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NEC Group announces changes to arena management team

Birmingham-based NEC Group has promoted two key members of its arena management team, with Guy Dunstan upped from general manager to director of arenas, and Phil Mead becoming arenas and The Ticket Factory (TTF) chairman.

The NEC Group manages five of the UK’s leading business, leisure, and entertainment venues: the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), International Convention Centre (ICC), Resorts World Arena, Arena Birmingham and the Vox Conference Centre, as well as national ticketing agency, The Ticket Factory.

In the new role, Mead will head projects related to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where NEC Group will host nine sports across three flagship events.

As chairman, Mead will work closely with NEC Group chief executive Paul Thandi on merger and acquisition opportunities, following the appointment of the Blackstone Group as NEC Group’s majority shareholder. The US private-equity giant acquired NEC Group in October in a deal reportedly worth over £800 million.

“I am proud and excited to be taking on this role and to lead the outstanding team and facilities we have in both arenas. It could hardly be a busier or more exciting time to take up this new post”

Mead remains on the board of TTF, the Group’s award-winning in-house ticketing company, and continues to advise on projects nurtured by consultancy arm NEC Group Venue Partnerships, including the transformation of the iconic former Odeon theatre in Bradford.

“This new role is a perfect fit for me,” says Mead. “On a strategic development front, the current landscape presents so many opportunities – both around growing our own venues and exploring options on a partnership and consultancy basis.”

A former chair of the UK’s National Arenas Association, Guy Dunstan has spent the last 18 years with NEC Group delivering a range of high-profile events such as BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and the redeveloping the Resorts World Arena and Arena Birmingham.

Dunstan comments: “I am proud and excited to be taking on this role and to lead the outstanding team and facilities we have in both arenas. It could hardly be a busier or more exciting time to take up this new post.”

 


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TTF appoints new director of ticketing

The Ticket Factory (TTF) has hired ticketing industry veteran Richard Howle, most recently of Really Useful Theatres Group, as director of ticketing.

Howle is tasked with expanding the technological capabilities of TTF, owned by UK venue operator NEC Group, and improving the user experience for both clients and ticket buyers.

In addition to a four and a half-year spell as Really Useful Theatres’ commercial director, Howle’s 18 years’ industry experience includes spells as head of box office/ticketing and international sales director at marketing agency AKA Promotions. He is also a director of the governing council of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (Star).

Phil Mead, NEC Group’s managing director, says: “Richard’s appointment will serve to further strengthen the offering of the Ticket Factory in an increasingly competitive marketplace. It has a unique partnership with the NEC Group Arenas, and with Richard’s direction, the businesses will be able to work even closer together to provide a seamless experience for clients and customers alike.”

“I am looking forward to building the Ticket Factory brand at this pivotal point in the company’s history”

Stuart Cain, formerly TTF’s managing director, departed the company for Ricoh Arena in September.

Commenting on his appointment, Howle adds: “I am thrilled to join the Ticket Factory and to bring my experience of running in-house ticketing operations to the role. It is a company I have long admired with a well-deserved reputation for delivering excellence.

“I am looking forward to building the Ticket Factory brand at this pivotal point in the company’s history, having just celebrated its tenth anniversary. Over the past decade, the Ticket Factory has established itself as an industry challenger in a highly competitive, fast-moving industry and has an exciting future ahead.”

NEC Group, which manages Arena Birmingham (15,800-cap.), Genting Arena (15,700-cap.), the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), the International Convention Centre (ICC) and Vox Conference Centre, all in Birmingham, posted 17.9% growth in revenue in its 2016–17 financial results.

 


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Phil Mead: 10 things I’ve learnt in 10 years

Phil Mead’s first memorable gig experience was witnessing Bob Dylan play at the then-NEC Arena in Birmingham. Fast forward 36 years, and he’s recently celebrated ten years as MD of arenas for the NEC Group.

Having transformed the business in his time with the group, Mead has overseen two redevelopments, multiple naming rights partners, and has seen new attractions built and hosted countless events, paving the way for NEC Group’s arenas to become premier destinations on touring routes. We caught up with the man himself to discover what he’s learned during a decade at the top…

1. It’s a team effort
The first lesson was learnt well before Mead arrived at the NEC, in his first venue job at a 1,500-seat entertainment and sports centre, where he quickly realised one of the most important components of arena management. “Everyone, from the rigger, the stage builder and the steward to the event manager, the marketer and the box office assistant, are all equally important, and only when working in harmony can great events be delivered. Moreover, those on the front line generally have better ideas to improve the offer than you – so listen!”

2 & 3. When you see a market opportunity, verify it with consumer research – and seize it
Shortly after joining NEC Group, Mead saw an opportunity to transform the venue box office into a national ticket agency predicated on a market entry that took venue box-office customer service levels into the agency business. Market research through consumer focus groups not only validated this premise, but they also came up with the name The Ticket Factory.

“Out of the eight names put forward to the focus groups my preferred choice came seventh! The Ticket Factory was the clear favourite by all the focus groups, so there is lesson three: you may spot the opportunity, but let the consumer tell you how it should be positioned.” The Ticket Factory was launched just nine months after Mead’s arrival at NEC Group.

“You may spot the opportunity, but let the consumer tell you how it should be positioned”

4. Take advantage of new business models
After ticketing, the next big step was to recognise that despite a strong market position, the NEC Arena needed a transformation to enhance the customer experience beyond the show itself.

“Local authority funding of the scale required based on economic or cultural benefit alone was no longer the order of the day as the public purse tightened. Neither was it viable to increase venue rentals for promoters to such an extent that £29 million could be paid back. We therefore turned to a combination of the sponsorship market (as this took a step change after O2’s deal with the Dome in London), plus faith in enhanced revenues from food and beverage and hospitality if the right quality offer was presented.” Both paid off, and in 2009, the LG Arena (now Genting Arena) was born, with every aspect of the venue seriously improved.

The same philosophy was applied to create the Barclaycard Arena where £26m of funding was a viable investment to be paid back from improved profitability primarily from retail catering, hospitality and sponsorship. Mead believes that not only do you have to look towards new business models to raise funding, but also have faith that the quality of offer will drive revenues well beyond previous arena spend per head.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 74: