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Major Event Legacies

The first Olympic venue to open in legacy mode – nicknamed the Box that Rocks during London 2012 – celebrated its first legacy anniversary in July 2014. Carole Pendle looks at how the unique venue has catered for both the local community and the demands of national and international events.

by Carole Pendle, Pendle PR | Published in Sports Management 2014 issue 4
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The venue’s simple, yet striking design has contributed to iit becoming an iconic landmark at the Olympic Park
The venue’s simple, yet striking design has contributed to iit becoming an iconic landmark at the Olympic Park

A unique challenge
Home to handball, modern pentathlon and goalball during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Copper Box Arena, opened to the public on 27 July 2013, exactly one year after the success of the Games with more than 10,000 visitors coming through the doors over the launch weekend. The challenge for the legacy operator, charitable social enterprise GLL, which runs the venue on behalf of the London Legacy Development Corporation, has always been how to ensure that it remains a valued, relevant facility which not only delivers on pre-Olympic legacy promises but also makes commercial sense.

Tony Wallace, head of Legacy Venues at GLL, explains: “The Copper Box Arena works for three primary markets: as a community sports hub for local residents and clubs, as a health and fitness facility and as a venue for regional, national and international events. Each element of the business is equally important.”

Legacy commitments
The Copper Box hosts between 10 and 20 community events each month and a dedicated sports development team runs a proactive outreach programme with local schools and community groups. The building of local links has led to a number of schools using the venue on a regular basis, along with further education institutions such as Queen Mary’s University and the University of East London.
The community ethos is further underlined by GLL’s recruitment strategy, which has seen 90 per cent of the 52 new jobs and apprenticeships created at the venue go to local residents; many of whom live in areas of social deprivation and had previously been long-term unemployed.

One of the cornerstones to GLL’s bid to manage both the Copper Box Arena and its neighbour, the London Aquatics Centre, was to create long term social and sporting opportunities – and this commitment sits alongside every commercial decision which is made.

The Copper Box Arena is also home to an 80-station, two-studio heath club, which runs 25 classes per week. For Wallace and his team, attracting members was one of the first challenges they faced.

“Because we opened while much of the Olympic park was still undergoing redevelopment, it was a difficult to attract members to the gym in the early days, particularly as there was minimal natural footfall past our doors,” he says.

“However, that’s all changed now, membership and usage figures are strong and as the residential population on the park grows, we believe demand for membership and sport will continue to grow at rapid pace.”

Making its mark
Over the past 18 months, the Copper Box Arena has often hit the headlines as London’s third largest indoor arena. Sporting highlights have included international basketball matches, world class boxing fights from promoter Frank Warren and Sport Relief 2014, which included six hours of live broadcasting and performances by Kylie Minogue, Little Mix and Boyzone. More recently, Prince Harry and his team chose to host the Invictus Games at the Copper Box, attracting 30,000 spectators over three days and wall-to-wall TV coverage.

The first anchor club to base itself at the arena was the London Lions Basketball team, which signed a five-year deal, including a commitment to grassroots development of the sport, working in partnership with GLL. Year one highlights included a sell out, 6,500-seat first game when the Lions played Iowa University from the USA. In what has been described by Vince Macaulay, the London Lions’ team coach as “a sensational first year” the club finished a credible sixth in the British Basketball league.

According to Macaulay, relocating to the Copper Box Arena has had numerous benefits. “The main plus for the team has been the growing fan base, nearly 70,000 people saw the Lions play in the first season. However, the sport as a whole has benefited too, with TV cameras regularly filming at the Copper Box Arena when the team plays or practices and this is creating a lot more interest, more sponsorship and more corporate opportunities.”

Boxing promoter Frank Warren was one of the first to recognise the potential of the Olympic legacy venue. He signed a six-fight deal which kicked off with a British Middleweight Title fight between the unbeaten champion Billy Joe Saunders from Hatfield and the undefeated challenger John Ryder from Islington.

Warren comments: “This is a superb setting for boxing. The Copper Box Arena is what all the investment in the Olympics was about – legacy and giving London a fantastic arena.”

The venue is also building a reputation among businesses and recently hosted Toni & Guy’s annual staff awards and fashion show for 3,500 people. Wallace acknowledges, however, that GLL’s reputation has been built within the sports and sports management sector, so attracting more non-sporting events will be a focus for the next 12 months.

“GLL is renowned as a sports operator,” Wallace says. “We worked on the 2012 Games and manage other high profile facilities like Crystal Palace National Sports Centre and York Hall in Bethnal Green. Although a number of our centres already host large-scale music events, most notably Rivermead in Reading, it is not what we’re primarily known for. So we’re working hard to communicate that our event management experience is in fact far wider than many assume. A key new appointment saw a specialist events manager with a background in entertainment join the team in November (2014), demonstrating our commitment to growing this sector.”

Business strategies
The combination of a community driven ethos, combined with a commercial business strategy makes the Copper Box Arena difficult to categorise. The gym, which boasts the latest Technogym equipment competes against any locally-based private-sector gym, although unlike its commercial counterparts it offers a broad range of concessionary rates and the option of a ‘pay and play’ entry.

As an events venue, Wallace is confident that the Copper Box Arena has already found a place within the market and that’s something he intends to build on. “We’re a great facility, with a fantastic infrastructure and excellent transport links. Because of our 6,000-seat capacity, we offer a more intimate space ideal for bands or acts that can’t quite sell out the biggest venues yet, which gives us a great place in the market for the up and coming stars of tomorrow and somewhere that fans can get up close and personal.”

