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Volume 21 No. 1
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Plugged In: Russ Simons, Venue Solutions Group

Russ Simons is managing partner of Venue Solutions Group, a Nashville-based consulting firm that teams and sports facilities hire to improve their building operations. Simons has been in the business since 1981 and served as general manager at both The Pyramid in Memphis and Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. He later spent 10 years at Populous as its facility operations consultant before forming VSG in 2011 with partners Mike Wooley and Tom Williams.

I’m not adept at this mobile technology stuff, but through brute force I’m getting to understand it more and more. I try to be like a sponge and apply those advances to the traditional understanding of the business. I love the speed at which it’s coming.

On the title he uses, Chief Listening Officer: When I was a facility manager, vendors and salespeople put a lot of energy into trying to convince me to do something that was good for them without ever taking time or making any effort to listen and understand our needs. When I started our consulting business, I vowed that I was not going to be like that.

On how VSG gets business: We tell them what they need to know, not what they want to hear.

On the continued need for quality customer service: We recently reviewed the [San Diego] Padres and [Pittsburgh] Pirates through our secret-shopping program for guest-experience benchmarking. I came in disguised as a fan, wearing old blue jeans and a team cap. Both teams had old-school staff members looking you straight in the eye and asking, “How can I help you?” I was thinking to myself, “Is there a picture of me somewhere around here?” It just goes to prove the whole mantra that you can’t control the product on the field but you can control every part of the guest experience.

On the changing face of the fan and technology: There is a dichotomy now between fans age 34 and younger and 34 and older. Those two distinct audiences must share the same space in a facility, and making an equal commitment to both are the challenges facing us now. We need to adapt to the [younger] audience or risk people staying at home.

On the next generation of NFL stadiums: The [San Francisco] 49ers came right out and said “We’re going to be great” in terms of all the technology at their facility. I can’t wait until Levi’s Stadium opens and I wish them well. The good news for the [Minnesota] Vikings and [Atlanta] Falcons is they get to see it deployed and then make a decision design-wise how to improve upon those things at their new stadiums.

— Don Muret