Imagine overlooking the pitch at Old Trafford or the final furlong at Sandown Park while taking part in a training course. With many sporting venues offering top facilities for seminars and conferences, such experiences are there for the taking.
Sporting venues are dotted across the UK and more and more are keen to cash in on hosting corporate events.
One example is the London Golf Club, in Brands Hatch, Kent, which provides six meeting rooms, each accommodating up to 250 people and boasts wireless internet and AV equipment, including 55" plasma screens. But for some companies, the real draw is the chance to combine training with a round of golf.
Mix business with pleasure
Heath Harvey, the club's marketing director, says: "We are seeing a greater amount of off-site corporate training taking place at the club, particularly from Canary Wharf businesses choosing to mix training seminars with a round of golf. A guaranteed way to get delegates to attend is to incentivise them with the offer of a game of golf after training."
Golf requires a strong mental focus and, according to Harvey, some employers choose the golfing environment for management training events to help communicate parallels between the sport and their own goals.
"Management coaches have seized on the mental elements of golf and the fact you need to be disciplined and remain focused to play a round. The parallels with business are obvious," he says.
Chris Buxton, director of Task Training, a training company that works predominantly within the motor industry, is a fan of sporting venues. He recently booked The Centaur - a venue directly linked to the main grandstand at Cheltenham Racecourse, in the Cotswolds, for a training event for Nissan.
Having enough space is vital in Buxton's line of work as events often revolve around practical training. Sporting venues often provide this.
"We used The Centaur because we wanted a specific venue where we could do a very hands-on and practical vehicle launch training programme. We needed a venue big enough to show the cars and where they could be sheltered from the weather. And although it was big, it also had good acoustics," says Buxton.
Sporting venues can also have a wow factor. "While not everyone is interested in horse racing, delegates often enjoy the experience of being somewhere they may not usually go," says Buxton.
Having this 'talking point' was a main consideration when Jane Herrick, international sales manager at Xerox, booked a venue for a training day.
It took place at Eton College Rowing Centre at Dorney Lake, a 400-acre parkland site near Windsor with a world-class 2,000-metre rowing course as the centrepiece. "We were very fortunate to be there on the day that it was announced that the Olympics would be held in London, as it is there that the water sports events will be held. This added a real boost to the whole day," says Herrick.
Apart from the rowing lake, the site also offers indoor and outdoor training facilities. Herrick says it was this combination that won her over. "We chose this venue because of its sporting facilities and the space it provides," she says.
She believes sporting venues can have a positive psychological effect on delegates. "Sports people are high achievers and when you are at a sporting venue you can easily bump into world-class sports people. Being at a centre of excellence, with the best equipment and facilities, gives you a sense that you want to achieve more," she says.
Ivor Lloyd, managing director at Dorney Lake, agrees. "Sporting venues have long been used to encourage individuals and teams to greater performance. By association, sporting venues that have hosted great sports events and triumphs automatically provide aspiration."
Location is always an important consideration when you have delegates coming from different areas.
And a big plus of sporting venues is that they are generally easy to find. They tend to be big landmarks that have clear directions and there is usually loads of parking, which can sometimes be a problem at other venues, such as hotels.
A question of space
The Leadership Factor, an international customer satisfaction research firm, regularly holds training seminars for its staff at Leeds United's Elland Road stadium and Old Trafford cricket ground.
Nigel Hill, chief executive of the firm, says that one of the main advantages of using a sports venue is the extra space they provide. "You get much more space than you usually would in a hotel, which in my experience tend to shoehorn you into the smallest possible room. With a group of 20 delegates, you usually get a room that can fit 40 people - making it great for break-out groups," he says.
For larger events, Hill says sports venues often offer a tour of the stadium and even the smaller rooms tend to have interesting views. "You can usually get a view of the stadium. At Old Trafford, this is particularly good because in the summer you may see players practising," he says.
Despite the extra space, Hill says that sporting locations tend to cost no more than other venues. "Cost seems to be on a par - they know not to price themselves out of the market," he says.
But one drawback can be the catering. "To be honest, I'd say food is best at hotels. This is maybe where sporting venues try to save money," says Hill.
Another venue homing in on the training venue market is Sandown Park Racecourse in Surrey. It has just finished a 30m refurbishment programme to upgrade its meeting and conference facilities, including a high-spec IT and internet network.
It has six conference suites, seating 10-450 delegates, plus a purpose-built pavilion with four floors of meeting rooms that can be used to provide 23 seminar areas. And if delegates want to combine training with activities, the venue also has a nine-hole full-length golf course, health club, karting track and dry ski-slope.
Although these facilities seem pretty impressive, Barbara Crow, the venue's head of sales for events and leisure, says that one of the main benefits of using a sporting venue such as Sandown Park is that it offers training events a certain cachet. "There is a high brand recognition factor with visitors, and this can set an event, particularly a new one, on the road to success," she says.
Satellite TV broadcaster BSkyB recently held a training session for 200 contact centre employees at The Adventure Centre in Ratho, West Lothian - home of the National Rock Climbing Centre.
Stuart Coyle, Sky development consultant, says: "As an entertainment company with a strong interest in sport, we're always keen to find inspiring locations but they need to be fully functional. It's important to do lots of research. Some sports venues are ultimately a bit of compromise - too cramped or extremely noisy."
The centre is built around an ancient stone quarry and the glass-fronted conference room looks on to a 100-foot climbing wall and challenging sky-ride, which, says Coyle, seemed highly appropriate.
"The beauty of the Ratho site is it is a brand new enterprise and corporate requirements have clearly been integrated into its design. The meeting rooms are spacious and well-equipped. We offered our people a chance to try out the assault course, which definitely gave a certain wow factor," he says.
Centaur at Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire 01242 539 538
Eton College Rowing Centre, Dorney Lake, Windsor 01753 832756
Leeds United's Elland Road stadium, 0113 367 1166
Old Trafford cricket ground, Lancashire 0161 282 4020
Sandown Park, Surrey, 01372 464348
The Adventure Centre, Edinburgh, 0131 333 6333
The London Golf Club, Kent, 01474 879899
Standard day rates for delegates are £30 for The London Club, £35 for Dorney Lake, £36 for Old Trafford, £45 for Elland Road and £50 for The Centaur.
by Kirstie Redford