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Global Spectrum has hired Hank Abate as its new senior vice president of arenas and stadiums. He starts his new job today at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the company’s home base.
Abate spent 20 years with SMG before leaving the firm in November 2012. At SMG, he oversaw the operation of 70 venues worldwide, including Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. He started with SMG in the same city, as general manager of the old Mellon Arena.
“I’m very excited to get going,” Abate said. “I’ve been on the sidelines waiting patiently while my non-compete ran out. I’ve known this group for a long time, and they’re good, quality people.”
Abate fills a new position Global Spectrum created to support its general managers at a company that now runs about 120 facilities across North America, said John Page, the firm’s chief operating officer. Abate reports to Page in the firm’s corporate structure.
“I’ve known Hank for many years,” Page said. “He is as stellar an individual as the day is long.”
Abate comes on board two weeks after Peter Luukko, former chairman of Global Spectrum and president and COO of Global parent firm Comcast-Spectacor, left the company. The move to hire Abate had nothing to do with Luukko’s departure, Page said.
Before working for SMG, Abate was general manager at the University of Connecticut’s Gampel Pavilion and assistant executive director of the Providence (R.I.) Civic Center, now Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Abate got his start in the industry in 1979 as a box office manager and event coordinator at New Haven (Conn.) Coliseum.
Three months after briefly testing Apple’s new iBeacon mobile technology at Citi Field, MLB is moving ahead with its aggressive plan for a system that would enable teams leaguewide to send targeted messages to fans’ mobile devices at key points inside and outside stadiums.
For example, fans can receive coupons for concession and merchandise stands at the moment they approach those locations. MLB Advanced Media also intends to incorporate fan loyalty programs, exclusive mobile video and other amenities, though it will ultimately be up to the teams to customize the technology to fit their needs, said Bob Bowman, CEO of MLBAM.
The technology runs through MLB’s At the Ballpark mobile application, which fans have to download and open on their devices to receive the messages.
The Bluetooth low energy technology on which iBeacon is based is being offered free of charge to every ballpark starting next season, Bowman said. The cost to MLBAM will depend on its tech partner, and to date, none has been selected, he said.
The iBeacon test at Citi Field pushed out targeted offers for food; the Dolphins last weekend planned to help fans avoid lines.
The beacons are essentially small radios programmed with location-based technology to pick up signals from mobile devices and send back customized messages for informational and commercial purposes, providing a tool for teams to collect more data on fans’ interests and tastes and make highly targeted suggestions.
BLE technology operates on a piece of wireless spectrum separate from either Wi-Fi or cellular signals, which remain highly challenged at many sports facilities.
“The prospect of being able to send very specific push notifications within the ballpark is very exciting to us, and the industry at large,” said Brooks Boyer, Chicago White Sox senior vice president of sales and marketing. The White Sox do not yet have a planned installation date for beacons at U.S. Cellular Field, but intend to schedule one soon. “You’re engaging with fans on their mobile devices when they’re already in the ballpark and want to be engaged. That opens up huge opportunities.”
In South Florida, about 150 to 200 Dolphins season-ticket holders holding iPhones and iPads were to test Qualcomm’s beacon technology through the team’s mobile application as they moved around Sun Life Stadium’s plazas and concourses. Qualcomm’s Gimbal platform is similar to but separate from Apple’s iBeacon system.
The Dolphins first tested it internally for two games before scheduling the introduction to fans Sunday, said Tery Howard, the team’s senior vice president and chief technology officer.
The Dolphins, in tandem with Qualcomm and eMbience, the team’s application developer, installed about 50 beacons inside the stadium walls for the test. The beacons, about the size of a deck of cards, are powered by four AA batteries and cost $10 to $20 a unit, said Brian Dunphy, Qualcomm’s senior director of business development. Because no wiring is required, the investment to install 1,000 beacons is about $10,000 to $20,000, far less expensive than Wi-Fi and cellular upgrades, which can reach seven figures. The beacon costs do not cover minimal subscriber fees Qualcomm charges for users of the team’s mobile application, Dunphy said.
Qualcomm’s beacons can reach up to 200 feet depending on the height of the installation and number of people in a particular space. There is a button to push to turn off the alerts for those who value their privacy and don’t want to be bothered with periodic messages, Dunphy said.
