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Saracens CEO wants Allianz Park ground at former Copthall Stadium to be 'hottest ticket in town' on move from Watford
It is less than 100 days until Saracens play their first Aviva Premiership match at the newly developed £24million Copthall Stadium – soon to be called the Allianz Park.
The Times Series took a tour of Sarries’ new home ground with CEO Edward Griffiths, who spoke about what fans can expect when the team moves down the M1 from its ground-share with Watford FC at Vicarage Road.
There is still work to be done at the athletics stadium in Champions Way and the most striking aspect is yet to be installed – the synthetic pitch.
The club spent much time persuading the IRB and various other of the game’s governing bodies that the 4G surface would be fit for top-flight rugby and, after months of meetings, the plastic pitch will get its first professional game on January 27 in the LV Cup.
Aside from being a first in the top tier of English rugby, and a move that will save the club tens of thousands-a-year in maintenance, CEO Mr Griffiths believes the pitch will provide a wealth of opportunities for community use too.
He said: “From a club point of view, to have a home ground with our name on the front door is a massive source of excitement for the players and the supporters.
“The rugby side will be fantastic but, for me personally, the community opportunity is what gives me real excitement.
“This place will be open day after day. The training centre under the new stand will be used by Barnet schools. We are going to try out walking touch rugby for the over-70s and make this a community facility that provides something for everyone.
“We can do things that have a measurable impact on people’s lives beyond 16 days match days of the season.”
Season ticket sales are just 50 short of last year, despite the move, and millions of pounds are being spent on bringing the current athletics stadium up to date.
Four large screens will be installed in each corner of the ground, the first stadium in the country to do so according to the chief executive.
A total of 480 people have already applied to be volunteer stewards. ‘Saracen Pioneers’ as they will be known, will be given free tickets for two matches every time they work two as a volunteer.
Fans have also been invited to take part in a beer tasting evening at the club to choose which brew will go on sale in the new year – an example Mr Griffiths says of the clubs inclusion of its supporters.
Match-day food will have a personal touch too, with the club bringing in organic pies from a Hampshire farm with the Saracens logo in the pastry.
So why spend so many millions of pounds on a club that is already enjoying success on the pitch, having last year won the Aviva Premiership and finishing runners-up in the play-off final the previous season?
“As successful as we are on the pitch, we’re not successful off it,” said Mr Griffiths. “We need investment every year and we’re trying to build a model here that is financially viable.
“The amount of technology in this stadium, you won’t have seen before. We’re re-defining spectator sport in this country - we want people to come along before the game and stay for longer afterwards.”
The new structure does leave room for the Shaftsbury Barnet Harriers, an athletics club that uses the facilities as well as the club.
Bottom tiers of the stands on top of the running track will be made with temporary structures so they can be removed in time for the summer athletics season.
A warm-up game between Mill Hill Rugby club and Merchant Taylors takes place on January 19, before Saracens’ LV Cup fixture against Cardiff Blues and the first Premiership match versus Exeter Chiefs on February 16.
Mr Griffiths said: “We have almost succeeded in transferring our audience. There are a lot of rugby supporters around here and Barnet is Saracens country now.
“What excites me is knowing what a positive impact this club will have on tens of thousands of people in the borough. These are exciting times and we want Saracens to become the hottest ticket in town.”
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