SBJ All-Access: What's Next For Teams, Facilities?
Future prospects for teams and buildings were in focus yesterday at the AXS Sports Franchises & Facilities conference in L.A., as attendees got perspective from team owners and presidents, as well as venue designers and operators, on issues like in-venue, the fan experience and what to expect from the latest and greatest buildings. Today, the conference hits the road, as attendees will visit Dodger Stadium -- which will get a $100 million offseason facelift -- for a tour and Q&A with team execs Stan Kasten and Tucker Kain. Following Chavez Ravine, attendees will head southwest to Inglewood for a look at the still-under-construction Chargers/Rams venue, SoFi Stadium.
A NIGHT OUT WITH THE BLACK & GOLD
- Conference attendees last night were treated to a game at the new Banc of California Stadium, where second-year club LAFC defeated the Dynamo 3-1 to secure the MLS Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the team with the best regular-season record each season. Perhaps even more eye-opening for attendees was getting a close-up view of The 3252 -- LAFC’s fan supporters union -- staying loud and rowdy all game, similar to what we see in European soccer and now with many domestic clubs.
- Before the game, attendees had a rooftop reception. Legends, which operates the venue, had some fantastic food laid out. The company also had signature drinks for guests: The Legendary (gin, citrus, concord grape, violet) and the Poblano Escobar (tequila blanco lime, poblano, coriander). Among those seen mingling at the game and reception were Tamis Corp.’s Austin Keay, PNC Arena’s Jeff Merritt and Eventellect’s Michael Larimore.
EXAMINING THE STATE OF TEAMS & VENUES
- Top team execs opened up the sessions yesterday morning, with Celtics President Rich Gotham saying, “We had to change in the last few years our view on what it really means to market, engage and retain a customer.” Gotham also estimated the Celtics had 50-60 employees a decade ago, whereas today they have about 160 staffers. T’Wolves and WNBA Lynx CEO Ethan Casson, added: “What are we doing to attract a new audience?” L.A. Wildcats President Heather Brooks Karatz is starting from scratch with her XFL team, and she said the league's debut five months from now allows a runway to build a team that matches fans' values and wishes. For TD Garden and Bruins CRO Glen Thornborough, it is all about in-arena experience. He said the venue needs to create as "much of a frictionless experience as possible."
- On a separate panel, LA2028 Chief Business Officer Brian LaFemina said that for his money, there is "still no better way to experience what we do than being inside the stadium." For teams and leagues, and in his case the Olympics, that means improving the in-venue experience. Legends COO Mike Tomon: "Fan experience is so big because the end goal is to be a lifestyle for their fan base. How can I stay with them for every waking moment?"
- Warriors President & COO Rick Welts yesterday gave a presentation on Chase Center, which is set to open next month. Welts joked to attendees that he had one more high-end suite available, but if you had to ask about the price, it probably wasn't for you (likely in the $1-2 million range annually with a 10-20 year commitment). Check out what he had to say about expectations for the new San Francisco arena.
GETTING SOME FATHER-SON TIME
- Hawks Owner Tony Ressler does not speak publicly very often, but his passion for the team, the NBA and the game of basketball were on full display during a morning Q&A alongside his son, Oliver, who is an exec with Courtside Ventures. While Ressler has been a lifelong hoops fan -- and still plays Sunday pickup games -- he admitted that buying an NBA franchise has come with a steep learning curve. “We did feel a little bit like the deer in the headlights when we first bought the team," he said. "It's not a traditional business, because you're buying a community asset -- whether you know it or not."
- The Hawks under Ressler have already upgraded the team's facilities, including a massive renovation to State Farm Arena and new practice facility/team HQ -- both regarded among the league’s best. Oliver talked about the Hawks' innovations with premium areas that are targeting millennials. He said, “We have a younger demographic coming to our games very consistently. They want more alcoholic offerings. They want more bars close by. They want better food options all within a place that feels private and it feels upscale.”