Pre-pandemic you hosted the pre-match and half-time entertainment at St James’s Park and Kingston Park. Are you excited about returning with fans in the stands?
I can’t wait! Newcastle Falcons have two home matches before the end of the season and there will be supporters at both games. The first match against Northampton Saints on May 17 has been confirmed as a test event and there will be 1,750 fans at Kingston Park that night. The plan is to do the same again when Worcester Warriors head up here on June 5. Newcastle United have just opened the ballot for their home game against Sheffield United on May 19 with 10,000 supporters allowed into St James’s Park. I’m counting down the days to all three games. I just can’t wait to see people back in stadiums, supporting their teams and enjoying everything that we associate with the live sport experience. It just seems like a lifetime ago that I was part of any kind of live event with a crowd and I’ve missed the atmosphere and the adrenaline rush. This month is a start. But it will only feel like we’re back to normal when the final note of Local Hero rings out and a full house roars the Magpies onto the pitch at St James’s Park. That’s the dream.
How important is it for football and rugby union clubs in the region to welcome back fans before the end of this season, in anticipation of capacity crowds next season?
Psychologically it’s very significant. Emotionally — for those who are lucky enough to get tickets — it will mean everything to experience that atmosphere and to interact with fellow fans after such a long time away. It will be a reminder to everyone just how important supporters are to the very fabric of live sport. I think we’ve come to realise that fans are a vital part of the overall experience. Live sport just doesn’t work in the same way without supporters creating that atmosphere and that edge. I watched snooker’s World Championships from Sheffield when a capacity crowd was allowed in to watch the final at the Crucible Theatre. The fans almost brought the house down at the end of the match and you could see on the faces of the players just how much it meant to have people in the venue. It brought home just how much crowds have been missed since last March.
You’ve hosted corporate events across the North East for many years now and is that another aspect of your work that you’ve missed?
Of course. I’m a people person and I’ve been fortunate to work with some wonderful people in the North East business community over the years. Those events are always incredibly well supported and there’s always been a strong crossover between sport and business in this region. I’m looking forward to getting back out there, meeting a few old friends and a few new faces, and enjoying some entertaining events in good company. I’m already talking to a few people in relation to events planned for the second half of the year.
Is there a genuine appetite for corporate events after so many months without face-to-face networking?
There’s a huge demand. For example, as part of my ongoing work with GiveToLocal we’re looking at hosting an event towards the end of the summer. GiveToLocal is a North East-based, national organisation that’s has been working incredibly hard behind the scenes at a time when community sport has been severely restricted by the pandemic. But I still think its game-changing approach has flown under the radar and that it’s one of the region’s best kept secrets. Now’s the time for people to find out just how important GiveToLocal can be in terms of supporting the clubs and local businesses hit hardest by months of lockdown. A relaxed and informal corporate event is the answer as far as I’m concerned. It’s a chance to spend some face-to-face time with existing partners and an opportunity to introduce potential supporters to a positive service that’s revolutionising community sport. Building that relationship between GiveToLocal and like-minded, big ticket brands isn’t easy but I know there’s a huge amount of interest in the event that we’re planning. Watch this space!
Are you convinced that corporate support is there for sport at every level in spite of the challenges businesses face in the post-lockdown era?
The North East is a shining example when it comes to philanthropic businesses supporting sport from grassroots to elite level. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of pounds raised and donated over the years and witnessed the positive impact that’s had on community sport. Having lived in the region for some time now I’ve seen at first hand the hunger and the thirst for sport in the North East and at times it’s simply off the scale. There’s a collective will to see communities survive and thrive and, in my experience, the corporate community is not backwards in going forward when it comes to offering key support.