Business of Sport: Old Trafford cricket ground charting a new path

Denzil Pinto 08:18 19/07/2016
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Historic: Old Trafford cricket ground.

From Shane Warne’s “Ball of the Century” to Dominic Cork becoming the first Englishman to take a Test hat-trick in 38 years, and Sachin Tendulkar’s first Test century, the then-named Old Trafford boasts a rich history of magical moments.

Just like when the first Test was played in 1884, cricket has evolved dramatically since then and not more so than the stadium itself.

When Pakistan return to Manchester for the second Test against England on Friday – the first time since 2006 – not only will they be playing at the home of Lancashire County Cricket Club (LCCC) but also Emirates Old Trafford (EOT).

The 10-year sponsorship deal with the Dubai-based airline Emirates, believed to be worth £10million, in 2013, is no doubt one of the biggest signings for the club.

The announcement could not have come at a better time with the £44m redevelopment of the stadia already completed.

That saw a series of changes including a rebuilt pavilion, a new players and media centre, two new double tier stands, the opening of The Point Conference Centre as well as the turning of the square on the pitch by 90 degrees.

Unsurprisingly, after two profitable years in 2008 and 2009, the building works and lack of international cricket saw the club suffer financially with annual losses registered between 2010 and 2012. In the latter year, the figures looked pretty grim with an operating loss of £1.5m.

The figures, while substantial, at least showed the club were going in the right direction after a record loss of £3.96m in 2011.

The return of Test cricket was secured in 2013 with the biggest of them all – the Ashes – and that played its part in securing an operating profit of £3.5m.

“The years between 2009 and 2012 was a very challenging period for us and we had to do a lot of refurbishment on the ground,” said Daniel Gidney (pictured), chief executive officer at LCCC. “The phase development has taken the club forward and we are in a very strong period now.”

There’s every reason for them to be optimistic. In 2014 and 2015, net and operation profits of £793,000 and almost £763,000 were announced and with the Pakistan Test and the T20I in September, it’s likely there will be another positive result this year.

General admission tickets for the first two days of the Test have already sold out, while more seats have been added to the capacity to cope with the demands.

Gidney expects the Test will be very well attended on each of the five days after the club worked with South Asian communities as part of their marketing strategy.

“One of the biggest challenges in the game is trying to convert people who watch the Ashes, which is the biggest thing in cricket, to come to other Test matches at Emirates Old Trafford,” he said.

“There is a lot of interest in Test matches in England whoever the opposition is. But we have to understand what fans want when they come to a stadium.”

To ensure there are high attendances, Lancashire worked with US-based The Aspire Group in incorporating a ticket sales strategy for the matches.

“The club adopted the Aspire Ticket Marketing and Sale Strategy which focuses on greater pricing complexity,” he said.

“This approach stretches pricing so that the best facilities on the best days attract higher pricing. That enables a greater number of lower priced tickets than previously available. This year, on the Saturday of the Test match, the Pavilion Terrace tickets will cost £80 and yet a junior ticket in the family stand on the Monday will cost just £5.”

England and Pakistan will be just among a number of visiting teams at EOT this season.

As Lancashire’s home, the stadium also hosts their English County Championship games including the 50-over and NatWest T20 Blast encounters, with the latter hugely important.

Just like the internationals, the domestic ones are crucial for Lancashire. Last season, the Red Roses were crowned NatWest T20 Blast champions for the first time, often playing in front of big home crowds.

With the shortest format a big draw for families, tickets are available at affordable prices. For example, prices for a T20 begin at £8.50 for Under-18s, while they range from £12 to £17 for adults. Contrast that to the 50-over games, U-18 prices are £7.50, £8 for groups and £15 for adults.

“The English Cricket Specsavers County Championship is very important for us,” said Gidney. “We don’t get large crowds during the season but the T20s helps us. We work hard on our costs and give a good fan experience. The commercial model is based on T20 and when we play we always have a good crowd. From our experience, the matches have proved to be more popular on Fridays as you can get young professionals and families out.”

Unlike football or rugby, whose campaigns run for more than six months, the English cricket season is held from April to September during the spring and summer periods.

But at EOT, even if there is no cricket on the pitch, it’s still business as usual.

Over the years, it has established itself as one of the top music concert venues in the UK. Rihanna and Beyonce are just two of the high-profile artists to have performed in front of thousands of fans.

Gidney admits it is a significant part of their operation as the club gets a big chunk of its revenue from the events business.

The Point centre celebrated its sixth birthday earlier this year and with a capacity of 1,200, it can host a wide range of events from banquets, dinners, conferences and exhibitions.

“The conference and business events can bring in around £5million a year, while day rates would be approximately £50 per head plus room rates,” he said. “For a large event over three or four days, it would be around £100,000 so it’s quite significant for us.”

Another new change will be the £13m Hilton Garden Inn hotel. Replacing the now-demolished Old Trafford Lodge, the brand new four-star 150-room hotel is due to open next summer and will be operated by the club. One of its biggest selling points is that five floors will oversee the pitch which can also be converted into hospitality boxes on matchdays.

“We want to increase our business and need a number of bedrooms on site,” said Gidney. “On its own, it will support events and grow our events. There are some companies who will not choose you if you don’t have any quality bedrooms on site.”

That project is not the end of the journey with EOT looking for more success off the field.

Gidney acknowledges the Emirates deal, whose logo is printed on Lancashire’s T20 jerseys, is of huge significance in ensuring business continues to go from strength to strength.

“They bring so much to us in terms of brand and their partnership is without doubt the best one we have had,” he said.

“It’s really helped us to get out there and create a non-sporting brand particular from the conference and events business.”

With international matches confirmed until 2019 including five World Cup matches in that year, it presents an opportunity for people to not only visit EOT but Greater Manchester as well.

“Prior to the World Cup, we’ll be working with the government funded tourism boards,” said Justin Hopwood, sales and marketing director at LCCC. “We have a role to play to make sure that people have the best experiences, not only with us but other places in the region.”

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