed views from along each side of the pitch, and Club seats behind the goals. Licence fee for the Corinthian Club is ”16,100 (plus VAT) per seat for an annual season ticket for ”5,450 for a guaranteed 12 sporting events per year, a three course pre-match meal and further light refreshments, plus car parking. The Club seats have a licence fee of ”3,900 plus a season ticket price of ”1,350 and access to Capri East and Capri West for dining. The ticket can be given to family, friends, colleagues and clients or Club Wembley can re-sell them at what it calls ”market value” for a 15% service charge.
Roll on May 2006. The first match could be between the European Champions Liverpool and the Premiership winners Chelsea. Or, in theory at any rate, Luton v Watford. The FA Cup is full of surprises. The final of the 2012 Olympic soccer competition will be held at Wembley.