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Volume 24 No. 135

Events and Attractions

To close out the ’17 AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises conference, attendees were given a tour of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Just prior to walking the massive structure, AMB Group CEO Steve Cannon, who oversees all of Arthur Blank’s businesses, took time to chat with the group the morning after the venue hosted its first concert. Cannon said of the Garth Brooks show, “It was a great night. ... It tested us across things like food and beverage and guest services. We did hear about some issues in the upper levels. Again, we’re still calibrating this building. All of our systems are still being fine-tuned and tweaked and unfortunately sometimes sound works differently when a building is empty vs. when it is full. We’ve got plenty to do to get better, but we feel really good about our first concert.” Cannon did note that ingress and egress was a successful point of the evening.

MAKING AN ENTRANCE: Cannon noted 70% of guests will come into the building via the front entrance, which features a giant falcon statue. He said, “We like that. While it does challenge the infrastructure, you want people coming in your front door, not the back door, when we welcome them into a new facility.” He also called the new halo board the venue’s “wow moment.” Cannon: “It has challenged our production team because it’s a completely different aspect ratio than a normal screen. ... So while it’s very unique and really immersive and augments the gameday production experience, it’s difficult to program. But it gives you really unbelievable opportunity with new content and content production.”

VALUE MEALS: Mercedes-Benz Stadium notably has gone with lower price points on many of its staple food and beverage items, such as hot dogs, water and soda. Cannon said of the experiment thus far, “It is transforming our fan behavior. Why would you build a $1.5 billion facility, that is spectacular in every way, and then erect a gigantic barrier at your front door, which is your concessions prices? We heard fan feedback. … Fans would stay out in their tailgate lots for as long as possible and crash the gates at the last possible minute -- putting a huge strain on our ingress process. … What (lower prices) have done is essentially invite people into our building. And they’re coming in two hours before kickoff. … Our per caps are through the roof. They’re 30% higher than they were in the Dome.” He said of the quality of food and drink at lower price points, “You can’t just flip a pricing switch and drive demand and then not be able to satisfy that demand. … So we added 55% more cooking capacity and 65% more points-of-sale than at the Dome. … It has to be fast, fresh and delicious, not just cheap. … We will absolutely make money. … I can’t wait to wait to open up the economics of this once we have the data and say ‘this is just a better business model.’”

BIG TOP: Much has been made of Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s roof, which has the ability to open and close, but it is a one-of-kind structure, and had delayed the venue’s opening a few times. Cannon said of the roof, which debuted on national TV during “Sunday Night Football” in Week 2, “The roof is operational. … We opened it for the Green Bay game and essentially said to the world, ‘Hey, can we stop talking about the roof? It works fine.’ The issue is simple -- it is a one-off roof. It has never been done before, and … with complexity comes things that are unforeseen. … Some of the construction delays took away our time to automate the roof, so we’re having to automate in the background and in between events. … No great things come easy.”

The opening panel Friday at the ’17 AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises conference from Atlanta revolved around sponsorship assets that matter inside and outside of venues. All three brands on the panel have heavy representation at Atlanta venues -- particularly the new SunTrust Park and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Georgia Power Dir of Electronic & Creative Media Mayu Arita discussed helping get the Falcons’ new stadium up to Platinum LEED certification, which is the highest level for a building. She noted the venue had installed 4,000 solar panels as part of the process, as well as advanced LED lighting. Arita noted one goal of the sponsorships is to help “drive traffic” to Georgia Power websites, where the company sells energy-efficient products and smart-home products.

BANK JOB: SunTrust Banks Senior VP/Marketing Activation & Engagement Krista Massey noted the company had long-standing relationships with the Braves and Falcons, but what is new is a relationship with Atlanta United, which is wrapping up its debut MLS season, via the club’s youth programs. Massey also discussed her bank’s naming-rights deal with the Braves. She noted the company “underestimated” the level of success at The Battery Atlanta around SunTrust Park. Massey: “We deliberately went for that name ‘park’ because we wanted it to be a gathering place. It is very much that. It is a family place. At night, it turns into something very different. We’re incredibly happy.”

CLOSE FRIENDS: Coca-Cola Group Dir of Sports Management John Cordova noted his company is no stranger to the Atlanta sports scene, and “it almost feels like sometimes I work for the Braves and Falcons because I get so involved in their discussions and in the planning, whether it be The Battery or Mercedes-Benz Stadium. We’re talking about a 3-5 year discussion leading up to that.”

IBM VP/Competitive & Big Data Analytics Teams Paul Zikopoulos painted a picture for the '17 AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises conference of a future filled with “mass one-to-one marketing” -- all powered by AI, big data and analytics. Zikopoulos fronted a presentation titled “Artificial Intelligence: How Big Data is Shaping the Future" and said, “Analytics and big data allow people to go where they don’t belong.” As examples of marketing driven by big data and AI, he cited Coca-Cola's recent launch of Sprite Cherry based on data gleaned from the company’s ”design-your-own-flavor” fountain dispensers. Mobile devices that warned drivers they were in danger if being distracted and insurance companies using AI to warn car owners to move their cars under cover in advance if a hailstorm were also cited as applications in use today. Following the success of data-driven companies like Uber, Facebook and Airbnb, Zikopoulos noted that nearly all big brands are collecting data 24/7, yet, “not all (corporate) decison-making is data led.” That he said will change with even data being collected as the “Internet of Things” mushrooms, providing even more data. As an example, he cited BNSF, one of the largest freight carriers in North America, using AI to “listen” to the sound of rail car wheels, to avoid derailments, by determining if they are cracked. He said that the environment is shifting from text-expressive to visually expressive. In terms of devices, that will mean much more video, with device interfaces powers by AI. Applications which translate voice to text are now 94% accurate, he said, “Once they get to 99%, keyboards will disappear.”

Other intriguing data points:
*Millennials rate their mobile phones as one of the most important things in their room. "It actually tied with their toothbrushes and beat deodorant in importance.”
*Evidence gathered from the WhatsApp messenger app is used as evidence in divorce cases with almost half of Italian adulterers.
*Big data is creating new banks. “Facebook has a banking license in Ireland and you can already transfer up $1,000 over (Facebook) messenger. The result: Western Union will be out of business in the next three-to-five years.”
*Weather is the most underused piece of data with the biggest impact on consumer behavior and supply chain. “People buy differently and travel differently because of weather. ... What about a hyper-personalized app that said, ‘There's a high chance weather will make this a bad hair day. Here’s a product for that.'" This approach is already being used by Procter & Gamble’s Pantene brand, he said.