As corporate hospitality seeks new ways to innovate it is only natural that the opportunities to get up close and personal with sports stars themselves are going to become exceptionally appealing. But in the context of a match between two sets of professional players whose every move is carefully controlled and regulated to avoid distractions, how could one make this a reality?

Manchester City FC, three-time Premier League champions, wanted that “first” in world football and, in time for the start of the 2017 season, delivered the ground-breaking Tunnel Club, which gives unrivalled hospitality access to the game’s biggest stars.

Inspiration for this came from across the Atlantic, specifically the National Football League teams of the Dallas Cowboys, rated by Forbes as the world's richest sporting franchise, and the Minnesota Vikings.

Both had devised means of delivering exclusive hospitality opportunities outside the changing rooms, normally the most restricted area of the stadium.

Now, thanks to the Dallas Cowboys’ Miller Lite Club and the Vikings’ Delta Sky360 Club, guests can enjoy unique pre-game hospitality and can watch as the home team, heralded by their cheerleaders and flag carriers, march out onto the field.

Those same fans then depart for specially designated seats in the nearby stands to watch the game itself.

The players’ exit from the changing room is the absolute definition of a “Look Where I Am” moment, both a keepsake memory and, through social media, a chance to show family and friends just how close you are to the stars before the kick off.

Manchester City FC took a great interest in what the Cowboys had created but subtly changed it to suit a European, football-loving audience.

As a result, those who buy places in the Tunnel Club, within the Colin Bell Stand at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, don’t have to worry when the players are going to emerge from the tunnel because, as the hospitality opportunity suggests, they are already there.

“Our guests can expect the most immersive match day experience that they have ever had – unlike anything they have ever experienced in football before,” explained Omar Berrada, the Chief Operating Officer at Manchester City FC.

That unique experience starts well before the game as clients have the opportunity to “high five” the players as they walk through the Tunnel Club area to the home changing room.

Then, as the players re-emerge from the changing room to line up ready to take to the pitch, Tunnel Club guests are just the width of a pane of glass away, one of the major selling points of this exceptional hospitality opportunity.

One-way glass allows the guests to look out without the players being distracted, so hospitality clients can revel in the intimacy of how each individual player spends those final tension-filled minutes before heading onto the pitch.

New York-based Dominic Curran, a Lagardère Plus executive vice president, said the need to get as close as possible to the stars of the show was key to creating the kind of hospitality experience that pays dividends on social media.

“The way things are progressing, clients are getting so close to the stars the natural extension would be to purchase a place in the team or take the stage with Lady Gaga! The Dallas Cowboys have turned their whole stadium into the kind of experience you get visiting a five-star hotel and their brand is incredibly powerful in sport. They have been in the forefront of taking the hospitality experience into new areas.”
Dominic Curran, Lagardère Plus executive vice president

Human desire to experience something special is the psychological bedrock of the hospitality market and demand has been growing for more rather than less ‘experiential’ payoff for very specific reasons.

In a 2014 paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell, and his co-authors Amit Kumar and Lily Jampol concluded; “Experiential purchases provide greater satisfaction and happiness because: 1) Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods; 2) Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person's identity; and 3) Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.”

The Tunnel Club delivers on all those requirements: besides putting clients close to the action, the experience is further enhanced by a fine-dining bar and restaurant offering a five-course meal, extensive wine list and gin-tasting station.

To round out the value on offer, Tunnel Club guests are given an insight into the technical aspects of each matchday with pre-game presentations from a member of the Manchester City’s backroom staff who talks through manager Pep Guardiola’s team selection.

Once the guests have thrilled at the sight of both teams’ players heading out onto the pitch, it’s their turn to walk through their own tunnel to one of the 264 heated, padded seats at pitchside. USB ports in each seat ensure photos and videos can be uploaded as swiftly as possible.

When the match is over, the guests return to the Tunnel Club and have the opportunity to see first-hand as the manager and his players face the broadcast media and mixed zone through a separate section of glass panels.

Omar Berrada previously worked at European giants FC Barcelona and is rightly proud that the Tunnel Club’s ground-breaking facility makes Manchester City the bench mark for football match hospitality around the world.

He said: “It is an innovative and engaging experience that will change the way people watch football. The Tunnel Club has something for everyone – whether it’s learning about the technical side of the game from our backroom staff, getting to watch manager Pep Guardiola carry out his post-match TV interviews, or just relaxing in the comfortable surroundings.

“Manchester City prides itself on playing beautiful football with some of the best talent in the world– and The Tunnel Club is the perfect place to enjoy this.”