"For me, the most exciting part of the new sponsorship deal is the Etihad Campus,” says Brian Marwood, Manchester City’s chief football operations director. “When I go to the table to sign players, I’m not selling them a cabinet full of trophies, I’m selling them a dream. And when I show them what the Etihad Campus will look like, it's going to blow them away.”
Signed earlier this year, Etihad’s branding deal with City has widely been reported as the biggest football sponsorship deal in history. But the contract is unique in ways other than the estimated price tag. The spotlight may have been trained on the shirt and the renaming of the new Etihad Stadium, but for executives at both the airline and the football club, Manchester City’s newest project is set to provide far greater long-term value.
City chief infrastructure officer Jon Stemp, who is coordinating the planning and development of the campus calls it, simply, “200-odd acres of opportunity”. And the plan itself is pretty simple; buy up the post-industrial brownfield site adjacent to what is now the Etihad Stadium and transform that area into the best football training facility in the world.
But the campus isn’t just the usual cluster of pitches, gyms and medical centres that you’ll find at other Premier League clubs. There will be 17 pitches, and a 7,000 capacity stadium for youth team players, which, to put it into perspective, is bigger than some third-tier English clubs’ full capacity. The development will also host 400 youth team players, who will be schooled and housed onsite.
Needless to say, pictures of the project caused something of a stir in the local press when they were released in September. But there were no real surprises; the club had done its homework by putting its suggestions out to the community via a six-week consultation period. More than 7,000 residents and interested parties visited the consultation space, feedback from whom showed a 98 percent approval rating.
“We spent three years trying to keep a lid on what we are doing in East Manchester, because we didn’t want to raise expectation before we knew we could do it,” says Stemp. “We first started looking at it about six or eight weeks into ownership, because we knew that what we had wasn’t right very early on.
So before the architect’s pen had even touched the paper, City officials travelled to four continents, visiting over 30 of the world’s top sporting facilities over a two-year period. After that period of due diligence, the team then drew up technical requirement briefs and got the architects involved, but Stemp points out that Etihad will be fully involved in the final make-up of the project.
“In the campus are a stadium, training facility and a community village,” he says. “So those are three given things out of four large areas. One large area and part of our training facility are still to be figured out.
“So we would imagine that together we will develop a really good brand proposition for what the Etihad Campus is going to be. We’ll develop a prospectus and there will be new partners that will come in and live in the place. So it’s still in its formative stage; it’s still not completely defined, but that’s the way it should be.”
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