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Driving your revenues, sustainability and fan experience: #SBS24 – 15th annual TheStadiumBusiness Summit in Manchester on 17-18-19 June


TDS18 projects roundtable: Technologies and fan experience

TheStadiumBusiness caught up with five individuals at the recent TheStadiumBusiness Design &
Development Summit 2018 to discover the fan experience and technology opportunities underpinning
their stadium projects.

Thad Sheely (main picture), chief operating officer, Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, USA

Chris Pearlman, chief operating officer, Swansea City, UK

Alain Belsoeur, chairman’s adviser, Le Havre AC, France

RJ Gonzalez (pictured below), BIM information manager, Espai Barça, Spain

Matt Phillips, stadium project coordinator and programme editor, Gloucester City FC, UK

TSB: What is the vision behind your project?

TS: “To try to create a building that defined a connection between the brand, the city and the arena that
we felt would be lasting and would live up to being ‘true to Atlanta’.

CP: “To add 3,000-4,000 seats, to expand our hospitality offering and create a premium general admission offering and make some improvements from a digital infrastructure perspective.”

AB: “To make the stadium work every day even if the visitors are not coming for the football. With regard to the hotel project, perhaps the visitors would like to stay in a nice room near to their business meeting, for example.”

RJG: “To innovate and upgrade a sports campus. The club is a social club, and we want to maintain
those ideals while embracing new technologies.”

MP: “To return the club to playing football in Gloucester. In 2007 there was a catastrophic flooding event in Gloucestershire and our previous stadium had been built on a flood plain. Land isn’t readily available unless you go to the outskirts of the city. So, the decision was made to raise the footprint by three metres.”

TSB: What is the biggest challenge facing your project?

TS: “In any renovation the challenge is always going to be time, perhaps even more so than budget. We
operate the building for the basketball season, so we had from April to the beginning of October to
complete the project. We spent $1m per day and there were 800 construction workers on two 10-hour
shifts every day to try to make it happen. Another big challenge was having the building turned over to
you, and then literally having 48 hours until your first event.”

CP: “Our biggest challenge right now is our current league status, and relegation to the Championship
and priorities with capital. One of the large drivers behind expansion when we were in the Premier
League was that we sold out every week. We are not selling out every match this year and our hospitality
is not generating as much as in the Premier League. None of that is a surprise, but it does create
questions about the best way to proceed. Getting money isn’t the problem, but how it is repaid needs to
make sense.”

AB: “The time schedule will be tight, but the hotel is already working and the training centre should be
ready by the end of this season. The restaurant may take more time, but by the start of next season, all
of the new facilities should be open.”

RJG: “We have several challenges, one of which with the Camp Nou is to maintain the operations of the
stadium, because we don’t have another stadium where we can move 90,000 fans on a temporary basis.
The nearest big stadium is Real Madrid! It is like we are welcoming a small city’s population for every
game. Also, it is about operating to a sustainable budget, which is important as we are owned by the
fans rather than a rich individual.”

MP: “Managing supporters’ expectations. After years of ground-sharing, they may have originally
expected a fantastic state-of-the-art stadium, but maybe it’s been scaled back a bit. It’s also a challenge
to keep businesses and supporters in Gloucester engaged with the club despite the fact we’re playing
outside Gloucester. We need there to be interest generated for when we return. We’ve got no full-time
staff at the club, so we’re fitting in this project around day jobs and we’re trying to find a solution that fits
the budget and what’s available to us, whilst at the same time attempting to maximise opportunities
outside matchdays.”

TSB: Tell us about the fan experience aspect…

TS: “The building had a wall of suites on one side and we wanted to knock it down and open it up in the
lower bowl and upper bowl. I think we just created a much more energetic vibe, but also an intimate
arena where the focus is always on the court.”

CP: “Our stadium has very narrow concourses, so we want to widen those. We have very antiquated
concession stands and we want to introduce more food offerings. We’ve had some success in recent
years by introducing a fan zone outside the stadium in recent years, and maybe we’re looking at ways in
which we could incorporate that in a more organic way into the design of the stadium. Figuring out a way
of getting more connectivity would also enhance experience, and we’re also addressing how fans travel
to and from the stadium, regardless of the number of seats.”

AB: “Fans are very much in our thoughts with these projects, especially as we are focusing on food and
drink provision. The idea in having this big, modern restaurant, is to bring fans to us not only for the

RJG: “We have a facility for the 21st century. The challenge is to put in technology that people are now
demanding. We would like to have one of the biggest WiFi networks in any stadium in the world, but it is
also about engaging the fans, and that is a cultural challenge. We also want to improve food and
beverage facilities and have more toilets. In the past, people didn’t complain, but there were not as many
women in the stadium, so the lack of facilities was not noticed. We want the fans to be proud of having
one of the best stadiums in the world.”

MP: “The site that the stadium was on 10 years ago was in the middle of nowhere in an industrial
setting. It wasn’t a destination. We’re quite fortunate as we’re right on the edge of Gloucester docks,
which has been massively redeveloped into a leisure and entertainment quarter in the last 10 years. So,
now we’re in an amazing location and we’re trying to make our stadium a visitor destination as an
extension of that leisure quarter, with retail, food and independent outlets.”

TSB: And what about the role of technology in the project?

TS: “There were two things in our surveys that stood out before we started the work in terms of fan
dissatisfaction. The first was food, so we rebuilt the kitchens with new equipment. But the second was
network connectivity. We spent a huge amount of money taking us from slower than dial-up connections
to 50 to 100 megabytes per second. Everyone’s a broadcaster nowadays. At games there is actually
more uploading than downloading.”

CP: “We were the first club recently to introduce season tickets for supporters on mobile apps.
Supporters will be able to use the app to buy merchandise and concessions. It’s about making it easier
for our supporters. Of course, we want to get more people to download the app so we can communicate
with them more effectively with a customised approach. Hopefully we’re moving in that direction. The
reality of our infrastructure now is that per concession area within our stadium there is only one station
that accepts credit cards. It’s a very cumbersome, slow process for people who want to buy food, and we
want to change that.”

AB: “We now have an LED light system in the stadium for the FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup and the
WiFi will probably also be improved. That’s also being discussed with FIFA currently.”

AJG: “The challenge is that we don’t know what technology will emerge in five years’ time. We want a
facility that can support all of the technology that is introduced over the next 20 years. Having a building
that can adapt to technology is a real challenge.”

MP: “Visualisation has been a huge thing. We’re working with existing buildings on the site and we’re
changing levels of the land and we have to think about sightlines. We’ve had to do a lot of modelling for
drainage, and social media is a great way of keeping people informed, which has been the biggest leap.
It shows them that things are moving on. It’s generated a lot more belief that we can deliver it. Time
lapse videography has also been used, which is a really great way of showing people what’s going on.”