It’s been an incredible journey for the catering team at McDonald Jones Stadium over the past 8 months. Now with hugely successful international events under their belt and MASE functions every other day of the week, Venue Catering Manager Matt Anderson shares what it took to deliver a venue at the highest level of regional offerings, and one Novocastrians can be proud of.

As a newcomer to Venueslive the MJS project has been great fun and a fantastic introduction to the Stadium Catering environment.

It was clear from the outset that the MJS project presented a tremendous opportunity for VenuesLive and the partnership with VNSW. The chance to play a part in bringing that to life has been very exciting.

My introduction to the business was very smooth despite the COVID restrictions at the time and thanks to the robust planning for the project it was possible to quickly get a grip on the priorities. The VenuesLive team were all engaged in the process and the collaboration across depts and venues was evident from the start.

As the first events drew nearer we were able to leverage the company name in the local area to retain many of the great people already working at the venue and attract some energetic newcomers to our team. We ran multiple mass recruitment days to meet and interview over 200 candidates with the local leadership team and support from the Staffing Operations and Services team onsite in Newcastle. By the time of our first game we had employed over 170 people from the local community.

This new team then went through training with specific sessions for leadership, including the opportunity to attend ANZ Stadium for the NRL Grand Final. This in itself proved to be a game changer for our team of supervisors and leaders. The impact of this commitment and effort to help them feel welcome and settle into the team was extremely well received and really helped us start the journey of building a team that can create an offering in Newcastle at the highest level in terms of quality and efficiency. To engage our team and keep our goals front of mind we have created a stadium specific Mission that’s sits under our Venues Live Mission Statement;

To make the Greatest things happen for our customers, our partners, our people and our community.

To give the people of Newcastle a stadium they can be proud of – at the highest level in terms of quality and customer experience for both major event days and private events.

While this was going on we were working hard to update the stadium facilities with our company systems. This included a massive install program for new POS with a great deal of effort from ICT and Purchasing to build the system in time for our first major event. We were able to jump into the retail price discussion across the company at just the right time, enabling us to get menu boards updated with the new prices for our first game – although the last menu board was installed at 8pm the night before the game!

Our first event was Wallabies V Argentina, an extremely high-profile game and a level of international event rarely seen in Newcastle. The game sold to capacity and we had every premium product area occupied, albeit to COVID maximums. End result was a crowd of 11.5k and very high average spend across retail bars. Historically our crowd of 11.5k consumed similar amounts as the stadium would normally see for a NRL game of 28k! At one stage across retail we sold $70k worth of stock in 15 minutes!

While this level of trade was unexpected it meant our team worked really hard and at the end of the night everyone was in tremendous spirits with our first game under our belt.

We’ve now executed two international events and quickly established our journey towards delivering a venue at the highest level of regional stadium offerings and one that the Newcastle locals can be proud of and feel a strong sense of ownership for.

Moving on from these opening events we’re excited to have the A-League and NRL draw out and the promise of a fantastic 2021 ahead.

McDonald Jones Stadium also enjoys a very healthy level of MASE business and we are setting up our systems and processes to streamline and improve this side of the business to really drive the stadium as a conference and special occasion venue.

Our Marketing and Sales team have been tremendous in helping us create collateral quickly to meet the needs of our inquiries. We actually enjoyed our first MASE event the day after we took handover of the operation and have had at least 3 or 4 days a week with MASE business since.

From an operations point of view we are setting our team up with the right equipment and processes to deliver exceptional events – this covers a lot of kitchen and table top equipment to position the catering offering at the very top of current trends and the local market, as well as operational improvements for retail outlets and premium product spaces to improve the game day experience.

We are working with the venue to have two new retail outlets installed on the very popular Southern Hill and will launch our new Can Bar and BBQ outlets early in 2021.

It has been an extremely rewarding journey and I personally feel very privileged to be part of the team. We are going to deliver some fantastic events and really lift the bar for regional venue offerings and game day experience.