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Volume 27 No. 30

Sports Facilities and Franchises

Three sports execs weighed in on what changes fans can expect as venues begin slowly opening back up during Day 2 of the AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium yesterday. Generator Studio co-Founder & Chief Architect Mike Kress brought up innovations being sped up due to the pandemic: “People not being locked down to a specific location or seat specifically, and the ability of people to circulate within venues is obviously something that a lot of different venues are looking at.” Levy’s E15 Group CEO Jaime Faulkner said mobile is “something that everybody dabbled in from a food and beverage perspective,” and that is a “good next step.” Faulkner: “We have to make sure that experience in the venue, both from the technology they're using and the actual user experience, is better than, or at least at the level that they're getting everywhere else.” Chase Center GM Kim Stone is focused on redesigning the guest experience. “In the past, a great guest experience was defined by having a lot of staff that could anticipate guest questions, would spend time with them and maybe even escort them to their seats,” Stone said. “Coming out of COVID, that's not going to be as tolerable or as appreciated by the guests. We have to redesign how we provide that high level of experience with lower touch. That’s where I think mobile comes in.”

Quick Hits:

*Stone, on her optimism that NBA arenas will host fans during the ’21 season: “We are working hard toward that, putting a lot of resources and efforts toward it. And I think I'm very, very optimistic about that potential.”

*Stone, on what problem needs to be addressed prior to the start of the ’21 NBA season: “We're really focused on an affordable and effective rapid testing system that would allow for mass gatherings.”

*Kress, on how client interactions have changed for his company during the pandemic: “We’re just trying to be an asset to them in terms of lending expertise, where applicable. Just kind of imagining and talking about where the challenges might reside in more of a theoretical type world.”

*Kress, on a more fluid venue experience: “Maybe we take down some of the barriers, so to speak, and allow people to seek open space a little bit more and give them the option to curate their experience.”

The pandemic has rippled through sports organizations, forcing them to not only consider implications to their own business but to that of their partners. Aramark President for Sports & Entertainment Alison Birdwell, speaking during Day 2 of the AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium yesterday, said, “We are in such unchartered territory here about how long this is going to go on for, we’ve got contracts. Well how long? This is just undefined. This is really when the relationship comes into being that you can sit down and have a meaningful conversation about trust. ... We trust and know the place that we do pick up is going to work for all of us.” Texans President Jamey Rootes echoed Birdwell’s sentiment. He said, “I hear so often: trust, grace, compassion, collaboration. All these wonderful concepts have been absolutely critical for us just to get to where we are right now.”

Here are some more thoughts from the rest of the conversation:

*Birdwell, on recalibrating the business: “You’ve got to control what you can control and finding the areas you can make an impact. The silver lining is having the time to do that with my team and really assemble ourselves in such a way that we can really be ready for action and come out fighting.”

*Rootes, on the difference in the Texans’ approach over the last six months: “Broadly, we’ve always been about driving the machine. … This year has been about protecting the machine. The No. 1 priority as we entered this COVID window was to take care of our employees. We spent a lot more time making sure them and their families (were OK). Then, when we are with our commercial partners, the first call wasn’t about make goods for sponsorship. It was, ‘How’s your family? How’s your organization? What can we do to be helpful to you?'"

*WNBA Sparks President & COO Danita Johnson, on leading during the pandemic: “What we really focused on is everybody’s area of development. How do we take this time to develop skills for them for the long-term. One, we invested by keeping them on board. Two, we re-investing in their knowledge and ability to do their jobs better for the long term, which helped to push forward innovation and growth for the company as a whole.”

*Johnson, on the unique dynamics of the WNBA: “We work in a league where 80% are African-American women, we work in a league that is very diverse from all different backgrounds and all different walks of life. With that, we have to remember to service those people from a business perspective internally and our consumers externally.”

*Rootes, on potential pushback from fans for the Texans organization supporting players and staff speaking out abut social issues: “We are so engaged with our fanbase, so of course we have heard from them. Everybody has a right to be heard, but you don’t have a right to get what you want. We’ll process all of that and we’ll do what we think is right.”