A standing start
For what is essentially a new build venue sited within a newly emerging district of London, the traction that the Copper Box Arena has already created is impressive.

A typical week now sees community use by local schools, higher education colleges and over 55s during the day between Monday and Thursday.

The evenings are then occupied by some of the Copper Box Arena’s anchor clubs for training sessions. During the weekend it transforms into an international events venue. Regardless of what is scheduled, gym users visit as usual using their own dedicated entrance, which means they are unaffected by any of the other activities taking place.

According to Wallace, the Copper Box Arena is now at capacity during peak times and consistently achieving between 60 and 70 per cent occupancy during the day. He reflects: “During our first 12 months we welcomed 400,000 visitors through our doors and hosted 155 events. It’s been an exhilarating start and it’s a great base to build on.”

Invictus Games

The inaugural Invictus Games attracted 413 competitors from 13 nations to compete for gold in nine sports over five days at the Copper Box.
More than 79,000 spectators attended the sporting events and opening and closing ceremonies. Widely covered in the media, more than 10m viewers watched the Games on the BBC.

Much of the media coverage was attributed to the high profile involvement of Prince Harry. As co-founder of the Games, he spent the entire week at the Games and was actively involved in the organisation and events.

“The Invictus Games was about inspiring people to overcome their challenges and raising awareness of the issues facing wounded servicemen and women on a global scale,” he said.

“I believe we achieved that, as the public support for the Games was nothing short of phenomenal, and the impact it had on the competitors was unforgettable.

“But for every competitor at the first Invictus Games, there are 10 others who would benefit from having the same opportunity. I always hoped the first Games would just be the beginning and I’m delighted there’s an appetite to build on the success and broaden the concept in the future.”
Harry will continue in his role as president and added that there won’t be any Invictus events during 2015. Bidding is, however, now open for 2016 and 2017.

The process will be managed by a committee led by Sir Keith Mills.

Prince Harry. Co-founder of the Games
Prince Harry. Co-founder of the Games
Invictus Games
Invictus Games
Invictus Games
Invictus Games
For our wounded Warriors
For our wounded Warriors

Key facts

Build Costs: £44m

Designers: MAKE architects, Populous, PTW Architects and ARUP

Principle Contractor: Buckingham Group Contracting

Capacity: Electronically activated retractable seating for 6,500

Total footprint: The arena covers a 2,750sq m (29,600sq ft) field of play

Environmental efficiency: A total of 88 light pipes have been incorporated into the roof and draw natural light into the venue, while rainwater collectors reduce both energy and water consumption by up to 40 per cent

Exterior: The building is clad in sustainably-sourced copper

Stuart Fraser

The architect behind the Copper Box goes takes us through the process of creating an iconic, multi-use venue able to deliver both a major event and a long legacy

Stuart Fraser, partner, Make Architects, designers of the Copper Box
Stuart Fraser, partner, Make Architects, designers of the Copper Box

The aim of creating a venue capable of hosting a memorable Games-time experience as well as hosting a multitude of events after the Olympics was at the very heart of the architectural brief. That was reflected in the very first things we ever produced on our Copper Box bid – two presentation slides. The first one was titled “simplicity, efficiency and flexibility”, as that’s what we thought the venue needed to be and that’s what our design was all based on. The second slide was “Design for legacy: an overlay for the Games” – reflecting how long-term sustainability was at the heart of our design.

We wanted the slides to demonstrate that while the building would have to meet very specific IOC requirements – such as sightlines and support facilities – the Games would still only cover the first 15 days of the venue’s life. We were determined that while the building had to meet the requirements for London 2012, the design shouldn’t be at the expense of the following 40 years of the venue’s life.

I think we did a good job with those slides – when we saw the client, the Olympic Delivery Authority, a number of years later, presenting the concept of the Copper Box to the GLA and the DCMS, they used those original slides! It made us realise that we’d hit the nail right on the head with our pitch.

Design
The design of the Copper Box was all about making it flexible and able to host a wide range of events. We wanted to keep the building quite simple in its shape and form, which would allow it to be both efficient and flexible. What we wanted is for the venue to be used pretty much 24-7 – for people to be coming and going constantly.

As part of the planning, we did a number of consultations where we met with local sports clubs, schools and people and simply asked: “what do you want?”. The talks acted as a sounding board for the local community and were really interesting and rewarding – and they did have a direct impact on the design and content of the venue. A great example is the dance studio. None of us had it on the list of possible facilities to begin with, but it quickly became obvious that it was something that was repeatedly asked for in consultations with the local population.  

Sustainability
One of the key things we did sustainability-wise were the light pipes in the roof. There are 88 light pipes in total – stainless steel mirror polished tubes which are 4.5m deep and 50cm in diameter. They draw natural light indirectly into the heart of the venue and make the quality of the internal space feel better. The amount of light we draw in also means that the requirement for electrical lighting is cut by 40 per cent. So not only is there an environmental benefit but also a significant cost saving in terms of load.

The light pipes are also a source of personal satisfaction. When we first suggested the use of them we encountered a lot of resistance – mainly because they’d never been used before for sports and certainly not on the scale we would be using them. We had a battle on our hands to get our way and spent the best part of eight months convincing the likes of Sport England that they would be the way forward. Satisfyingly, since the experience of Copper Box, Sport England has actually changed its technical documents to include light pipes as a viable and sustainable option.

Now in its legacy mode, the venue is one of the largest indoor concert arenas in London
Now in its legacy mode, the venue is one of the largest indoor concert arenas in London
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