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Affectionately known as 'Smurf Turf' at what stadium will you find the world's only blue AstroTurf playing surface? 


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One-on-one: Mark Arthur, CEO, Yorkshire County Cricket Club

Tasked with securing the Test match status of Yorkshire County Cricket Club's Headingley Stadium, CEO Mark Arthur discusses the club’s recently released £50m (US$84m) masterplan

 


How have the last 12 months been?
Over the last year, I’ve tried to engage the club with the local cricketing community in Yorkshire; there are 747 teams and 117,000 adult players in the county, with whom we have had little or no relationship over the past 17 years.

Why transform Headingley now?
The masterplan, which we’ve designed with DLA Architecture, aims to address three principle problems. First, an inability to sell out Test matches on a regular basis, due to high ticket prices and hosting less desirable fixtures. Second, a lack of floodlights, which puts our Test match status under question. And third, replacing tired facilities that currently aren’t in keeping with the requirements of modern-day international sport.

How is it being funded?
It will be a public-private partnership. We’re not releasing the exact terms of this yet, but we do have a strategy in place that will help us to obtain the funding.

What are the key features of the revamp?
We have a long-term staging agreement with the England and Wales Cricket board (ECB) until 2019. After that, Headingley’s future as an international venue is very uncertain. Luckily, we recently received planning permission from the city council for the floodlights, and with the help of an ECB grant we hope to start work on those in October and put them up in time for the start of next season. The great thing about the floodlights is that they will enable us to start our T20 matches at 7:00pm rather than 5:30pm, which we believe will give us an extra 3,000-4,000 people per T20 match.

Anything else?
We’re redeveloping the North/South Stand to incorporate a three-tiered seating area, which will accommodate 5,060 seats, enhanced corporate facilities and new permanent concession units. It’s dual aspect, so one side looks over the cricket ground and the other side looks over the rugby ground. There aren’t too many stands like that in world sport. We’re hoping to start construction in the autumn of 2017 and have it finished before the cricket season in 2019, which is a World Cup year, and when Headingley hosts an Ashes Test match and an Australian one-day international.

Any technological improvements?
We actually recently completely upgraded our technological platform. This is our first season operating the AudienceView system, which has completely modernized and streamlined our e-commerce activity and cut down on the huge number of complaints we used to receive about the way we look after our customers. We’ve also significantly increased our wi-fi capability within the ground.

What will the transformation enable Headingley to do that it can’t do now?
The North/South Stand will have an ultimate viewing room, which will host around 300 people on match days and give us the opportunity to use the facility on non-match days too. From a cricket perspective, it will provide another 2,500 seats and give an aesthetic balance to the ground once we put a roof on the White Rose Stand. We’re also looking to put in a traditional pavilion, which will include a traditional long room, dining facilities for up to 200 people, and smaller rooms that can be used all year round. When you look at the development of modern stadia, you have got to look at alternative uses.

How is Headingley continually adapting to such market demands?
The boxes on the east side of the ground are part of the Headingley Lodge [a 4-star hotel with 36 bedrooms], which works very effectively. Underneath that, at the back of the stand, are indoor cricket nets, which provide an additional revenue stream throughout the year. Then there is the Carnegie Pavilion, which was built and is owned by Leeds Metropolitan University, and houses not only the offices of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, but also lecture facilities for the university. We’re also looking at hosting Headingley’s first concert in September 2015.

What is the most challenging aspect of the transformation?
The most challenging aspect is doing it while being £23m [US$39m] in debt. Finding the cash to fund such a major project isn’t easy, and we need to ensure that both Leeds Rugby and Yorkshire County Cricket Club get what they want out of the partnership. We believe it will happen – otherwise we wouldn’t have gone so public.

 

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