Interview with: David Mackinnon, Regional Head of Operations at Cheltenham Festival

Over a quarter of a million people flock to the edge of the Cotswolds in early March to catch the highlight of the Jump race season at the widely anticipated Cheltenham Festival. Cheltenham Racecourse sits at the heart of almost every aspect of the jump racing community; where jockeys, owners, trainers, stable staff and breeders dream of becoming winners – and that’s not to mention the 260,000 race goers in attendance at The Festival across four the days.

David Mackinnon is the man behind the delivery of The Festival from the operations perspective.  As Regional Head of Operations, he leads the teams at Warwick, Wincanton and Exeter racecourses as well as organising the huge annual event at Cheltenham. He oversees all aspects of the customer journey, including the tented village experience, the 180 metre triple decker hospitality suite, which is the largest of its kind in Europe, along with all operational aspects, from the car parking, stewarding, staffing, all the way through to running the major event across its four days.

David provides us with some insight regarding the organisation of this year’s Festival:

“What is key, is that we build on the experience that we’ve delivered and taking that to the next level to match the expectations of our race goers. For us, it’s important to ensure that innovation has continued and the experience improves. In the background is dealing with lots of new challenges that do crop up – security challenges are very different from what they were eight years ago. So it is developing the experience but making sure the back of house stuff is kept back of house and managed appropriately.”

For all the planning and scheduling the arrival of a snow-storm, dubbed the ‘Beast from The East’, in the final countdown to the Festival was disruptive, David continues:

“It did have a huge impact, snow drifts of five feet high across the four days meant it was challenging in terms of being able to finish the tented village build as well as the clearing snow off the racecourse to set the racing surface.  I can’t forget those working on the structures and fitting them out, whether that be the tent poles, our catering colleagues fitting kitchens to those who do the final finishes on the interior decorations.  It was my sixth festival and it was by far the most challenging. Those who have been around a lot longer will tell you it was their most challenging as well because of the conditions thrown at us.”

“We were delighted with what we delivered this year under some very challenging conditions with the Beast of the East and Storm Emma. We had to go through a lot to keep the show on the road – all down to the four days itself, with significant rainfall and managing car parks with 10,000 cars a day”

“My over-riding memory of this year was how suppliers on site pulled together way beyond what they would have been expected to and it felt like one big team. We delivered some incredible customer experiences with new innovations, restaurants and I’ve been particularly delighted to receive great feedback on staffing.

We are increasingly evolving our restaurant offering on site. The 180 metre triple decker over-looking the home straight has 12 restaurants now, from what was only four or five few years ago. This year includes the introduction of the ‘Theatre’, offering high end Pan Asian cuisine with visibility of our chefs in the kitchen and a mix of open plan and private booths for dining. This was a different look and experience in terms of the way we have served at the table and produced the food. It was hugely well received, sold out and I anticipate expanding that next year.

With Cheltenham Festival being the first major event of the year it serves as a barometer for other events, which has given David cause for optimism:

“2018 saw very good sales, with over 262,000 race goers here over the four days which is a record total attendance. The hospitality side of the business has been really well received as well. Overall, a positive indicator for us and the sector going forwards as plenty of race goers had a great day out.”

There are multiple economic revenue streams working in tandem to ensure financial viability of an event like Cheltenham Festival, with the Jockey Club supporting the requirements of broadcasters, live on-site activities, sponsors, hospitality among the key stakeholders, as David explains:

“It’s big jigsaw puzzle of stakeholder management. We have live broadcasting taking place, pre-recorded broadcasting and at the same we’ve got up to 70,000 people on site. Everyone wants a certain slice of the cake, whether that is response to an activation, catering areas or concessions and betting outlets. At the same time, we must make sure people can flow around the site in an easy fashion, so it’s a balance with our stakeholders and ensuring the overall benefit to all our race goers.

The cycle of planning is over 12 months so we have plenty up our sleeve for the 2019 Festival at this stage. In conjunction with all the feedback from our racegoers, this will form the basis of what we want to achieve next year. We feel we have a very good product out there and it’s a case of tweaking the theme rather than picking up and starting again. It is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of racegoers so there is no need to do anything else but keep on improving.”Suppliers:


World’s longest triple deck by Arena at Cheltenham Festival

Five Arena companies provided a turnkey service to support the Jockey Club creating memorable experiences for guests at Cheltenham Festival, March 13-16, 2018.

Extending the strong ongoing relation between The Jockey Club, Cheltenham Racecourse, The Festival and Arena, the company once again was the exclusive provider of course-side hospitality. The world’s longest 180m long triple decker accommodated over 25,000 hospitality guests across the four festival days in a variety of luxurious settings that gave customers choice of environments and budgets.

Arena Structures project manager Ben Sly has since been promoted to the position of project director. He oversaw the construction and interior fit-out of the suites, restaurants and hospitality boxes and all the support services within the triple decker, as well as the adjacent Guinness Village structures, which gave another 75m of viewing onto the home straight, incorporating an Arena Seating covered grandstand.

