She trained to be a professional ballerina. She fell into the sports industry and now has nearly two decades of hospitality experience. She’s Charlene Nyantekyi, General Manager of Club Wembley, The FA Group and the newest ALSD Board of Advisors member.
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.
Recently at ALSD International, you discussed “client profiles”. In a broad sense, can you illustrate what your premium audience looks like? And what are the needs of typical premium clients these days?
It’s not about one thing in particular. What people want from a premium experience these days is choice. We now live in a world where everyone’s expectations are different, and that’s reflected here at Wembley Stadium. We’ve got at least ten different types of entertaining spaces that provide different types of hospitality on an event day. That’s everything from more traditional hospitality, like formal tables with linens, not quite silver service, but definitely a collated food offer. And then we’re seeing a move toward the lounge experience. For the lounge group, it’s still about being able to eat and drink what I want but also have the best seat available in the house.
When we look at future product development, we’re looking at flexible space, making sure people can have that element of informal client entertainment as well as the formal option available. If we look ten years down the road, we have to eye technology and how that plays a part in premium experiences.
Here in the UK and abroad, we are used to watching football or any sport on lots of different formats at the same time. Whether you’re watching results coming in on your phone, on an iPad, or on any sort of second screen, it’s about how we integrate and also stay true to watching live sport. That is the balance we are trying to walk as we progress our product.
People are looking at our brands anywhere at any time which is phenomenal. However, the industry may struggle with the in-venue optics, because empty seats don’t look great. Do you feel pressure to balance the experience and the optics?
We’re definitely seeing that. The format of football has stayed true to itself for a really long time. It’s probably one of the only sports that hasn’t seen any fundamental changes to the format, with the exception of VAR (Video Assistant Referee), which was introduced most recently. If you look at other sports like cricket, they have slightly changed to a shorter format, which reflects people, who have less time and yearn for those bite-sized pieces.
“What people want from a premium experience these days is choice.”
– Charlene Nyantekyi, Club Wembley
Where we have to be aware is that experience outside of the game itself. We do have to get bums in seats, we do want to have full venues, and we don’t necessarily want people stuck at home only consuming their sports there. We want them to come to the venue. It’s why, as hospitality providers, it’s important for us to make sure that we are providing that experience pre- and post-90 minutes. What we provide needs to be that thing that gets people out of the offices, out of their homes, and into our venues, making it part of their day.
We are constantly looking at how we upgrade our facilities, how we make it easier for people to get to us. We’re always looking at things to make sure people consider coming to the venue as opposed to staying at home.
Switching focus to your venue, Wembley Stadium covers one of the largest footprints we’ve ever seen. And yet, it appears that no inch is unfinished. It’s arguably the most upscale large venue we’ve ever seen. How were its recent upgrades designed with a purpose?
It’s incredible to hear that sort of feedback because when you work in a stadium, you often see areas to improve upon. It’s nice to take a step back and see what everyone else sees for a moment.
From our point of view, the recent development has given Wembley a soul. To explain that, I think if you talked to patrons who came to the venue about 11 years ago when Wembley first opened, it was an incredible space and was absolutely vast, but it needed something, an identity of sorts, to feel like Wembley Stadium.
Some of the redevelopments have given individual spaces a story. Now when you come into those spaces, it’s no longer generic. Instead of feeling like you could be anywhere in the world, you feel like you’re at Wembley Stadium. That’s really been the success of the new products that we’ve launched. People come in and want to talk about the space. It might be the artifacts in The Lioness. It might be the architectural layout in One Twenty. You see the screens and lounges and how the booths are integrated. It gives people a talking point.
Working with companies like KSS, who are brilliant at creating that storytelling piece, is great. They look at everything in complete 360 [degrees]. They spend time designing the lattice that goes on the ceiling, the carpet that goes on the ground, and small touches like beading. Thought has gone into every element.
You’ve covered premium in the UK and beyond for years. But you’ve also attended ALSD conferences in the US. In your estimation, is there a difference in how Europe and the US characterize, deliver, or sell premium seating?
There is a lot more merging of the worlds now. In terms of the experiences and spaces, Europe has looked to the US, who has always been innovative when it comes to delivering new experiences. Whether it be something like a tunnel club or bunker suites, those are things that we in Europe have gleaned from the US.
“In music, there is a lot more innovative creation of premium or even standing, social spaces. I’m always looking at music as innovators.”
– Charlene Nyantekyi, Club Wembley
There are still differences in how we consume and buy premium experiences. I think the US market is a lot further down the line in terms of things like subscription modeling. There are probably a lot more sensitivities in the UK, probably a lot more legislative sensitivities perhaps, about things like how you resell tickets. Also, we are now considering going away from the more formal hospitality, whereas in the US, you guys did away with that a long time ago.
We’re also becoming a lot more open to what premium actually means and what it is. The music industry is a great example of how it monetized premium long before other industry segments did. If you look at venues, it’s still very much the case of loges or suites or other typical seating types. But in music, there is a lot more innovative creation of premium or even standing, social spaces. I’m always looking at music as innovators.
Finally, our welcome to you as a board member has to come with some sort of initiation, right? So tell us a funny story about yourself in the industry.
Well this one is very much based around UK football, so I’ll give it a shot and hope it translates. When I was working for Arsenal, I was at the old Highbury stadium, and we’d arranged a day to interview new hosts and hostesses to join us during that season. I was based in the office, and outside were rows and rows of eager men and women, ready for their interviews. I had gone outside, and I ran across one gentleman who looked really familiar, so I struck up a conversation with him, saying, “How are you? You look really familiar. Are you coming to interview for this role?”
He just sort of nodded and smiled. It wasn’t until about an hour later that I realized that this was actually one of the Arsenal players. He was headed across the way from where our office was for contract talks. I felt like an idiot, but I appreciated how he humored me.
Read Part One of our Member Highlight with Charlene Nyantekyi.