TheStadiumBusiness Summit celebrated 10 years as the industry’s cutting-edge event at Emirates Old Trafford this week, but what were the key takeaways?

Atmosphere is still ‘the holy grail’

We lost count of the number of times at the Summit that the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was described as a “benchmark” for the industry – on this side of the pond at least – from the perspectives of technology, operations and fan experience.

However, the man whose team helped to deliver the stunning facility told delegates how the primary aim of the new venue was to make the stadium feel like ‘home’ for the Tottenham fans, thereby ensuring a jaw-dropping atmosphere.

“We looked at stadiums that have renowned atmospheres, such as the one at Borussia Dortmund, as a benchmark,” Populous senior principal Tom Jones said. “We tried to get the seats as close as possible to the pitch and the 1,000 square metres of video screens also add to the atmosphere, which is still the holy grail of any stadium.”

Balance the digital and physical experience

The general feeling amongst attendees was that, when it comes to video screens, more is better, and they enhance rather than dilute the in-arena experience.

That certainly seems to be reflected in the choices that stadium operators are making, according to Damon Crowhurst, European director of display at Samsung Electronics Europe.

Crowhurst outlined how, as recently as four years ago, Soldier Field in Chicago was viewed as the benchmark with a total of 1,400 square metres of LED screens. When LA Stadium opens next year, it will have more than 12,000 square metres of screens.

And then there is the added commercial appeal, with Lancashire Cricket’s sales and marketing director, Justin Hopwood, describing how installing cutting-edge technology such as video boards can build a more attractive environment for partners. “People are more likely to come and talk to us if we have the best technology available,” he said.

Take the fans with you on the journey

Numerous speakers at TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2019 were quick to highlight the importance of bringing fans with them on the stadium project journey.

In fact, Hammarby Fotboll has done more than most by creating a ‘Fan Lifecycle Department’, as outlined by deputy CEO Markus Nilsson, with an association featuring supporters already controlling 51% of the Swedish club’s shareholding.

With ticketing revenue accounting for more than half of the club’s total income, the backing of supporters has been essential, and the results of the new department – which includes contributions towards ticketing, CSR and communications strategies, to name just a few – have been spectacular.

There has been a 170% increase in attendances since the club’s move to the 30,000-seat Tele2 Arena in 2013 – the third largest increase for a European club moving to a new venue over the past 10 years.

Don’t take your customers for granted

On a similar note, fans cannot be taken for granted when it comes to food and drink available within a stadium, according to Legends International president Andrew Hampel.

If you really want fans to arrive earlier and stay later, the stadium’s offering has to be measured with surrounding facilities and attractions in terms of cost and appeal. After all, that’s exactly what the fans will do.

“You can’t just expect people to pay more because it’s a stadium,” he said. “You have to be truly competitive on a quality and price perspective in comparison with what’s outside.”

Hurry up!

Whether it is food and drink or simply getting into the stadium, speed is a key part of making the visitor’s experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible – while operators are well aware that shorter transaction times = more money in the till from repeat customers and those who are put off by queues.

However, with various options being trialled – especially in the VIP lounges of some of the world’s leading stadiums – which frictionless technologies will ultimately prevail in the mass market?

With representatives of numerous frictionless payment providers attending TheStadiumBusiness Summit, the general feeling on the exhibition floor and in the networking breaks was that a combination of multiple technologies, offering flexibility to stadium visitors, is the most likely scenario to emerge in the coming years.

Accountability is key

A stadium construction project that is ahead of schedule and under budget – it’s just a myth, isn’t it? Amazingly not in the case of the Milwaukee Bucks and its new Fiserv Forum.

General manager Raj Saha explained how unannounced site visits every single day helped to keep everyone on their toes. With individuals given direct responsibility for overseeing specific elements of the development and operational preparations, personal accountability was high on the agenda as the whole team “bought into” the new ethos at the franchise.

The venue opened last year nearly a month earlier than scheduled and, with a final price tag of $524m, some $11m under budget.

If you want to attract young people, think like them

FC Kopenhavn has enjoyed huge success by introducing a “Netflix-type” rolling payment plan, having found that the Danish football club’s traditional season ticket model was failing to attract new generations of fans who are more accustomed to subscription models.

“The benefit is that the marketing campaign can run through the year,” said director of marketing and development Jacob Lauesen.

In the first 12 months, only 1.5% of fans unsubscribed from the model, providing a significantly better retention rate than the season ticket offering. Alongside other smart ticketing packages, the club enjoyed its first increase in its average crowds in a decade and a 40% increase in paying attendees.

Work with partners to make the most of your assets

Whether it is a live event or a commercial link-up, the bond that is established has to make sense for your venue, according to Jean-Christophe Giletta, CEO of Live Stadium, which hosts classical shows tailored for the stadium setting.

With Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, meanwhile, the innovative naming-rights deal with Walt Disney Company Australia has opened up a host of clever activation opportunities at a facility that already attracted tens of thousands of families for sporting contests featuring its various anchor tenants. Thor’s Hammer, a Spider-Man climbing wall and a Hulkbuster are among the attractions at Marvel Stadium – with more to come at a stadium that will be used as a platform to engage Marvel’s target market.

Meanwhile in the sponsorship setting, Octagon’s group director of strategy and commercial consulting, Daniel Haddad, added: “There are lots of rights-holders all selling to the same brand. So, venues need to find a point of difference.”

Ensure all staff members are invested in the stadium’s operations

The Milwaukee Bucks have repeatedly challenged ushers and staff to come up with fan-friendly initiatives. One of the ideas – high-five lines for every fan in the building – is a conspicuous example of one of the proposals being put into action successfully.

However, it is clear that some in the stadium industry still have to work harder than others to get their voices heard. In a discussion that was illuminating and worrying in equal measure, McEleney Consulting founder Caroline McEleney and Bluerock manager of stadium operations and management Ela Greatorex outlined the challenges facing female executives in the sector.

According to a study from Women in Sport, the number of women in senior leadership roles at Sport England organisations actually reduced from 2009 to 2016, illustrating the scale of the issue.

“I’ve been in many situations where I’ve been the only female in a team of 15 and trying to lead the meeting,” Greatorex said. “You do feel like you have to work a bit harder to get the attention of the room.”

McEleney added: “Women have to be tenacious. You have to have the confidence to hold your own in a room.”

The ripple effect

Following the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to hire 60% of staff from selected zip codes with low employment – and pay them $15 per hour, more than double the US minimum wage – other venues in the city and state were forced into action to remain competitive. Now $15 per hour rates for front-line, customer-facing staff is commonplace, raising living standards for many across the area.

Meanwhile, the Going Green initiative at the Jockey Club’s racecourses has raised awareness and engaged colleagues in supporting sustainability targets.

As a result, there has been a 25% reduction in mainline energy consumption at racecourses, as well as a 10% reduction in waste volume and more than 80% of waste is now recycled, according to Kirsten McEvoy, the operator’s sustainability and corporate social values manager. One can only imagine the wider impact the initiative has had on the habits of visitors, staff and their families away from the racecourses.

You see, it’s not just hyperbole – the stadium industry really can change the world…