How Corporate Hospitality Took Over The Sports Business

A decade ago entertaining a client could have involved a football season ticket and a parking pass. Perhaps even a few beers. But the corporate events industry has undergone a massive transformation. Demand for hospitality services throughout Britain is higher and more sophisticated than ever.

Sports clubs and event management companies have come together to offer some of the most exclusive and premium corporate experiences imaginable. Corporate access to the sports and entertainment industry has proven to be a valuable commodity that has surpassed all expectations.

The sports industry in the UK is worth nearly £20 billion a year. The industry supports nearly 450,000 jobs. It's big business which is why it's ironic that a few decades ago business and sports would rarely be mentioned in the same breath. For a start, external funding was limited, stadiums were old and the crowd was unmanageable. Football and rugby stadiums were probably never on a list of venues for a corporate event. In fact, the stadiums were so unsafe due to hooliganism only the most passionate football fans would consider going. Something like the corporate sports packages now on offer would have been unimaginable.

The rise of corporate sponsors and the demand for corporate hospitality may have helped the sports industry grow and diversify. Small and medium sized businesses began hosting events to retain staff, attract clients, and establish their brand. Informal settings at sports events were better suited to networking than formal roundtable dinners. Events have taken on a business objective and the trend is spreading across the world. In Silicon Valley, for example, startup funds like Rothenberg Ventures host informal parties (think wine tours and free tickets for baseball matches) throughout the year to help entrepreneurs and investors meet and strike deals. Meanwhile, Twickenham rugby hospitality packages include a chance to meet some of the celebrities of the game.

Growth in corporate hospitality was relentless until the 2008 recession. As businesses across the world tightened their purse strings, the corporate hospitality market took a beating. According to research group Key Note, the size of the industry fell 2.5% to £1.2billion over the course of four years since the financial meltdown.

The Bribery Act in 2011 tightened the noose around corporate sports events. The new regulations made it harder for businesses to organize events or accept invites. The Act recognizes the need for hospitality while doing business but sets limitations and conditions on what's acceptable as a legitimate business expense. As a result, businesses need to be more careful with hospitality spending.

But slowly and steadily the industry seems to be regaining its footing. Corporate hospitality is bigger and better regulated than ever before. It's now an integral part of the sports industry.