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Build it so They Come

How do you transform a beautiful-but-remote Scottish golf course into a world-class venue that caters for 200,000 fans and looks great on TV? As Kevin Roberts found out, a lot of high-spec temporary structures.

When they come to write the history of the 2014 sporting year, there will be no shortage of subject matter.

Who will forget Germany’s humiliation of Brazil in the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup, which was scripted as a coming-out celebration for the host nation? Then there was Sochi, which delivered a flawless and spectacular winter Olympic Games despite reservations in some quarters. After that, of course, is the Ryder Cup – a golf competition that has acquired a new edge, relevance and vitality since its reinvention as a Europe versus America clash in the late 1970s.

At every Ryder Cup
the bar rises and
the demand for
quality is greater

The Ryder Cup is wildly popular. Its re-birth coincided with a broadcast revolution, which has delivered not only the airtime, but also the technology to be able to tell the story of the competition in new and more immersive ways.

Today, the Ryder Cup sits right up there with the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games as one of world sport’s marquee events. It is unlike any other golf tournament, in that it attracts massive and passionate crowds that would not be out of place at a football game. However, unlike stadium-based spectaculars such the World Cup, the Ryder Cup is a competition played on courses built to be used by members most weeks of the year. Many are remote, beautiful locations, intrinsically unsuited to providing viewing, eating, toilet and transport facilities for over 200,000 fans over the course of three days.

This was the challenge facing the organisers of the 2014 Ryder Cup held at Gleneagles in Scotland – a stunning-but-remote course in the home of golf which, over the course of little more than 72 hours, became the epicentre of the sporting world.

For the European Tour, the event organisers, a partnership with temporary structure provider Arena Group was the solution. Arena’s structures, seating and furniture divisions have been pushing back the barriers in event overlay and temporary facility provision and planning for years, and the firm was responsible for delivering some 85 per cent of the structures, and all of the furniture, used at the various operational areas at Gleneagles.

“At every Ryder Cup the bar rises and the demand for quality in the delivery of the event and its infrastructure is greater,” Dave Withey, European sales and marketing director of Arena, told SportBusiness International.

“This is a showpiece event and incredibly important for the hosts who are, naturally, extremely demanding. There is an automatic expectation of quality that rises with every tournament. For the European Tour, this is a showpiece event that has to reflect well on them as an organisation. They want to provide the best possible experience for their sponsors and their sponsors’ guests, as well as for the viewing public. In addition, they need to be sure it will look great on TV.”

In all, 175 articulated trucks loaded with equipment and fixtures and another 45 containing furniture were involved in the complex logistical operation that produced grandstands and hospitality facilities which marked this Ryder Cup out as world-class.

Arena’s preparation period for the event lasted 10 weeks and saw 120 people working on site every day. Arena itself supplied 20,000-square-metres of structures including the covered grandstands at the first tee and 18th hole, as well as hospitality facilities that included the triple-deck Aviemore Pavilion.

According to Withey, the key to getting it right lies in “super project management”, which is required to overcome the myriad of logistical issues. And that doesn’t happen overnight – planning for Gleneagles started two-and-a-half years ahead of the tournament.

“Logistically, it was extremely difficult simply getting kit to and around the course,” Withey adds. “You have to remember that this is an operational golf course and it doesn’t just shut down for three months because of the Ryder Cup. People are still playing on it.”

A World Tour

Arena is no newcomer to the Ryder Cup or the world’s other major events. In fact, some of the seats used in the Ryder Cup grandstand were on the latest leg of a globetrotting tour that had seen them used in London during the 2012 Olympics and in Brazil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

That in itself is an example of the way the events industry is changing and becoming more global in its outlook and more demanding of its suppliers. And Arena is a company that sees its role not simply as a supplier of products and services, but as an innovator and partner of event organisers.

A major investment by MML Capital and Sports Investment partners in 2012, and the subsequent acquisition of Karl’s Event Services in the United States and a number of other specialist businesses across the world, has given the company the scale, footprint and capability it believes it will need to remain a key player.

Quality trickles down the various levels of events

Today, it invests anything between £3 million and £10 million a year in new equipment – some of which is designed in-house and built to order – to keep up with both the scale of the demand and the requirement for greater quality.

According to Graham Muir, the European CEO of Arena Group, operations like those at Gleneagles raise the bar on quality by increasing the expectations of clients.

“People see what can be done at the top-end and want the same wherever they go. That means quality trickles down the various levels of events,” he says.

For a company that has worked on all of the world’s major sports events, the United States has been singled out as a key growth opportunity for the company because, as Muir points out, it is “more fragmented and less mature” than Europe. The acquisition of Karl’s has positioned Arena nicely for that.

Getting Better Connected

This year’s Ryder Cup was the first to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Fans were given access to the platform through a special RFID ‘Ryder Cup Experience Wristband’ – developed for the tournament by specialists Intellitix – sent to them with their ticket.

The service generated 45,000 interactions across the tournament with 100,000 visitors able, through their wristbands, to engage with official partner activities from brands including asset manager Standard Life, UK pay-TV broadcaster BSkyB and car manufacturer BMW.

Among the activities available to fans was the ability to high-five their chosen team to send a message of support that was instantly shared on the on-course leaderboard and Facebook and Twitter accounts (see left); order a BMW test drive; win a competition to stay at the Gleneagles Hotel; and make cashless payments in one hospitality area.

“Social media integration is now important to every single professional sport,” Serge Grimaux, CEO and founder of Intellitix, told SportBusiness International. “The sheer amount of fan-generated content and photos shared is immense, and fans want to keep and share the moment.

“It’s important for sports to facilitate this to continue to grow their audiences and provide the fully immersive event that people have now come to expect. For stakeholders and sponsors, the benefits of social media are undeniable; more reach, more interaction, and the ability to maximise their investment.

“We are convinced that the Ryder Cup has set a precedent for the future. Building on previously successful campaigns in the sporting world, this activation propels us into a world of opportunities, similar to those we have recognised in the live music industry.”

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