Evaluating the Future of Sports Venues

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Mercedes Benz stadium, the trend-setting new home of the Atlanta Falcons. Photo via: NFL.com

As recent as two decades ago, the basis of a prospective stadium’s blueprint emphasized sight lines, capacity, seat width, and, subconsciously, the amount of functional surface area to cram enough beer stands to quench a fan’s thirst.

The paradigm has shifted in a flash, and with fans being lusted towards the friendly confines of their spread of high-definition televisions, the industry has had to shift their focus.

A modern model has surfaced, with stadium construction acting as the basis for stadium districts that combine retail and real estate endeavors intending to shape economic activity in the area in which they inhabit. Ambitions are high, and not every plan goes as expected — I’m sure Glendale, Arizona’s West Gate might like a redo — but the surrounding aspects of an area are just as important as the inside.

The game is no longer the singular attraction for the sports consumer. Instead, complex technological infrastructures are breeding new opportunities for teams and players to interact with fans to provide them unparalleled experiences that cannot be replicated at home. The five-inch bricks glued to our palms provide a pathway for teams to engage the consumer to formulate their own experience. Continuing to evolve on deciphering which methods are of the best practice variety will lead commerce into the next decade and beyond.

New technologies aside, the foundation for all fan experiences will remain tied to the venue. And perhaps an essential question in today’s climate is figuring out an ideal capacity that will fit a market while also maximizing revenue.

It has become trendy for a sports owner to bark at their city with claims that their stadium is insufficient for the times and out of date.

Traditional stadiums used to last decades, but the model shift, along with differing consumer behavior, has brought a desire for increased suits, clubs, and premium seating that cater to the high-end buyer. Assorted seating sections are being swapped for vast walkways that evoke movement and freedom for the consumer. Unhinged from tying a buyer to a singular seat, teams can monetize these club areas to great heights, generating new revenues that supplement the reasoning for constructing a state of the art stadium in the first place.

“You need a system that can work for you to identify the new fans filling the new areas of the stadium to make sure you are providing them with unique offers that keep them coming back,” says Mike Hinson, VP, College Athletics Sales at AudienceView.

The Amway Center in Orlando has dedicated a level of their venue to premium seating with strong results, and there is credence to the thought of a future where most of a stadium’s capacity sides with the premium buyer. If teams were to swing premium, a decrease in capacity could come with it.

With that said, teams need to be wary of dipping their toes too deep into the pool of premium pockets. The sports business has been built on the foundation of fanatics — or fans, as we like to call them. Pricing out the loyal, but fortuneless fans would turn a raucous crowd into a gathering of quiet observers. Stadiums would lose their charm — if they haven’t done so already.

The current wave of venues is well positioned to tailor to the needs of the next generation of sports consumer. With Wi-Fi speeds approaching supersonic levels, and greater emphasis on gathering areas, venues are arguably a leg up in the arms race against the at-home experience. I imagine that will be the case for many years to come.