Networking at Sandy Park
PUBLISHED: 12:24 23 February 2016 | UPDATED: 12:24 23 February 2016
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In the latest of our series profiling the Exeter Chiefs, we take a look at an often overlooked success story taking place off the field
Sandy Park is an iconic fixture on the Exeter landscape, a landmark for locals and holidaymakers standing guard at the gateway to the city centre.
Although the venue is more familiar to many as the home of the Exeter Chiefs, Sandy Park is also one of the largest conference and banqueting centres in the South West and has been host to many notable events since opening its doors for the first time in 2006.
Talking about Sandy Park’s conferencing facilities, Chief Executive of Exeter Rugby Club Tony Rowe OBE, says: “Most stadiums are built as a rugby stadium and they adapt it for banquet and conferencing. We approached it from a different angle. We have to work hard to make a profit, but I know some clubs in the Premiership really work hard and struggle because they haven’t got the facilities we’ve got.
“The reality is match days happen 16 times a year. Sandy Park’s conference and banqueting facilities allow us to make use of the venue for the rest of the time. It’s key to our success going forward that we have a successful company off the pitch.”
A noticeable demand for more conferencing space at Sandy Park coincided with the promotion of the Exeter Chiefs into English rugby’s top tier, the Aviva Premiership. A decision was made to start putting together plans for the expansion of the venue, which were given the green light at the end of 2013.
The expansion plans and timeframe for building meant that Sandy Park met the criteria for hosting Rugby World Cup matches and the venue was chosen in 2013 to host three matches – Tonga v Namibia, Namibia v Georgia and Italy v Romania.
Building works took place throughout the following year, with the venue shutting for three months for a complete refurbishment. Sandy Park reopened in September 2014, with nearly double the conferencing space.
The £10 million redevelopment increased the conference and banqueting areas by 80% (from 1,025m² to 1,880m²), including the expansion of existing suites and the addition of six seminar suites. As well as expansion, investment was made in improving audio visual equipment and catering facilities, to ensure that the conference and banqueting offer is of the highest quality.
The redevelopment also included expansion to the rugby ground; growing the capacity of the stadium from 10,744 to 12,500 with the addition of extra blocks of seats in the West Grandstand and a new, enlarged East Terrace. Rugby facilities were also greatly improved with the addition of a £1 million DESSO pitch, which allows the Exeter Chiefs to train throughout the week, while remaining in optimum condition for match days.
The expansion of Sandy Park has proved a shrewd move. Increased demand has been met and both the conferencing and rugby businesses continue to develop. The most recent financial results of Exeter Rugby Club showed that Sandy Park grew 17% year on year, despite being shut for ten weeks when expansion work was being completed and in December, over 4,000 people enjoyed a Christmas meal at Sandy Park – more than a third more than 2014. This included the largest ever event at Sandy Park, the Lord’s Taverners’ Christmas Lunch for 628 guests.
2016 is already looking promising at Sandy Park. Events such as the Rugby World Cup and European Grand Prix 7s, plus the continuing success of the Exeter Chiefs, have given the venue and Exeter a surge of interest and exposure.
There are already some major conferences in the Sandy Park diary, and sales for Sandy Park’s own events such as the very popular Comedy at the Park and a Gourmet Evening with Michael Caines MBE are looking strong. w
More information about Sandy Park can be found at www.sandypark.co.uk or by contacting the events office on firstname.lastname@example.org