Charlene Nyantekyi is a trained dancer, twinkling her toes across the stages of the UK for nearly 20 years. So it should come as no surprise that when she found her career passion in sports hospitality, she took her finesse with her to another type of stage.
Now at Wembley Stadium, England’s National Stadium, Nyantekyi is using 20 different years of experience in hospitality to deliver premium service to the country’s premier clients. Learn how the first UK-born ALSD Board of Advisors member cut her teeth in the sports industry, refined her service spirit, and trained others to follow suit.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
How did you get your start in the sports industry?
You might not be aware that I fell into this industry completely by accident. It’s not something I studied at school or even thought about. I didn’t really know what hospitality was. I fell into it because of my love for football, or soccer as you guys [in the US] call it. It was through a friend of mine that I found out that if you work for Arsenal on an event day, you get to watch the game. That was honestly my initial driver.
I started by working on reception at the old Highbury stadium on match day. I loved the environment so much and soon found out you can actually have a career out of it. I fell in love with making people happy and making sure they had a fantastic day. It made me tick a bit.
“I came from a background of dancing, doing ballet from the age of three and anything else you can think of... I thought I was going to be this prima, aspiring ballerina. That is until I fell in love with sports and hospitality.”
– Charlene Nyantekyi, Club Wembley
What was your background before you fell into sports?
I came from a background of dancing, doing ballet from the age of three and anything else you can think of, from tap, modern jazz, contemporary. I thought I was going to be this prima, aspiring ballerina. That is until I fell in love with sports and hospitality. It was a very different path than what I thought, and much to my parents’ initial shock and maybe disappointment at first.
I actually started in the great theatres in the UK and did all the competitions. When I got to the age of 20 or 21, I realized this hospitality thing actually has got legs. And that’s when I changed paths, with my parents probably thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of time and money we’ve spent on this.’
Having a love of the arts, a love for precision and finesse, comes out in your personality both personally and professionally now. Would you agree?
Well, thank you. It’s more about the joy dance brings to other people that watch it. If you’re a fan of ballet or any type of dance, it’s an emotional connection. It’s more than what you see, it’s how it makes you feel. Sport has that same affiliation. Many sports here, and especially UK football, are almost tribal. You can have the most straight-laced, simple person in the world, but for that 90 minutes, this is their team and what they are super-passionate about.
Music does the same thing. I have been very lucky to work in the music industry. And one of the great things to see there was the hospitality, which wasn’t just about selling tickets to those that could afford it. It was and is about the people who are most passionate about it. Ultimately, if you’re a fan of an artist, you want to be in the best seat or as up close as possible, or you want that meet-and-greet opportunity. That passion links across the board, and that’s why for me, I just love working in this live entertainment and venue space.
You’ve voyaged across the industry, working with AEG, Arsenal, Formula E, The O2, and now Wembley Stadium. Are there guiding principles or service standards that translate across the board that you've carried with you to each venue?
Never underestimate getting the basics right. Fundamentally getting the basics right leads to everything else fitting nicely on top. Things like how you welcome guests into your space, making sure the staff is smiling and acknowledging guests when they walk in, making eye contact.
“Never underestimate getting the basics right. Fundamentally getting the basics right leads to everything else fitting nicely on top... It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there are certain touch points which are consistently important.”
– Charlene Nyantekyi, Club Wembley
Equally, it carries through to when you leave the venue. If you go to events at The O2 in London, their guest services staff always says, ‘Have a safe journey’ or ‘How was the show?’ to acknowledge the guest all the way to the point when they are leaving the venue. It’s those small touch points which people remember and make them want to go back to that venue again.
In terms of my different roles, some of the most exciting times were working internationally, for instance with AEG on touring. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there are certain touch points which are consistently important.
Again, that welcome or reception when you leave are some of those key touch points.
You did a session at ALSD International on “Creating a Winning Service Culture”. Did you include some of those principles in that session?
