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2014 SFF: The Presidents' POV, with an eye toward the future

The Presidents' POV

Frank Coonelly, Pittsburgh Pirates
Tim Hinchey, Colorado Rapids
Len Komoroski, Cleveland Cavaliers
Anthony LeBlanc, Phoenix Coyotes
Don Smolenski, Philadelphia Eagles

Improved connectivity, designing more communal spaces and reducing traditional suite inventory are among the things teams are focusing on when it comes to upgrading their facilities, according to five team presidents speaking at the 2014 Veritix Sports Facilities and Franchises conference in Pittsburgh. Frank Coonelly (Pirates), Tim Hinchey (Rapids), Len Komoroski (Cavaliers), Anthony LeBlanc (Coyotes) and Don Smolenski (Eagles) all weighed in on the one aspect they feel needs to be addressed to improve the fan experience in their arenas and stadiums. For most, the answer was improving their WiFi and distributed antenna systems (DAS).

Hinchey: "It's WiFi. We don't have it. We need it. We need to be more connected ... making sure that we're pushing out the most important data, the most important content, to our fans, but also to connect with people and learn who they are. It's going to cost a lot."

Komoroski: "Our DAS and WiFi was $5 million" at Quicken Loans Arena.

Coonelly: "We're going through it. The younger fan, they need to be connected. I have four [children], and it’s like their lifeblood. That's a must. Fortunately, in baseball, it's taken some time, but this was so important that MLBAM has funded this initiative. Our ballpark is now being wired. It was supposed to be wired by Opening Day. It's taking a while, but we will be completely wired by August. You will be amazed how many wires it takes to become wireless. I walk the ballpark and the number of antennas and wires and trays that have to be put through your ballpark to be both WiFi and DAS fully enabled is stunning, but it is critical."

Komoroski: "Our building is 20 years old. We're the third oldest arena in the NBA that isn't either new or hasn't had major structural renovations. It has a good operational footprint, but from a fan experience end we lack what I would say are neighborhoods, spaces where people can be communal. We lack spaces for interactivity, which are really more commonplace, which you would see at newer generation venues. That's something we're looking at: How do we enable our fans to have a quality experience at the venue beyond their seat? It's rethinking your space as a whole. We think we're fortunate – we have good bones. Now, How do we build on that?”

Smolenski: "We are in the second phase of a $125 million [renovation], so I hope we got it all. Otherwise, I'm going to be in trouble. Last year, we added WiFi, and our DAS network went in a couple years prior. We've done complete audio-visual in terms of new HD video boards with Panasonic, 10-meter SMT. New ribbon boards. We expanded the gate entry points, so hopefully ingress can go quicker. We've added points-of-sale with Aramark to speed up service and provide a better food experience, as well as a full renovation of all the club lounges. We added 1,600 seats to further enclose the space and make the environment that much more vibrant and exciting."

LeBlanc: "In our building, it's only 10 years old, but really nothing has happened in those 10 years, in particular the last four years. So really everything needs to be refreshed. This offseason, we're working closely with Levy Restaurants, our F&B partner, adding 15 new points of [sale] through portables, refreshing seven of our permanent stands. We are putting in DAS this offseason, as well. We won't get to WiFi quite yet. That will happen next year. There's so much we have to do. We have too much suite inventory, 87 in the building. We want to do what we've seen in a lot of buildings, convert some of those into clubs and theater-style suites. The list is literally pages and it's a prioritization exercise."

Other highlights from the panel:

Hinchey, on the business impact for the Rapids from the 2014 World Cup: "We definitely expect a nice lift. When our sport is amplified like it is in a World Cup year, we have to take advantage of it. I think the league and the U.S. Soccer Federation did a great job by going to each of the franchises and ensuring all of us are doing some kind of massive interactive celebration in our cities. We're hosting a four-day festival starting this Friday at a park in downtown Denver. ESPN gave us approval to have outdoor boards for free viewing."

Connelly, on whether he is interested in becoming the next MLB commissioner: "No, although that is an issue I'm watching. I'm not a candidate. I've got a very good friend and former colleague in Rob Manfred who is in the COO position. I know he is a candidate. I'm concentrated on finishing the job here in Pittsburgh and we're far from finished."

Smolenski, on whether Thursday Night Football will outrate Monday Night Football: "I think it has a chance. Thursday night has been a destination night on TV for a while as a lead-in to the weekend. It has a chance to certainly post results that are on par with MNF. Our partner in CBS is really putting a tremendous amount of assets to promote it and to make it a destination night and we're excited about what that's going to bring to the NFL."

LeBlanc, on rebranding to the Arizona Coyotes: "We're trying to enhance our brand. We don't want to be just a Phoenix team. It's interesting, we were the Phoenix Coyotes when we've played in Glendale. We want to be more than Phoenix and expand our footprint throughout the entire state. The Cardinals have done it. The Diamondbacks have done it. It just makes sense."
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