At this year’s Stadium Business Summit at the Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester, UK, stakeholders from across the sports and entertainment space came together to discuss the strategies that are driving the return of fans to venues across the world. Euromonitor International presented on the evolution of physical space and how this impacts the fan experience. This is a topic that is front of mind for operators, which are in the process of better understanding how fans and consumers have changed over the last three years, and how these insights can grow existing and create supplementary revenue streams, all the while driving fan engagement.
The end of the ‘white linen’ fan experience?
One topic that shone through was the need to create a more diversified corporate hospitality experience. Head of Hospitality & Event Sales from Manchester United (Nicola Adkin) and Head of Sales for Leicester City FC (Alistair Spiers) discussed the need to offer a more engaging hospitality experience at all levels, from the sports bar to the fine dining offerings. Stadiums are increasingly looking to incorporate open-plan areas with relaxed dress codes, buffet-style offerings, and entertainment such as live DJs to create a more engaging experience for hospitality guests.
As with everything, there is a counterargument to a wholesale embrace of informal. For Ascot Racecourse, the tradition and heritage associated with Royal Ascot is the unique selling point of the event, and enhances rather than constrains the experience for fans, as detailed by Rob Paddon (Head of Sales, Ascot). While there remains a need to create offerings that can grow ticketing revenues and attract new fans, protecting prestige remains key.
Over 60% of consumers aged 15-44 want experiences that are personalised to their own tastes (Euromonitor International Lifestyles Survey, 2022), a statistic that underpins the need for evolving current experiential product offerings across sports and entertainment.
Heightened emphasis on hybrid
Sports venues continue to be over-reliant on matchday revenues, yet the industry continues to work to change this, albeit in many cases progress remains slow. Creating a hybrid space that draws in attendees on non-event days has been of secondary importance, with the focus remaining on growing existing matchday revenues. Much of the discussion at the summit was how best to achieve this without compromising the sports and entertainment experience.
Nick Sautner, CEO of Eden Park (best-known as the home of New Zealand Rugby), catalogued the venue’s recent success in “harnessing idle capacity” through the introduction of its G9 Golf initiative, which allows fans to play golf within the stadium, a unique experience which brings with it numerous revenue opportunities, ranging from standard and corporate green fees to sponsorship naming rights for each hole on the course.
Jean-Christophe Giletta, CEO of Live Stadium, put forward a case for supplementing sports programming at high-profile venues with cultural shows, such as immersive ballets and operas. Prior to the pandemic, it was reported that these shows had gathered over 1.5 million attendees for operas such as “Carmen, Aïda, Nabucco, Turandot, Verdi’s Requiem and original creations such as Celtic nights, Urban Peace, Ben Hur and Excalibur” (thestadiumbusiness.com).
Stadium redevelopment also came into focus, in particular the Fulham FC (London) Riverside Stand. It is one of the first instances where matchday revenues were treated as of secondary importance to non-matchday, an idea that until recently might have been perceived as radical in the industry.
The metaverse – an opportunity, a threat, or simply an unknown?
Even at a conference so focused on how to best utilise physical space, the metaverse (a topic that our Sports and Entertainment team keeps a close eye on) proved a hot topic. Francis Casado, Co-Founder of 3D Digital Venue, outlined the metaverse concept and detailed some of the existing and emerging revenue opportunities associated with it – from Capital One’s plan to create virtual credit cards and NFTs, to Heineken’s metaverse bar selling virtual beer to willing patrons. The enthusiasm was tempered by a more practical summation of the challenges that face the Metaverse Standards Forum, a consortium of tech companies that together are working to build a cooperative framework to “foster inter-operability standards for an open metaverse”. (https://metaverse-standards.org/)
Discussions also turned to whether the potential rise of the metaverse will be a threat to physical attendance at sports venues – consensus seemed to be that this threat is some way off – if it materialises at all. For all it potentially promises, the digital journey for many stadium operators remains sharply focused on more urgent and practical digital applications. Technology leaders from Major League Soccer (MLS), Terry Howard (Inter Miami) and Christian Lau (Los Angeles FC), detailed how technology is deployed across a range of functions, from improving the fan experience to protecting against persistent cyber-security threats. The ability to be agile and make necessary changes and improvements stood out as a trend that puts these MLS teams on a good footing from which to set the industry pace for digital innovation.
The pandemic created a myriad of challenges for stadium operators, many of which continue to prove difficult to shake. However, for some it created space to rethink and adjust to create a more compelling fan-first experience, especially in corporate hospitality environments, where we are seeing alternatives to the ‘white linen’ experience.
The journey to peak hybridity has only just started. New-builds and redevelopments will continue to place a strong emphasis on what role the physical spaces they contain should have, and what audiences to which they will cater.
The metaverse continues to generate interest, yet many technology leaders remain focused on the task at hand and solving the immediate challenge of fully commercialising stadiums and arenas in the real world.
For further insight, read our report, Evolution of Physical Space in Hospitality.