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Athletes in hotel operations: passing fashion or perfect career change?

Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, two former players for Manchester United launched their Hotel Football earlier this month. Other top athletes preceded them in the hotel industry (Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, etc.). This turnaround is looking increasingly legitimate and thought out.

Early March Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, two former footballers for Manchester United, opened their hotel  dedicated to the sport next door to the stadium where they spent twenty years. Other top athletes invested in the hotel industry before them. The tennis men Rafael Nadal in Mexico, Andy Murray in Scotland and Serge Blanco, who created a hotel complex in Hendaye. And while Juventus from Turin quietly prepares its own hotel, one may wonder: is this just a passing fashion or an ideal career change?

Top athletes are quite familiar with hotels

From the biggest scandals (Festina, Bastareaud, etc.) to the finest celebrations, hotels have always been a privilege of athletes. They are sometimes the fodder of media fantasy. When news came that David Beckham would be in Paris in January 2013 for six months, there was greater concern about where he would stay than about how his game would go. Finally, the Bristol won. Some athletes spend their entire career in hotels. This is particularly true for tennis men who are constantly traveling and play in a different place each week. So, are top athletes in a position to claim they know the hotel industry well and to have been able to follow the technological evolutions, organization of services, F&B and the latest equipment? "They have tested more hotels than anyone, giving them an innate understanding of what works and what doesn't work," announces GG Hospitality (the firm created by Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville).

Leaping into the sector, yes, but not haphazardly!

In order to undertake the Hotel Football project under the best conditions, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville created the hotel management firm GG Hospitality, surrounding themselves with professionals from the sector. The managing director of GG Hospitality, Stuart Procter has more than twenty years of experience in the hotel industry. He was previously General Manager at he Stafford London, a five-star property. Michael Wignall, Creative Director, in charge of F&B, has received two Michelin stars. The hotel's standing necessarily coincides with the athlete's reputation. Unless you've amassed a small fortune like Ryan Giggs (estimated wealth 215 million from playing football, his investments, the real estate he owns and his revenue from advertising), other less wealthy athletes have successfully launched into the hotel business as well. And so, football players have invested in properties that they manage under franchise contracts with renown hotel groups. Fulfilling a natural need to be part of a team. Edouard Cissé invested in his town of Pau with former rugby man Stéphane Carella. The Palmeraie Edouard VI became a Best Western under a franchise contract. Carella also invested in the upscale segment with basketball player Boris Diaw and author Frédéric Beigbeder (Villa Navarre, Pau). He has also entered the open air accommodations market with former rugby man Philippe Bernat-Salles (in Parentis-en-Born) and football player Mathieu Valbuena (in Pyla-sur-Mer). The former athletes thus take advantage of the expertise of existing companies, to benefit from their booking system, and marketing and communications resources. Nicolas Ouedec, former player on France's team and FC Nantes also has a hotel that is managed under a franchise contract with Premiere Classe. Located in Nantes, not far from the Beaujoire stadium, football appears to be well behind Mr Ouedec who is busy first and foremost with his hotel activities. Moreover, "the occupancy rate is not boosted so much by football matches because the team plays mostly in the afternoon," remarks a reception spokesperson. Football player or hotelier... either way it takes a lot of work.

Clubs also invest in the hotel industry to expand their business and generate more revenue

Hotel groups were already interested in developing properties around stadiums to accommodate fans (ex: NH Barcelona Stadium), but now the time has come to get used to seeing major clubs interested  in the hotel industry. To cover the staggering expenses of transfers and salaries, major clubs wanted to create strong brands on both their home turf and internationally. In addition to ticketing, the organization of services for both individuals and groups (visits to the stadium and the club's museum, box services and corporate events), the clubs always want to go further. While some have entered the stock exchange, others prefer to invest in real estate and the hotel industry (truth to tell, they do both). This is the case of Turin's Juventus which will create its own hotel property in 2017, the J-Hotel, to accommodate both players and fans of the Italian club. Nothing has been said yet about how the hotel will be managed. In London, the Chelsea club signed sponsoring contract with Millennium & Copthorne Hotels for the Millennium & Copthorne Hotels property at Chelsea Football Club. The club and the hotel co-sponsor events that they have in common (nights at the hotel, meals and tickets to watch the match, meetings in the Di Matteo room, named after the emblematic former player and trainer for the club) while the property is both owned and operated by Millennium Hotels & Resorts. The future thus looks promising and hotel groups and athletic clubs ought to continue passing the ball.

Photo credits:
Chambre de la Villa Navarre, Pau ©Villa Navarre
Sketch of the future room at J-Hotel ©Luciano Pia

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