The Kia Oval is one of the most iconic sporting venues in the UK. BLM spoke with George Hampson, Head of Corporate Sales at Surrey County Cricket Club, to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the historic stadium.
Can you tell me a bit about the Oval’s history?
The Oval was created in 1845, when Surrey Country Cricket Club was founded. It’s been used for various things – it was set up as a Prisoner of War Camp during World War II, for example, though it was never used for that. The Who played here in the ‘70s for a fundraising event; the first FA Cup happened here. And from 2005 onwards, since we had the new stand built, we started using the venue as an event space as well as a cricket club.
We’re one of four venues in the world which has held one hundred or more test matches. So it’s a world-famous sports venue.
How many staff does the Oval employ?
We have about 80 full-time staff on any given day. Through the summer, we increase to about 120, and on a match day, we increase to about 750.
How many visitors can it hold?
About half a million people will come through the gates in 2019. For any one match day, it’s 25,000. But for a standalone event, we can have 2,000 – 3,000 people through the gates on a given day.
People come both for cricket and for events, so it’s a real variety of clients.
What are some of the Oval’s most distinctive features?
We’ve got roof terraces that overlook the pitch all the way around the grounds. Whether they’re used to watch cricket or for events, you’d be hard pushed to find another venue in London that has the same views.
Being a cricket club, you’ve also got to have a pavilion. Our pavilion is fantastic: there are big, oak-panelled walls in the long room. That’s a really distinctive feature.
What kinds of events do you host at the Oval? Are there any plans to expand into new areas?
We have a lot of business conferences, teaching conferences, conferences for the NHS. We do a lot of dinners and award ceremonies, and that’s the area we’re looking to grow in.
We’re building a whole new stand over the next two years with 750 sq ft of space. We’re building two rooms, and both of them will be able to hold dinners for 700-800 people each.
We also do everything from small meetings to exhibitions – we recently hosted a whisky festival. We also do a lot of weddings.
We’ve grown in popularity over the last five years. We did more in one quarter last year than we did in the whole of 2014. So we’ve increased by about 35% in terms of events over the last four years. Our events account for about £6m in revenue.
How much of The Oval’s business comes from events?
15-20% of our business comes from conferences and events. We class that as non-cricket revenue.
We used to do other sports – as I said, we hosted the first FA Cup – but cricket is so huge for us that we don’t anymore. We’re the second biggest cricket club in the country and the fourth biggest in the world. So we can’t have anything else on the pitch, at least at the moment. But we are looking into diversifying that.
It’s really important for sports venues like the Oval to monetise their non-sports days. We don’t have cricket playing for about 320 days of the year – we have to monetise that time. So we work hard to be open to as many different clients and events as possible.
How would you summarise the Oval brand?
The Oval is open for business. We will welcome any client, any event, and we will do our utmost to host it.
We have a really dynamic events space that is unique – both in London and across the country. We’re a well-run operation and have a family business feel, with regards to the way we retain staff. So we’re friendly, welcoming, and hard-working.
We’re also a member’s club. We don’t pay out any dividends or shares: every single penny of profit is reinvested in the club. The more success we have on events, the more money we can put back into the venue. We’re about to spend £30m on this new stand – it all goes to us getting bigger and better.
What have been some of the highlights of your time at the Kia Oval?
Leaders in Sport, one of the biggest sports conferences in the world, came to the Oval a few years ago. That put us on the map as one of the most sought-after sports venues in the world for hosting events. That was really special to be part of.
Then there’s the cricket – we’re home to the final test match. Watching Pakistan win the Champions Trophy; watching England lift the Ashes trophy in 2015. And hopefully seeing England win the Ashes again this year – those are all highlights for me.
What are some exciting things in the pipeline for the Oval?
Our aim is to have no single-use plastic in the venue by the end of 2019, and we’re on track to achieve that in the next few months. Being green is important to us; we’re also cashless and looking into renewable energy.
The big one, though, is this new stand. One Oval Square will be ready in 2021. That will increase our capacity as a stadium by 2,500 people, and it will allow sit-down dinners of 750-800 people. Currently, the only place you can hold those kinds of events is in the big hotels on Park Lane. So this will make us a major player in events and awards ceremonies.