Next phase of premium
As teams and venues continue to experiment with their premium seating options and amenities, flexibility and ultra-exclusive experiences remain at the center of many of their moves. It’s all part of the effort to drive revenue by building relationships that stretch well beyond the regular playing season.
Jill Monaghan, project designer and “fun director” at Generator Studio, said clients look to the firm to create flexible spaces that can handle crowds of different sizes, drive revenue through sponsorships, host events outside of game day and be attractive enough for fans to want to arrive early and stay late.
“I think the number one thing that we have been seeing and hearing from our clients is the need for flexibility, across the board, in a premium space,” Monaghan said. “So, the ability to be adaptable to various group sizes is becoming more and more important, the ability to make it scalable, like if you introduce a premium space and it’s performing very well, and you want the ability to expand that, there needs to be a way to do that pretty quickly, and also to make it not feel like it was an afterthought.”
At the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Generator Studio created the 8,000-square-foot Scott Credit Union Rinkside Club and Pub ’67 out of the former administrative offices of the Blues. The Rinkside Club is tied to seats behind the glass and other seating just off the ice, and provides an all-inclusive premium experience that’s reminiscent of the mid-century cocktail culture and draws upon St. Louis’ industrial past. The club, which was a part of the Enterprise Center’s second phase of renovations in 2018, features a 130-foot bar and a large buffet area with a chef-produced a la carte menu.
Such ultra-premium experiences, with door-to-seat service, are features that Generator Studio’s clients come calling for.
“The consumer is so educated now that they want it to be a success from start to finish,” said Mike Kress, co-founder and chief architect at Generator Studio. “Teams and venues come to us to create something special. This is a partnership with game-day staff, ticketing, sales, back of house.”
That was the thinking behind Pub ’67 at Enterprise Center, an 1,850-square-foot, ultra-premium area reserved for customers sitting in the first row behind the glass. The pub, located inside the Rinkside Club, holds up to 100 people and offers three different environments — the main bar with high-top seating; a lounge with couches and cocktail tables; and a tasting room, with all-inclusive upscale food and beverages, a parking pass for every season seat purchased, and access to pre-sale opportunities for other Enterprise Center and Stifel Theater events.
Pricing for these seats and access to Pub ’67 starts at one year for $16,236 per seat, or $369 per game, and varies based on the length of the purchase.
The idea of providing a unique experience was behind a project Delaware North rolled out with the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium this season. On game days, Delaware North converts the players’ dining room into a high-end dining experience where guests can arrive in the morning and pass the hours before kickoff. It’s also an opportunity to get closer to the players as they enter through the space en route to the locker rooms.
“They come in for a few hours, we have a lot of chef stations, a lot of very high-end foods, a lot of very high-end liquors, and part of the experience is that they come in, they have breakfast, and enjoy their day and then the players enter through the space,” said Don Dierig, vice president of operations for Delaware North Sportservice. “So the locker room is adjacent, it’s a great amenity where the players come down the hallway, they come in, they might grab a bagel or something in the space, and then they go into the locker room and get ready for the game.”
Part of the experience also allows fans to go onto the field for 25 to 30 minutes before the game to watch the Panthers warm up. The premium offering was a hot item from the start; it sold out in less than 20 minutes. Dubbed Fifty3, it was sold to 53 Panthers fans for $30,000 each.
For the 2020 baseball season, Delaware North will unveil an all-inclusive premium area at the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ball Park that will seat 120 people. Space will feature made-to-order food served on china, and locker rooms where fans can store their preferred wines and spirits.
“If you look at what’s going on in some of the other ballparks and them creating a live environment, where you’re creating an experience within an experience, I think that trend is going to continue on,” said James Taylor, who recently became president of Delaware North Sportservice. “So, based upon whether it’s different bar setups, whether it’s virtual reality gaming, whether it’s a concert space, I think you’ll continue to see venues building spaces that create another experience for that guest to be able to come and have.”
Taylor also envisions fans being able to buy a ticket to a sporting event and then picking premium experiences à la carte.
“That’s your main event, but when you show up before the game, there are many other experiences that you may go through,” Taylor said. “Whether it is in the virtual reality, whether it is in the food, whether it is in the beverage side of it, whether it is in intermingling with some of the athletes, whether it’s going and being on the field, there are many things from an ideation standpoint that still need to be unearthed in my mind.”
Emily Louchart, senior project interior designer at HOK, said a ticket to a sporting event can have layered access to different areas of a venue that offer varied experiences besides just the game. She expects to see more seating options using loose furniture and seats that are more comfortable than traditional stadium seating.
Since HOK’s renovation of Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, completed in 2018, added features such as a courtside club, barber shop and Topgolf suite, other clients have inquired about more unique premium offerings.
“What I’ve noticed in our business is that every ticket is really a great ticket,” said Mason Hansen, senior interior designer and principal at Populous. “It’s not just the access to the views anymore, it’s about the social aspect, so the more unique the experience you can create on all price points the better, and that really means that our luxury spaces have to be even more luxurious because our clients are competing for that entertainment dollar.”
Hansen said it can tie back in to flexible spaces that provide for customized entertainment experiences. For example, a featured chef can be brought in to do table-side food prep. Other clients may prefer live performance art or other smaller-scale entertainment.
At Wrigley Field in Chicago, Populous developed the speakeasy-style Maker’s Mark Barrel Room. Premier clients (season-ticket holders who purchased seats with club access) can savor Chicago Cubs Reserve Bourbon while enjoying an exclusive view of the visitors’ batting tunnel. Underground down the third-base line, fans at the 4,600-square-foot W Club, named for the flag flown at the ballpark after home victories, have their own private view of the Cubs’ batting cages.
The experience costs $200 to $500 a game depending on the club and seat location and features food and beverages, including alcohol, and access to pregame batting practice. Each club leads to approximately 250 seats in the ballpark.
Even though flexible spaces for premium areas are currently a common theme, Hansen expects that to change in the coming years.
“I see the flexibility falling away a little bit, and it has to do with providing an elevated and unique experience,” Hansen said. “To make a place flexible, you really have to dilute it and pare it down. I feel the patrons now are craving a more refined, a more rich experience and for that you need more thoughtful architecture.”
A year-round premium experience
More teams and venues are adding value to the premium experience by making it extend past the season. They’re creating exclusive membership programs that are integrated into their premium inventory to give those fans a reason to keep coming back.
At Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets have rolled out the Brooklyn Diamond Membership that provides guests with a private entrance and a multitude of amenities. Dan Lefton, senior vice president of ticketing, strategy and operations at the Nets, describes the entrance as having a speakeasy vibe.
The club, capped at 250 members, is all-inclusive and includes tickets to all of the Barclays Center’s other events. Diamond memberships start at $55,000 and go up to $172,000 per seat on a yearly basis. Members also receive benefits such as traveling with the Nets for away games on the team plane and staying at the same hotel, and private dinners with players, coaches and executives.
“But even opening night, for instance, we gifted all of our Diamond Court members a pair of Spencer Dinwiddie sneakers and slides,” Lefton said. “The really nice thing with the Diamond experience, any time a partner is looking for an elevated activation, we’re able to really tie in the two together.”
Two years ago, the Houston Texans created the Luxe membership program after getting feedback from suite holders. Luxe offers all the requisite access to the Texans’ players, coaches and executives and travel opportunities, but offers premium fans the opportunity to interact with each other year-round at unique events.
Some of the notable experiences include being a guest judge at Houston Texans cheerleader tryouts, a private reception with the team’s draft picks, and a private luncheon with Texans executives.
“They wanted to have a deeper level of access to the team as a value proposition, in essence, to justify the investment over a 12-month period versus just during the season,” said Greg Grissom, senior vice president of corporate development at the Texans. “The other catalyst we saw was when we had the Super Bowl here in 2017, we were a part of a host committee that had senior-level executives connected to 24 or so primary sponsors.”
During the Super Bowl, executives from those sponsors met with each other, created relationships and developed a network among themselves, Grissom said.
“So we thought what can we do to create a deeper level of access, and if we did that right, could we create a network of senior-level decision makers who could get to know each other on a personal or professional level, that could help their businesses or personal life in some way, which can ultimately add greater value to our [Houston Texans] offerings.”