As part of our new feature series profiling the people who make the sport industry tick, we meet Paul Scannell – Head of Hospitality at the Football Association, Wembley Stadium and Club Wembley ahead of the showcase Carabao Cup Final at the venue.
MY DAY STARTS…
An event day for us starts the previous day. For instance, on the day of the FA Cup Final, the Club Wembley team will come together on the Friday afternoon, including catering, logistics, FM team, etc.
We walk all the Club Wembley areas, which should be 99% set that day before the event. When we leave on that Friday evening, table plans are in place and we are confident the rooms are ready.
On the event day itself, we (hospitality and Club Wembley team), always like to be present between 5-6 hours before gates open, which can mean very early in the day.
We gather and make sure every team understands their roles, responsibilities and what should be expected from the day.
Mornings are all about briefings. We start on Club Wembley crowd safety and security, ensuring their staff are in the right locations. We then move onto the room managers, (catering/hostess) and have a full hospitality briefing in each room.
Across the Club Wembley hospitality, you are looking at around 500 members of staff. Our largest is in the Bobby Moore, where you have 1,000 guests max, taken care of by 120 staff.
WHAT MY JOB INVOLVES…
It’s all about planning, planning and more planning. We are constantly working six months ahead.
On a non-match day, a typical day is working with the marketing team, our architects and interior designers about the new spaces that are opening.
There’s been a multi-million Pound capital expenditure investment in our hospitality areas. In the 18 months I’ve been here, we’ve had the One Twenty and Bobby Moore, The Lioness and Three Lions and we’ve got a further four projects ready to be opened for next season.
The areas have been beautifully decorated, with the guest in mind, with a product that they expect. No stadium can stand still, you have to evolve. This stadium is vast and if you are not continually evolving it can slowly decline.
HOW I GOT MY JOB…
I grew up in Wembley, so it was always on my doorstep. I then worked at the old stadium on a part-time basis as a waiter, I was at university when the old stadium came down and I was then able to see the new stadium constructed.
Having fed my passion for events and hospitality, I started at London Aquarium (Event Manager), then (Business Development Manager) at the private dining club Mosimann’s in Belgravia. From there Gordon Ramsey Restaurants, at his height, and then Rhubarb Food.
An opportunity came up to work in Singapore where they were opening a brand-new Singapore National Stadium. They were looking for a Director of Hospitality. Taking everything I’d learned in the UK, I took that into a sporting hospitality environment.
I spent three years in Singapore, working for Lagardére Sports, via the sports hub. This was a huge opening for me. Not only did we have Singapore National Stadium, but we also hosted Lagardére owned events, such as the WTA Tour Finals, Barclays Asia Trophy, Singapore Open Golf Championships and the Asian Football Cup. That proved my springboard into sport.
THE BEST THING ABOUT MY JOB…
When you talk to fans, people want to be a Club Wembley member. They want to know how they can get to that level, it’s aspirational.
Wembley will always be the home of football, an iconic national stadium that people want to come to and aspire to come to. That’s why we evolve our product here at Club Wembley.
I also love that Wembley hosts a myriad of events and is a multi-purpose stadium, which as a national stadium is key. Club Wembley isn’t just focused on football.
Take the NFL games, which has a very different sporting spectator. The NFL is about the fun and interaction. Those attending really embrace it and there’s no real animosity. You can put them in one room together and the hospitality is more relaxed, delivering the American experience expected.
Then there’s the boxing, which has a different vibe and atmosphere. Guests will arrive dressed for the evening around 2-3 hours before show time. Whilst their hospitality is very formal, there’s the aura of anticipation ahead of the main event which can take place at 10/10.30pm.
THE BIGGEST LESSON I'VE LEARNED…
With no day the same, the ability to be able to coordinate multiple projects is crucial. Your to-do list at the very beginning of the day may have been torn up and started afresh again even by 9am.
Also, working with so many stakeholders, from an internal stakeholder and the FA, to your facilities management team, catering, third party suppliers and security, diplomacy in this role is vital.
I found when I started back here in the UK having been at the national stadium in Singapore, there are so many similarities.
