By Andrew Warshaw
|Roy Keane layed into the "prawn sandwich" brigade at United|
When Manchester United FC captain Roy Keane famously denounced the "prawn sandwich" brigade at Old Trafford, he may have been making a valid point as far as vocal support for the team is concerned. However, even though corporate hospitality clients are not be the most vocal supporters, the revenue they bring in can be a major slat of a club's income.
Keane may not approve but United, like most major European clubs, are going to great lengths to improve their catering facilities in order to keep pace with modern trends and entice more cultured palates. For who ate all the pies, read who ate all the smoked salmon.
|Barcelona have made food a major pre-match event|
"A couple of years ago, we identified there was a lot more we could do in order to improve not only the service but also the volume of value of our sales," said Nick Humby, United's group finance director. "It begins with service."
As a result, United took on Chicago-based catering group Levy Restaurants - which operates at several leading sports stadiums and convention centres throughout the United States - to help them improve service techniques at Old Trafford.
"A lot of the American stadiums have a very good reputation for high levels of service," said Humby. "It was in our interests to bring their expertise across and provide input into our own team. Our customers tell us that the offering in suites and boxes is much better than it used to be.
”Many of those who come to our suites work for large corporations. The chances of them bringing their customers back on non-match days to attend conferences and other events is improved if they think the dining experience is on a par with any hotel in the area."
However, it is not all about corporate catering. Selling food and drink to supporters is also a lucrative business, and Ben Veenbrink, general manager of Amsterdam ArenA Advisory, the body which runs AFC Ajax's state-of-the-art stadium, knows that does not mean haute cuisine.
"Basically, you have the 15 minutes at half-time to sell as much as you can," he said. “In the old days, we used to sell salmon sandwiches but these proved to be a bit too posh for your average football audiences so we threw them out and went back to basics: good quality products with not too much variety. If people can't get what they want quickly, they won't buy."
That fast food philosophy is being challenged at FC Barcelona's amp Nou, where every effort is being made to draw in the crowds at least an hour before kick-off and keep them there. Last season, Barcelona carried out what must be one of the most innovative initiatives, selling food from the region of visiting Primera División teams with waiters dressed in regional costumes to add colour to the occasion. For UEFA Cup games, Barça provided Swedish culinary specialities to mark the fact that the final was to be held in Gothenberg.
"It's important in terms of revenue to try and attract people to come before the game starts, to develop the stadium as a kind of meeting point," said Laurent Collette, facilities manager at Barcelona. "The local habit is to come just before kick-off but if they come an hour before, they spend more money on food and beverages. One person coming one hour early equals €1. If we can attract 20,000 people, that's €20,000."