We gave scenarios and examples, and a lot of them were based in and around the training that we, as senior management, need to give our staffs. Sometimes when we are part of these big venues, it’s easy to assume staffs know what they are doing or assume you have the right people in the right places. And sometimes we are guilty of not giving them the training and support they need to deliver the experience we are selling.
Are you still learning how to finesse the dynamic, the training, and even take cues from your hourly staff who has the front-row seat to patrons’ wants and need?
I’m always, always, always learning. That’s something I enjoy and pride myself on. What we do quite well at Wembley is we take quite a collaborative approach to our training. Once a quarter, we have the entire stakeholder team involved, so that would be everyone on the operations side, along with our caterers, our safety team, our membership services, our marketing execs, and so forth.
“I’m always, always, always learning. That’s something I enjoy and pride myself on.”
– Charlene Nyantekyi, Club Wembley
We all sit together in a room and talk about the challenges we have had in that quarter, and we take into account the feedback that we get from our members and patrons who visit us. The key thing to stress is that we don’t get feedback for feedback’s sake. We actually use it to improve what we are doing moving forward. It’s not just a box-checking exercise.
Together we try to create solutions, while also discussing possible reasons why things fell down. Maybe it’s tech-related, maybe it’s something operationally we need more support for. We come at it from a joint approach, address it, and move forward. And ultimately, that is key to any venue’s success, making sure that you bring in the right people along that journey. It may not be the person who sits two steps from the problem that can and will be able to fix it.
Do you bring in consultants or trainers to help educate best practices?
Yes, absolutely. If I’m ever referred to as an expert in hospitality, I politely correct them that I’m experienced, but I’m still learning. It’s always good to learn from those outside your industry as well. For instance, many venues do sessions with Disney, do consultations with concierge companies, or even look through the hospitality lens of fine dining restaurants, five-star hotels, or business-class airlines. And remember in the current premium experience landscape, these types of experiences are what we get benchmarked against, in addition to being compared against other venues. We have to look outside our industry to keep pace.
Is there one moment or one event with a client that is most memorable, perhaps because of the level or type of service you provided?
I’m lucky to have had so many highlights in my career. But my time at Formula E stands out. We had a race taking place in Paris. The very nature of Formula E is that it’s street racing, so we essentially go into a city center and shut down the streets. In Paris for about three days, we shut down the streets and created a race track, and then we created hospitality as part of it.
“[Fine dining restaurants, five-star hotels, and business-class airlines] are what we get benchmarked against, in addition to being compared against other venues. We have to look outside our industry to keep pace.”
– Charlene Nyantekyi, Club Wembley
For anyone who has been to Paris, you know there aren’t lots of spaces where you can build a hospitality area for a thousand people. We ended up taking over a fantastic old spot, but we had the challenge of trying to create a hospitality space on the grounds in a very restrictive area. We had a stunning building, but you can’t do an awful lot because there are millions of pounds worth of artwork there. You have to be careful about how you build your infrastructure.
Moreover, you’re in a city where English is an expected language, but certainly not the first language, so you’re working around those barriers.
Then, coming up to the event, we took on a sponsor in Qatar Airways, and soon found ourselves in quite a situation where we were creating a hospitality space that had to be reflective of the local market, reflective of the international market, and we also had to be aware of the sensitive views surrounding Qatar and food and beverage, regarding what we could or couldn’t serve in those particular areas.
I’m very pleased how we pulled this event off. It was most successful. We entertained around 1,200 guests that day in a beautiful outdoor space. We were able to curate these bespoke little experiences within this marquee that we had set up, and we were able to deliver what our Qatari guests expected and wanted from us. We were able to deliver what our international guests expected and wanted from us but were also able to be very respectful to our Parisian guests who also expect another certain type of experience. It really was a collaborative event, with our caterers, with the contractors. And at the end of the day, we delivered all those different expectations under one roof. It was very rewarding. Maybe also very stressful, but very rewarding.
Read Part Two of our Member Highlight with Charlene Nyantekyi.