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#SBS23 Review: Optimistic industry navigates evolving challenges

Celebrating in Manchester tonight at #SBS23

Celebrating in Manchester tonight at #SBS23

From technological innovations to operational planning and sustainability challenges and opportunities, TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2023 delivered a multitude of expert takeaways for venues of all sizes at Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester.

The opening panel session of the two-day Summit set the optimistic tone for an industry successfully navigating its way through a variety of evolving challenges. European Arenas Association executive officer Victoria Matthews, Adelaide Oval chief executive Nick Addison and F.C. Copenhagen managing director Jacob Lauesen outlined how attendances are bouncing back across the globe, with creative efforts to engage fans paying dividends.

Game-changing venues

From the start, the Summit’s conference programme featured unmissable insights into a series of stadium-related topics and game-changing venues.

Intuit Dome, which will be the new home of the NBA’s LA Clippers, is one of the most eagerly anticipated facilities in North America, and chief technology officer George Hanna’s presentation about the fan experience at the heart of the project showed just why. The futuristic 18,500-capacity venue, set to open in 2024, will feature frictionless, autonomous technology across its entire retail space, with the latest technology from Aifi ensuring fans can get their food and beverages, and back to their seats, without any hold-ups.

Hard Rock Stadium was named Venue of the Year at TheStadiumBusiness Awards 2023, with the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins now also incorporating Formula 1’s Miami Grand Prix. Maxwell Stiss, the venue’s senior director – enterprise applications, outlined some of the complexities in the expansion of major events across the stadium campus, and how good technology decision processes have aided their success.

Lauesen lifted the lid on the transformation of F.C. Copenhagen’s Parken stadium from under-utilised venue towards its goal of becoming an authentically Copenhagen experience and must-see attraction in Denmark’s capital city. Despite dominating Denmark’s top-tier SuperLiga for years, attendances were dropping, which led to a complete overhaul of everything from ticketing to F&B. After bringing Copenhagen’s best food outlets into the stadium, and creating a subscription-based ticketing strategy designed to pack the stands, the club has recently set a new record for the highest ever average attendance across all Scandinavia.

Sustainability focus

In a session focused on sustainability, Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s vice-president of stadium operations, Adam Fullerton, explained how the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United has amended roles, responsibilities, departments and teams to ensure environmental matters are central to all aspects of the business.

He outlined some of the challenges that have been overcome, such as sourcing partners who offer services such as composting, and how its zero-waste efforts enabled it to become the world’s first professional sports venue to achieve TRUE platinum certification.

Also on day one, ESL Pro League commissioner Alex Inglot outlined the potential to open up new revenue and engagement streams for venues that incorporate esports team hubs and ‘mini stadiums’.

In an engaging all-female panel session (pictured), the ability to offer experiential elements to differentiate hospitality packages whilst providing greater flexibility with price points was amplified as part of a broad discussion featuring representatives of Arsenal, Everton, the AO Arena and Forward Associates.

One of the key takeaways was the importance of tailoring the food and beverage offering for different audiences – as outlined by Arsenal’s senior ticketing and venue strategy manager Amy Trynka, who revealed how the catering is tailored to more family-oriented attendees for women’s matches.

Operational sustainability was then the topic for a panel discussion that underlined the challenge of measuring carbon emissions, with fans increasingly forcing clubs to adopt climate-friendly practices. Within these evolving strategies, consistency, authenticity and transparency emerged as key attributes for a successful approach, ensuring actions can make a tangible difference, rather than being merely hollow.

In the final session of the day, Lancashire County Cricket Club chief executive Daniel Gidney and Gavin Elliott, principal and chair of BDP’s Manchester studio, steered attendees through the long-term redevelopment of Emirates Old Trafford that has transformed the fortunes of the famous ground into a hub that generates £31m in non-matchday revenue per year.

Striking a balance

Striking the balance between attracting enough guest events and stepping back from the precipice of overstretching venue operations was a key topic in an insightful panel session at the start of day two.

With major sports and entertainment venues such as Hard Rock Stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Adelaide Oval and Manchester Central represented on stage, the wide-ranging discussion included the need for flexible spaces and strategies for formulating a compelling combination of events on top of anchor tenancies.

In the following session, Nicolas Dupeux, CEO of the Paris Entertainment Company, explained how the new group, which operates Accor Arena, the new adidas arena and the famed music venue Bataclan, is bringing an unprecedented model to France.

Dupeux highlighted the commercial and booking synergies across the facilities and explained how adidas arena – a new urban lifestyle destination that will open ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics as the only permanent new building for the Games inside the French capital – will become a hub of sports, esports, concerts and MICE events.

Gemma Vaughan, AO Arena’s sales and marketing director, gave an update on the major refurbishment of the venue in the heart of Manchester, which includes a significant overhaul of the bowl itself, along with premium seating and the F&B offering.

As the Summit came to a close, Magda Pozzo, marketing strategic coordinator of Udinese Calcio, provided a range of insights into the development and future of the Italian Serie A club’s stadium, which is widely recognised as one of the most sustainable in Europe.

Pozzo then joined a panel session to discuss the potential role of Web3 as part of the next-generation fan experience alongside Lisa Knights, Bristol Sport’s group communications director, and Vincent Harrison, CFO/CCO and co-founder of NFT-TiX.

The panelists discussed various fan engagement initiatives, including NFTs, esports and augmented reality, with a key takeaway being the importance of framing such innovations as fan engagement tools for future generations with realistic expectations about the return on investment.

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