In addition, the intelligence tied to beacons will not repeat a message if a fan walks by an area more than once, Howard said.
As they walked the stadium Sunday, test participants were to receive full-screen, team-branded messages specific to the space they entered.
On the upper levels, they could receive a message about discount merchandise as they approached the retail store near Section 442. On the club level, test patrons were to receive “line busting” alerts with the words “Waiting in Line?” and “You’ll find shorter wait times at the concessions near Section 228,” redirecting them from high-traffic concession stands to shorter lines elsewhere offering the same food and drink on the stadium’s east and west sides.
The beacons have the intelligence to detect whether fans are walking, standing or running on the concourses, a factor for determining congestion in the area, Howard said.
The Dolphins’ test was also to cover geo-targeting, a separate technology for outside the stadium. It connects with fans’ mobile devices and feeds them information on traffic alerts and the most convenient path for entering the parking lots off Florida’s Turnpike, Howard said.
The retail industry is also testing beacon technology at the same time as sports facilities. Apple just recently activated iBeacons at its 254 U.S. stores to improve customer flow and offer upgrades.
Both the Dolphins and MLBAM officials see the technology as a tool to improve the fan experience rather than just to drive more revenue. Over time, it could develop into the best way for fans to display their ticket at the gates and point out the most direct path to their seats, Bowman said.
“We’re trying to make things easier for them instead of saying, ‘By the way, you can spend your money over here,’” Bowman said. “The intent is not to use it as a commercial enterprise. We are rewarding behavior instead of getting more money.”
In South Florida, the Dolphins will use the feedback they get from their season-ticket holders test of the beacons to improve the system and expand it to the entire building for next season.
“It all goes back to we’re all tasked and challenged in understanding our fans and what they want,” she said. “This will help us open a new door in how we’re relevant to them, to make sure we’re attentive to their needs. Mobility is going to be at the heart of everything we do.”
The first leg of the group’s “Where We Are” tour, announced last month, covers 18 stadiums from August to October, including 13 NFL venues and two MLB parks. Gillette Stadium, MetLife Stadium, Rogers Centre and Soldier Field all have two dates at their buildings.
It’s the first time playing stadiums for One Direction, the immensely popular British teen band that has quickly reached the point in its four-year touring career where it can sell 50,000 to 100,000 tickets in a single market.
The Timbers have added more field-level seats.
Photo by:CRAIG MITCHELLDYER / PORTLAND TIMBERS
In addition, the tour helps fill a big void after country superstar Kenny Chesney announced he was taking next year off and would not play stadiums in 2014 after eight consecutive years of booking NFL and MLB venues.
The Gridiron Stadium Network, a consortium of 10 NFL facilities working together to bring special events to their venues, has played a key role in sustaining Chesney’s annual stadium extravaganza. In his absence, network officials turned to One Direction and secured four shows for its members in Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Tampa, said Jeff Apregan, the group’s consultant and a former promoter.
Since 2005, several NFL teams, including members of the Gridiron group, have served as co-promoters for the Chesney production, spending money upfront to market their events in return for a potentially bigger payday. For One Direction, though, tour producer Live Nation is promoting all the shows on its own, Apregan said.
Teams can still generate income from concessions and parking tied to special events, which are exempt from revenue-sharing agreements in baseball and football. The concerts also bring value to stadium sponsors and season-ticket holders given first crack at buying tickets for what is shaping up to be one of next year’s hottest tours.
“It’s nice to see a new artist coming up to play to the level of a stadium show,” said Jimmie Sacco, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ executive director of stadium management at Heinz Field and a co-founder of the Gridiron Stadium Network. “I’m hoping someone else steps up. More acts have to create these [stadium] packages.”
> KNOCK ON WOOD: The demand for field-level seats at Jeld-Wen Field has led the Portland Timbers to expand their inventory for next season.
The team has added 16 seats distributed along the east sideline, opposite the team benches. They are sold as four-seat mini-boxes for $1,000 a game, which covers four tickets and food and soft drinks but no alcohol.
The Timbers introduced field boxes in 2011, the team’s first year in MLS.
