This exclusive interview with Northampton Saints is part of “Fan XP” – a newsletter designed to keep you abreast of the latest innovations, strategies and more regarding fan experience across the globe. To sign up, please click here.
When Premier League club Manchester City opened its Tunnel Club two years ago, the facility was credited with bringing a new dimension to the match-going fan experience in the UK.
Now it is Northampton Saints’ turn to adapt the concept for English rugby union, with a facility of the same name set to open at the Premiership club’s Franklin’s Gardens stadium at the start of the 2019-20 season.
The Tunnel Club will attempt to satisfy the rising demand from fans at Franklin’s Gardens for “super-premium” matchday experiences – and of course first-class hospitality is guaranteed.
With prices ranging from £350 and £700 per person per match, the Tunnel Club will provide room for up to 14 guests and offer a three-course meal from the players’ chef, followed by a half- and full-time grazing menu.
However, crucially, the concept that has proved so effective at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium – as well as other venues that have adopted their own versions of the Tunnel Club around the world – does not necessarily rely on the five-star food.
Instead, the Tunnel Club’s overriding strategy is to bring the spectators as close to the action as possible with an intimate, behind-the-scenes experience – and across sport, that notion can be applied to far more fans than merely the VIP ticket-holders.
At Franklin’s Gardens, like at the Etihad Stadium, the design of the Tunnel Club will give supporters the chance to enter the inner sanctum of the stadium.
The suite will be located within the existing Church’s stand at pitch level beside the players’ changing rooms, allowing spectators to be just feet away from the stars as they walk on and off the pitch before and after the match.
During the game, they will sit directly behind the players’ dugout, while after the game, the supporters will be able to meet a player straight off the pitch before witnessing media interviews from the press.
“Rugby clubs across the Premiership are having to innovate and find new, creative ways to increase revenues,” Lee Gibbons, Northampton Saints’ commercial director, told Fan XP.
“We wanted to extend our hospitality offering to satisfy the market trends we are seeing in this space; which is that match-goers want more ‘super-premium’ experiences – something that we think the Tunnel Club will provide.”
The Tunnel Club has been devised by interior architecture and design company WISH London, and Gibbons said that other offerings in the industry would be monitored to ensure it is a unique experience at Franklin’s Gardens.
“Manchester City’s Tunnel Club was something we were obviously aware of and went to observe it first-hand last season,” Gibbons adds. “But, in the same way that Man City modified a similar concept at the Dallas Cowboys – who originally came up with the idea for a tunnel facility – we’ll make adjustments so it works for a rugby audience.
“We’ll keep a close eye on new developments and trends in this area, analyse whether they’ll work for our audience and whether it stacks up financially, and if it does, and it’s right for Saints, then we’ll look to deliver them in the best possible way.”
The Tunnel Club at Franklin’s Gardens is part of a broad fan engagement strategy from the club that will stretch across the different fan demographics on match days.
Gibbons adds: “We intend to improve our match day Supporter Village where a large nucleus of our supporters congregate prior to kick off.
“We intend to add new food and beverage concessions, add more space and have plans for a new, covered central hub for match day entertainment, as well as a new indoor community activity area for young supporters.”