What opening a stadium there did was give me resilience and the ability to learn to react. You can plan as much as you can, but issues can occur that are completely out of your control. It’s all about rectifying the situation that doesn’t affect guests experience.
THE BIGGEST CHANGE I'VE SEEN…
Hospitality has definitely shifted from the days of round white-cloth tables of ten, with a salmon starter, piece of beef and chocolate gateau. We are moving away from that formality.
Food is such an important part of what we do socially. We therefore introduce gastronomic journeys, considered and well thought through, whilst being relevant to the audience and the event in the bowl.
I think it’s incredibly important to see what other stadia are doing. Part of what I’ve done this year is head out to see the NFL Super Bowl in Atlanta.
We are also working very closely with UEFA and the team behind football’s European Championships looking ahead to Euro 2020. We are abreast of what the other nine host nations are doing, something that’s been in the planning well before I joined.
MY MOST REWARDING DAY IN THE ROLE WAS…
I started this role thrown in at the deep end, beginning on the Monday before the 2017 FA Cup Final. Upon arriving, I was told that Wembley Stadium was built for the FA Cup Final, the biggest event, watched around the world.
Just stepping back the morning of the Final in the Bobby Moore room, I remember thinking, ‘wow it’s here, it’s happening.’ What a week to start.
Another aspect I love is that having been a part-time waiter here during university, I see myself in the younger staff now. It’s fantastic to offer encouragement and bring through younger people with that passion about hospitality.
I remember working here during Euro 1996, which is fun when thinking I’ve come full circle to work on Euro 2020 next year.
THE WORST THING ABOUT MY JOB…
My main concern on an event day is what I and everyone struggles with, the nature of an event and how factors can change on a day, factors that are completely out of your control.
You can often find yourself here from 7am until 11.30pm at night. Take the FA Cup Final, that weekend is insane for us. We go straight into the FA Vase and FA Trophy the following day, so we can be here until the early hours to do planning for those events the very next day.
ON MY DAYS OFF…
It’s a case of simply catching up with friends and life in general, especially in April, May and June, which as you can imagine, are three incredibly busy months.
Generally, I’ll try and explore what’s going on in London from a food and beverage perspective. I’m always keen to know what restaurants are opening, the latest chef people are talking about and learning about the new food trends. That’s my passion.
We will hopefully be the jewel in the crown for the European Championships in 2020. Hosting seven events here, including both semi-finals and the final, we should be showing the rest of Europe how it’s done.
With each new stadium built, such as Tottenham’s, we ask ourselves, how do we lift our game to maintain being considered number one? These new stadiums being built are incredible, so what can we do to enhance?
People will always look to Wembley as THE iconic stadium and we pitch ourselves as the best stadium in the world. People want to feel Wembley and be part of the history.
I think the future is going to be experiential, providing those money can’t buy opportunities. Whether that’s meeting your favourite player, or pitch tours as part of the package.
When we look at how Club Wembley is evolving, we tend to look at what others are doing at other stadia, race courses, golf tennis, NFL. Everyone that’s doing great work that can be picked out and amalgamated into a better product.
Our partner, Delaware North, also has a vast reach in America, so we can use them as leverage to see what trends they are seeing.
- My favourite event at Wembley
I love the FA Cup Final. With the excitement and anticipation, that for me is when the stadium comes alive. From a Club Wembley perspective, it’s when you see it at its best.
- I couldn’t do my job without…
- The teams around you, including every stakeholder that’s got input here into the stadium. We couldn’t do our job without one another, so it’s the Wembley team, as a whole.
- If I wasn’t Head of Hospitality…
I would be travelling. Before moving to Singapore, I’d never been to South East Asia. With some amazing countries within a short flight away from Singapore, you do get that bug.
- Best career advice I ever received…
Listen. Whether that’s listening in a briefing or a meeting. I try to attend all the briefings here before an event, whether I have direct involvement or not, because you have to understand the whole 360 degree aspect to an event.
- Best sporting event attended live…
I’d actually say my first Club Wembley experience. It was in the Bobby Moore for England vs. Scotland. The atmosphere was incredible. I was blown away with the whole package. Little did I know that eight months later I would be here as Head of Hospitality.