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Volume 21 No. 13
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Hawks will introduce Atlanta Social at remade Philips

Atlanta Social will bring “a mix of zones and spaces” to a premium club in Philips Arena. Also on tap: Topgolf simulators attached to party suites.
Photo by: ATLANTA HAWKS (2)
Atlanta Social isn’t a new club in the city’s trendy Buckhead neighborhood. Instead, it’s the newly unveiled premium club that’s expected to be the hippest area in the Atlanta Hawks’ Philips Arena when the building’s nearly $200 million remodeling is completed for the 2018-19 season.

“It’s our most progressive club area, with private cabanas and couches embedded in the bowl. It’s a mix of zones and spaces, entertaining and standing platforms for a better experience,” said Thad Sheely, chief operating officer for the Hawks. The area, on the mezzanine level above the main concourse, requires a ticket and seats about 500.

The space will be sold as season tickets. Pricing has not been finalized but will include food and beverages.

It’s the latest example of how premium seating has been overhauled in recent years as teams and buildings connect premium seating with a lifestyle and activities beyond the game or concert.

“We’ve done a ton of focus groups in the middle of the arena, dropped the scoreboard down and showed renderings of the spaces and tons of ideas. The one that tested the best was Atlanta Social,” Sheely said. “It had good branding and location, right in that sweet spot. Flexible around the number of seats, where [a seat holder] can eat and drink, who they can bring and meet and dedicated spaces for each of those areas. It had the highest marks across all market segments.”

Atlanta Social is a nod to Mystic Lake’s Club Purple at U.S. Bank Stadium, which Hawks officials called out as an influence on the Philips remodel along with the Golden State Warriors’ forthcoming Chase Center.

Two fast-growing social trends outside of big league sports also heavily influenced the Philips project, among the largest NBA arena refurbishments after Madison Square Garden’s massive remodeling: Topgolf and the communal workspaces created by WeWork. Sheely said the highly successful models illustrate the changing social nature of work and play, where people are in open workspaces rather than cubicles, or they wander outside of their Topgolf pod to meet and mingle with others outside their own group.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin read about Topgolf’s rapid expansion and sealed a deal with the golf entertainment company to install simulators in Swing Suites, Topgolf’s first permanent installations in a sports arena. Two party suites on the west side of the arena will be equipped with the simulators. Brett Stefansson, Hawks executive vice president and general manager of Philips Arena, calls it “one of the cool elements of that experience for our fans, and it’s not just for Hawks games.” For instance, concertgoers could tee it up before, between or even during an act’s sets.

With so many entertainment options and modern home viewing so good these days, team officials know they’re selling experiences. “Experiences are the currency in today’s economy,” Sheely says. “It’s what people want to buy and to share.” That’s why club officials and designers worked to create memorable, unexpected experiences for which fans would pay a premium.

It’s also why Stefansson says the team is striving to create authentic, local experiences: “Our brand mantra around the Hawks is ‘True to Atlanta.’ It’s easy to understand that and connect it to the business.”

Along those lines, the barbershop of Atlanta-based rapper Killer Mike, the SWAG (shave, wash and groom) Shop, will have a presence. Local music hero Zac Brown will have his own social club with live music, and the new concourse will feature different “neighborhoods” with regional cuisines.

Then there’s the bar for courtside ticket holders, so close to the action that it’s literally on the court. Sheely credited architect HOK with the idea, adding, “The actual court itself extends through the bar and when there’s a dunk, you’ll feel it. You’re so close to it, you’re not obstructed by anyone. It’s not the most perfect sight line but field clubs are not about having the best view. It’s about having the best experience.”

Robert Gray is a writer in California.