#500 Debate: What will happen in the stadium industry over the next five years?

From evolving spectator behaviours to the emergence of innovations that enhance the fan experience and, of course, the impact of COVID-19, the stadium and venues sector has undergone significant changes in recent times.

To celebrate our fifth birthday, TheStadiumBusiness.com asked key industry figures: What are your predictions for our sector over the next five years? 

With their answers spanning topics such as technology, safety, engaging customers and driving non-matchday revenues, and much more, it is clear that significant opportunities, as well as challenges, lie ahead.

Ned Coten – Chief executive, EngageRM

More than ever, people want to feel like are part of a tribe. Sport and entertainment have a unique opportunity to deliver this emotive outcome to individuals, but this requires a new mindset and action orientation.

Even though technology will be increasingly imperative, it is critical for leaders to understand how they can deliver positive emotive outcomes in the most effortless ways. Technology, as always, is just an enabler. It is the strategy and the criteria driving technology which ultimately makes the difference.

In the past decade the Sports and Entertainment industry has become more focused on technology to better understand their business, with a focus on the people and organisations they are interacting with. This has become particularly more important as the pandemic has evolved.

Leaders have shifted from “thinking about” technologies to “delivering” technologies that provide greater insights to their fans and audience. There is now no doubt that organisations who are reluctant to adapt will fall far behind their competitors. Now that just about everyone is used to working from home, living on their devices, and consuming content in totally different ways, these experiences will be especially important in live venue environments. 

With certainty, as this change is happening at extraordinary pace, all interactions within a venue will be delivered through a mobile device. Physical tickets & accreditations will be digital, if not already so, and any sort of interaction will be interactive and tracked. From a data and automation perspective, the customer will truly be at the centre of every interaction. Consumers, through their behaviour, will demand venues enable this change. Organisations that can truly engage with their audience in a personalised and intuitive manner will move ahead. 

Jessica Koravos – Co-chairperson, Oak View Group 

New demands are emerging from our audiences and those demands are going to drive enormous change.  Driver number one will be public health. I believe that audiences are going to pay much closer attention to where they are going and with whom. Venues are going to have to demonstrate their ability to keep people safe – audiences, staff, and artists alike. Our operations are going to be under much closer scrutiny and operators are going to be held to a higher standard. New buildings such as those within the OVG portfolio are designed to be easier to clean, better ventilated, and hands free. Older venues will have to adapt and innovate.  

Driver number two is the environment. Audiences and artists will no longer accept the level of environmental impact that live sports and entertainment have historically imposed. We HAVE to get our buildings to a carbon neutral position, and we have to do it on the fast-accelerating timelines set by the communities in which we are located. 

It costs more to build carbon neutral venues and it costs more to operate in a carbon neutral manner, but it must be done.  Our audiences and, increasingly, our artists will demand it – and our planet demands it!   

If we can get these things right, and if we can keep our audiences safe and protect our planet, then I think we will see the effects of a third phenomenon – namely, the newfound understanding and appreciation of the contribution that live entertainment makes to people’s lives, on stage, and in the audiences. We now know the profound difference it makes to our happiness, to our health, and to our relationships. Having sat in newly ‘unlocked’ audiences in stadiums, arenas, and theatres both in the UK and in the US over the last few weeks, I am absolutely sure of that. These audiences appreciate every second of the live experience like never before – and the performers and sportspeople likewise. I believe that if stadiums and arenas get it right and listen to their audiences, this wave will enable us to recover from the devastation of the last two years and to build back better than ever. 

Casey Callinksy – Chief operating officer, Protecht  

1) Given the rate at which technology improves, competitors that don’t yet exist will be big factors.  

2) A company that is not in this industry but is known elsewhere will be a big factor.  

3) Regulations will continue to abruptly shape and shift how we operate.  

Other industries have experienced this like manufacturing, automotive, and finance for example, so we as an industry need to take action based on their learnings.   

-Pay attention to new entrants and find ways to partner before you should. 

-If what you do can be copied, it will and probably with less baggage. 

-Be careful if you operate in the grey or in the place that has the potential for government interest or consumer protection interest as it just takes a stroke of a pen to disrupt it all. Eventually it happens.  

Lastly, those that understand the role consumers allow the ticketing companies to play will thrive. The power will continue to shift to our customers. Consumers easy and nearly immediate access to nearly every event occurring across the planet will force the participants in this industry to innovate how to serve, add value, or solve for a need that may or may not be currently visible. That adjustment or those enhancements will be what determines who wins and who is left behind. The days of inventory allocation as “the” service or the retention of clients through any single factor will be in the rearview mirror. 

The industry will be bigger, and play a more important role in the lives of people everywhere.  Experiences will continue to take on a more important role in the quality of life.

The past several years have been a rollercoaster for the events industry.

Nick Sautner – Chief executive, The Eden Park Trust 

Eden Park has seen some of its most challenging periods with lockdowns putting stop to events for months at a time. But we have also experienced some incredible highs and achievements: the Blues playing in front of a sold-out stadium for the first event after lockdown; holding our first ever concert – another sell-out crowd and the biggest concert in the world post-COVID; turning the stadium into a COVID testing centre so we could play our part in the fight against the virus.

As we look to the future, I am proud of how we have exercised agility and emerged stronger during these challenging years.

Stadia are no different to airports, hotels, toll roads or shopping centres in that they are all required to operate in an agile manner subject to the environment and demands. With significant upfront infrastructure costs and ongoing asset management obligations, there’s a necessity for venues to be a blank canvas for utilisation to minimise idle capacity and maximise the revenue derived from the asset.

Stadia should be considered a hub for the community — civic buildings that serve a function above and beyond the match day experience. They should operate as facilities are used all year round, instead of being under-utilised assets that are locked down after an event. People describe stadiums as cathedrals of the 21st century but I think of them more like town halls.

Over the next five years, I see this adaptability and innovation becoming common across the industry, and the following principles being embraced by successful venues: will aim to embrace the below principles:

  1. Leverage the power of your brand through the experience economy.
  2. Embrace your community – stadia are anchor institutions.
  3. Adjust to changing times but hold to unchanging principles.
  4. Innovation, flexibility, and creativity are central to success – stadia are a blank canvas for utilisation.
  5. Be strategic whilst remaining authentic – strong relationships enable greater understanding.

I believe there will be a renaissance in attendance in live events following lockdowns. But I also believe that venues will become increasingly innovative and continue to find new engagement opportunities and revenue streams outside of the traditional event days.

I see an industry with an improved focus on the fan experience. Click & Collect will become the norm – enabling speed of service and smoothing the demand curve to ensure retail infrastructure is maximised throughout the entire event, rather than just the breaks. 

And above all, I see an industry that has a new appreciation for the escapism, connection and experiences that people can find through live sport and entertainment.

Image: Erwan Hesry on Unsplash