Interview: Alan Hamer, Major Events Sports Specialist
Alan Hamer is a seasoned major events sports specialist, Project Director for the Football Association of Wales’ Local Organising Committee for the UEFA Champions League Final 2017 and more recently Bid Director for the Association’s UEFA EURO 2020 bid. Here Alan shares his accomplished sports business career journey through Rugby, Cricket and latterly Football and what he learned along the way.
Like most Welsh people, I love sport, whether it be playing or watching (more the latter now). When I was growing up, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but since I liked maths, one of my school teachers suggested a career in accountancy. So, I went on to study accountancy in university before qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1994. Not for one moment did I ever think that my love of numbers would result in me working in the sports industry.
I first ventured into the sports industry in 2004, when I became the Welsh Rugby Union’s Finance Director. It was a challenging role, as the organisation faced significant cash flow issues due to the sizeable loans taken out to build the Millennium Stadium (as it was called at that time); now known as Principality Stadium. It was a steep learning curve but things gradually started to improve and the pressure eased. Although I only spent 2 years in the role, I learned a great deal which provided a good grounding for my future roles.
I then joined Glamorgan County Cricket Club, initially as their Finance & Commercial Director. It was an exciting time to join the county – they had just been awarded an Ashes Test match and they were about to redevelop their stadium (now called The SSE SWALEC). Although the county had a long and proud history, it was a period of significant change and a new team of staff was recruited. Getting the stadium redevelopment completed in just 2 years whilst at the same time, planning for a high-profile Ashes Test match, was a big challenge.
Like all sport venues, there are only a small number of match days each year, so we had to “sweat the asset” and a big priority for the club was to develop our conferences and events offering (the club’s non-match day business soon delivered £1m+ of revenue per annum). Despite intense media scrutiny (there were many people that didn’t agree with Cardiff being awarded an Ashes Test match and the first one of the series as well), the 2009 Ashes Test match in Cardiff was a major triumph and was ground breaking for international cricket in the UK. Our emphasis was on raising the bar in terms of the customer match day experience and following this event, other more established cricket venues reviewed and then improved their offerings. The successful staging of the Test match led to the Club being awarded a second Ashes Test match in 2015 and the Club was also shortlisted for UK Venue of the Year at the illustrious UK Sports Industry Awards.
Shortly after the Ashes Test match, I stepped up to the role of Chief Executive Officer and during my remaining time with the Club, we reached our first one-day final in nearly 40 years and were also recognised by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for our Community Engagement programme. I finally left the Club in 2013 to look for a new challenge.
Amongst the people I then contacted to let them know of my change in career was Jonathan Ford – CEO of the Football Association of Wales. A few weeks later we met to discuss a project that he thought may be of interest – heading up the bid for Cardiff to be chosen as one of the 13 UEFA EURO 2020 Host Cities!
One project turned into another and during my four years at the Football Association of Wales, I was fortunate enough to have worked on some of the world’s biggest sporting events.
Although I have worked in three very different sports – rugby, cricket and football – the challenges, highlights and achievements at each were similar, namely: improving profitability, increasing revenue, streamlining operations, recruiting staff, bidding for major events, profile & reputation building, delivering high quality sporting events, and raising the level of customer experience.
Throughout my working career, I have been fortunate to have attended several major sporting events and I have always taken an interest in noticing the things that work well and the things that don’t!
Over time, you try to incorporate the good ideas into your event plans and ensure that the bad points are highlighted as risk items at the earliest opportunity. It’s not rocket science – the moral of the story is that you are never too old or too good to learn from others. The moment that you think you know everything is the start of a slippery slope. Several well-known sports venues have suffered such a wake-up call over recent years.
During the planning phase for UEFA Champions League Final 2017, we observed the 2015 and 2016 finals in Berlin and Milan, and had people working on the ground to understand how the events operated. We also met with the English and German FAs to understand their challenges and words of wisdom in relation to staging such a high-profile event.
I can assure you that things definitely don’t always go to plan but when things do go wrong, you just need to make sure that they don’t go wrong again. This way, and over time, the quality of your offering will continue to improve.
I have always placed strong emphasis on delivering high levels of customer experience (one of our slogans for UEFA Champions League Final 2017 was “delivering the best experience for all….”) and I have always tried to approach the event planning process from an attendee perspective – what would I want to know if I was planning to attend an event? How would I describe a successful event?
In addition to the success of the 2009 Ashes Test match, the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final was also hailed by UEFA as one of their best ever events and generated their highest ever guest satisfaction rating (97%). I guess it shows that making customer experience one of your top priorities is hugely important.
What’s next, well, I have been very fortunate to have worked for some fantastic companies in an industry that I am very passionate about. I have learnt a lot during my 14-year career in sport and still have a lot to offer and to learn. I am therefore keen to continue to work in the sports industry – either on another major event, for a sports governing body or for a club – and will now wait for the right opportunity to arise.