Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths is confident the club’s new stadium will become a “community sports hub” as the Men in Black prepare to host their first ever match at Allianz Park.
Having played their final game in Watford last weekend, the four-year, £24m project will be concluded when Sarries kick off against Cardiff Blues in the LV=Cup on Sunday.
But whilst on the pitch Saracens hope their new home can launch the team to greater levels of success, off it the club insist the focus remains on the local community.
“The match day experience is exciting but I’ve always said the real excitement is what the stadium can mean to tens of thousands of people on the other days of the year,” Griffiths told the Times Series this week.
“We’ve always said that this has a unique potential to be a community sports hub and that’s what I think it’s going to become.
“There is the unique combination of the artificial turf pitch which many people can play on throughout the day, and the indoor training area as well, combined with all the other activities that will be held too like dance clubs and so on.
“So I think at this stage we are very excited about the potential for what Saracens can bring to the people of Barnet and north London.”
The questions of how the artificial surface will affect players’ injuries, the bounce of a rugby ball, the flow of a game and Saracens’ ailing try-count will begin to be answered on Sunday.
But what is certain is that the turf will be more readily available to use than a grass pitch ever could be.
Snow ploughs brushed aside heavy snow this week with ease, rain drains almost as it falls and the club insist the turf would still be playable in temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius.
And Griffiths hopes the ground’s durability will prove an invaluable asset to those 87 schools in the Barnet area who are granted free access on non-matchdays.
Griffiths said: “Ever since we approached moving to Allianz Park we’ve been very eager to engage the local community and I think we have done that on many levels.
“Even in the short time the stadium has been operating, the number of children that have been there and played on the artificial turf shows that.”
The club have already sold more than 9,000 tickets for the stadium’s official opening on February 16 when Saracens host their first Premiership match against Exeter and the response has been positive for subsequent matches against London Welsh, Harlequins and Worcester too.
Fans will be treated to a groundbreaking match day experience that will allow supporters to order pizza directly to their seat, watch instant replays of match action on their smart phones and enjoy affordable food that includes pies with an encrusted Saracens logo.
“Just having the stadium on a match day is exciting enough,” Griffiths said.
“For a club that hasn’t had a home crowd for a very long time, to have a home ground which is advanced in so many areas – in terms of the greenness of the stadium, in terms of the technology within the stadium – I think in all these areas Allianz Park is well ahead of the field.
“We’re looking to push the boundaries and create a spectacular match day experience – not everything is going to be 100 per cent on day one but at the Exeter game we will try something and we’ll try more at London Welsh and more at the Harlequins game and so on.”
But whilst there may be a settling in period for some of the club’s new attractions, Griffiths insists the club are already feeling at home.
“There has already been a positive reaction, I can see it – not only in ticket sales, but in people who have started to use the stadium, not just for rugby on match days but as a community hub,” he said.
“As people moving into an area we're feeling very welcome and excited about the contribution we can make.”