All told there are now 104 field-level seats at the stadium, an old minor league baseball facility that underwent a retrofit for soccer. All are sold out for the 2014 season, said Mike Golub, the Timbers’ chief operating officer.
“It’s a good premium space for a 1926 building in the heart of downtown Portland,” Golub said. “It has an energy to it that you can’t manufacture.”
> EXPLODING THE MYTH: The crew at Premier Partnerships got a bit nervous after they found out Janet Napolitano had to approve Kabam’s field naming-rights deal at California Memorial Stadium (SportsBusiness Journal, Dec. 9-15).
Napolitano, president of the University of California school system, was previously secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The consultant wondered what she would think of a mobile video game company called Kabam putting its name on a football stadium.
“It’s Kabam, not kaboom, [but it’s] an interesting play on words that makes you think of weapons and explosions,” said Jeff Marks, Premier Partnerships’ managing director. “That had us all frightened, that maybe Janet’s group would not approve it because of the name association.”
As it turned out, Napolitano saw the fit and the 15-year, $18 million deal won approval, Marks said.
Don Muret can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.
Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.
Ticketmaster and three major sports leagues are attempting a significant recalibration of fan ticket-buying behavior with the broad rollout of TM+, a new product combining primary and secondary listings online on a single event page.
TM+ debuted in a soft launch late this past summer with several NFL teams, and now is approaching a full deployment with 21 NFL teams, 14 NHL teams and 23 NBA teams. In the case of the NBA specifically, the rollout of TM+ marks a further advancement of the NBA.com/tickets portal that Ticketmaster and the league introduced last year.
On the blended Ticketmaster pages, primary inventory is shown in blue and secondary in red.
“As the secondary market has grown, it’s created the impression that the primary market didn’t have any good seats,” said Jared Smith, Ticketmaster North America president. “The core idea here is to give the fan the full sweep of options in one place and, as a result, actually improve both markets.”
Ticketmaster has also begun to conduct beta testing of TM+ for music events, with a broader rollout anticipated for next summer’s peak concert season, particularly in amphitheaters owned by parent company Live Nation.
On Ticketmaster game listing pages for the participating teams, seat maps show primary market inventory in blue, and secondary market inventory in red. With such a blending list, any real or imagined firewalls between primary and secondary ticket markets are eliminated.
“It’s sort of a basic, traditional retail concept of stack ’em high and watch ’em fly,” Smith said.
TM+, roughly two years in development, does not carry any third-party secondary ticket listings. Instead, listings are solely through Ticketmaster-supported TeamExchange sites and the company-owned TicketsNow resale destination. As a result, the creation of TM+ also provides a boost to Ticketmaster’s secondary ticket destinations that have struggled to match the scale of industry giant StubHub.
Specific sales results from the initial rollout of TM+ have not been disclosed. But Ticketmaster and the involved leagues said they have seen double-digit percentage sales growth on both their single-game primary and secondary markets as a result of the new platform. And Smith said conversion rates among fans browsing for seats on TM+-enabled pages is roughly 50 percent higher than those without the blended offerings.
“We have more than doubled our revenues on secondary last year with the new portal, and have seen strong growth beyond that this year, in part because of TM+,” said Amy Brooks, NBA senior vice president of team marketing and business operations. “We want that NBATickets.com page to be the source for basketball tickets and where our fans go, and TM+ helps advance that. The goal for us now is to build additional awareness.”
For the NHL, TM+ was a critical component of the league’s recent renewal of its broad partnership with Ticketmaster.
“Leakage to other resale marketplaces has been an issue, no doubt,” said Susan Cohig, NHL senior vice president of integrated marketing. Participating teams in TM+ will get fees on resale transactions made through the platform that were previously lost to other marketplaces.
“The idea is to provide maximum choice and opportunity to the fan, and though it’s still in early days for us, the initial feedback has been good,” Cohig said.
The advent of TM+ also is intended to further Ticketmaster’s already aggressive data mining efforts, in part through its Live Analytics division. By having secondary and primary ticketing in one location, it becomes much easier to aggregate and analyze shopping and purchasing patterns, and make pricing and marketing decisions accordingly.
“The value of the data we generate is incredible, and it’s easy to see how this ultimately can change how we market and merchandise the inventory,” Smith said.