It was important the course meetings continued to run alongside the build prior to the Festival. Ben said: “We have to make it presentable for the TV cameras on the other events in December and January, which makes it more challenging than just building it! It can’t look like a building site, so we basically wrap it so that it looks like a white box, then after January to really go for it. It puts pressure on the interior guys really but we have to follow that schedule. “

“It was even more challenging because the bad weather came in on the last week and we were just finishing. That’s when all the painting and cleaning gets done and paint doesn’t apply well in freezing wet conditions. The snow caused a number of problems with access and then when it froze it caused some structural damage when it thawed. It was all hands to the pump, but as always we pulled through and everyone is really delighted with the end result.”

Arena’s Ben Sly coordinated teams and resources from five sister companies to deliver Cheltenham Festival, which saved the Jockey Club both time and money. Arena Scaffolding was first on site installing the substructures for all of the temporary facilities. Arena Structures then constructed over 11,000sqm of temporary facilities. Arena Seating installed clearview grandstand under the Arcus roof of the Guinness Village. Arena Interiors designed and installed a wide range of styles of interiors, including suggesting the new look ‘Theatre’ suite, which was a sold out success. Spaceworks and Well Dressed Tables supplied half a million items in six artic lorry loads of furniture and tableware, from contemporary to classic to outdoor ranges from their in-house inventory, making for a real turnkey service that is unrivalled within the UK events marketplace.

Graham Muir, Arena UK &Europe CEO states:

“Cheltenham Festival is the first major temporary sports event installation in Arena’s calendar and is seen by many as a barometer of standards for the year to come. Hospitality is key in the Festival culture when it comes to the experiences offered to VIP guests and is integral to the event’s economic success for The Jockey Club.

“Once again we have worked to innovate and introduce new concepts within our facilities. From the new Theatre Suite with its hard walls and very different feeling to other restaurants such as Silks or the Long Run, through to the ranges of Spaceworks furniture. Not only this but Ben Sly and his team have risen to the challenges of this build – including the snow storm that hit hard just two weeks before the Festival! Their ability to communicate contingency plans with the client and their hard work and flexibility saw the facilities all ready on time. In all ways, we’ve raised the bar once again and received very positive feedback, which bodes well for the year ahead.”

Visit www.arenagroup.com


GL events & Jockey Club Racecourses expand Cheltenham Racecourse partnership

Jockey Club Racecourses has expanded its partnership with GL events UK at Cheltenham Racecourse, increasing the value and volume of its account since GL events made its Festival debut in 2014.

GL events’ total overlay solution for Cheltenham Festival is the perfect opportunity for the temporary event infrastructure specialist to showcase some of the best examples of premium temporary structures and fit-out available in the UK today.

Its diverse, 25,000sqm installation for 2018 created 14 different zones across Cheltenham Festival, including its impactful and vibrant courtyard destination: an exclusive, self-enclosed avenue of beautifully glazed and finished restaurants, characterised by its astro-turfed central arcade and high-specification individual venues.

Elsewhere, the sporting and equestrian event supplier installed further exclusive dining and hospitality venues, the Festival media centre, food court, public bars and restaurants, Cheltenham’s famous shopping village, luxurious trade stands for exhibitors including Bentley Motors, and the ever-popular Final Flight bar; while 5,250sqm of imposing double- and triple-decked hospitality chalet suites provided outstanding views of the Parade Ring for corporate hospitality guests.

A passionate, 50-strong on-site and office-based team of GL events staff clocked up more than 15,000 working hours working with event organisers to develop new concepts, transforming these plans into realities at Cheltenham Festival. Its quality installation included everything from scaffolding to heating, lighting, flooring, furniture, washrooms and interior design and fit-out.

GL events’ giant contribution to the Festival included more than one mile of exterior wall panelling, 100 exterior doors, 1,000m of painted internal hard-walling, lifts, interior staircases and temporary kitchens; more than 14,000 individual items of furniture, 200 toilets and urinals, along with 80 vanity units across 11 toilet and washroom areas; 4,500 metres of heating pipework, 150 climate control units, 4km of lighting cable, 2,600 plugs and sockets and more than one mile of fluorescent lights, to mention just some of the elements that add up to create a GL events solution.

This infrastructure was installed in three phases, with phase one – preparation for Cheltenham’s October Showcase event, starting in September. Phase two saw GL events installing further infrastructure for the November Meeting. Finally, GL events returned to site in February to install impressive multi-deck hospitality venues and create the courtyard in readiness for March’s Cheltenham Festival.

In 2018, operations were remarkable for the adverse weather conditions preceding the Festival; but, despite the challenges caused by severe snowstorms, GL events delivered its promises on time, achieving a superb quality installation and making a positive contribution to event-goers’ and organisers’ experience, thanks to rigorous planning and its collaborative, consultative and highly flexible relationship with Jockey Club Racecourses.

Paul Allott is a director and co-founder of Event Industry News, Event Tech Live and the Event Technology Awards.