Athletic directors and venue managers face hard decisions on how to update aging facilities. As they juggle issues associated with evolving fan expectations, attendance, and recruitment of the best players and coaches, they also must address complex issues involved with renovating or building new performance venues.
We often begin working with our clients at this critical juncture—just as they are beginning to consider the steps they need to take to update their facilities to align with their vision for the athletic program or team.
We have identified questions every athletic director or facility manager should ask when considering a renovation or new construction project. These are questions we ask our clients before they begin a facility project or master plan. Their answers provide an honest self-assessment that guides all subsequent conversations and decision-making.
We have grouped these questions into five categories: revenue generation, sponsorship, fan experience, programming and operations, and district development.
Revenue generation is often the most important concern for professional teams and universities. Buildings that have not been updated are missing many potential revenue streams. A conversation about revenue generation should start with an exploration of your fan base and who you aspire to reach.
- Who is our current fan base?
- Who is our target fan base and what are the ways our building does and doesn’t cater to them?
- How are we generating revenue?
- What potential revenue are we not capturing because of our facility limitations?
- Are our competitors using their buildings in ways we can’t?
- How will we generate revenue from products designed to pay for the upgrades?
A decade ago, our clients were selling spaces very differently to advertisers. Though there were plenty of spaces to display a sponsor’s logo, buildings did not support as many definable assets for advertisers.
Today, a facility’s technology infrastructure makes it possible to provide immersive experiences tailored to sponsorship partners. This is a strong enticement to sponsorship partners that want to buy time and experiences to associate their brand with yours.
At Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, scheduled to open in 2017, technology will provide an opportunity to tailor advertising and sponsorships to the demographics of each event. This is especially valuable with a multipurpose venue that will host football, soccer, concerts, and community events. To attract the diversity of events and sponsors that building owners expect, the experience must be transformable.
- How can we create the most value for potential sponsors?
- How can technology make the building adaptable to attract more sponsors?
- What new ideas in sponsorship and engagement are we missing?
- What is the long-term life expectancy of our building?
- What sponsorship opportunities are we missing outside of the building’s walls?
The next key area of conversation centers on the fan experience. Building owners or operators have the best understanding of how a building functions and how fans are responding.
Athletic directors and venue managers can measure the fan experience by hiring a consultant to conduct a market study or by creating their own comprehensive survey. At Mississippi State University, a market study of the fan base demographics determined the makeup of the premium seating and social gathering spaces for the renovation and expansion of Davis Wade Stadium.
- How do our fans use the building?
- How do our fans wish they could use the building?
- What are complaints we hear about our building?
- How do we capture Generation Z and Millennial fans?
Programming and Operations
Beyond the fan experience, there are concerns about how back-of-house spaces function. This includes understanding feasibility and flexibility issues and discussing the programs and events you wish you could accommodate.
- Have we conducted a feasibility study? If not, will our schedule allow us to do one before proceeding with the project?
- What flexibility issues do we run into?
- Can the building operate on a daily basis for multiple events?
- Are there programs and events we would like to accommodate but can’t?
- Are there operational issues with how the building functions?
- Are there infrastructure issues that require major updates?
Once you’ve discussed issues within the facility’s walls, it’s time to look outside the building to understand how auxiliary development can enhance the venue.
Based on our client’s goals, HOK’s design of the Detroit Events Center deconstructs the typical arena by placing retail, box offices, concessions, and offices outside the venue. This creates an indoor “street” that serves as the arena’s concourse. By looking holistically at a district or campus, you can find opportunities to approach the design in ways that improve the fan experience while being good for the city.
- Are there open spaces for fans to gather before and after games?
- Are there real estate and development opportunities around the site?
- Do fans have a defined experience from the moment they step onto the site?
- Are there opportunities to get fans to the site earlier and keep them after the event?
By asking the right questions early in the process, you can be better prepared to discuss your vision and then take measured risks in the design process. But these questions are only the jumping-off point.
A thorough feasibility study is the natural next step. This pushes the fact-finding process forward and helps your team make critical decisions—beginning with whether to renovate a venue or build new. Along with an updated master plan, a feasibility study provides the perspective required to make educated decisions about the future of your facility before undertaking an extensive project. It can save you millions of dollars.
Making decisions about how to upgrade your facilities is a challenge for every athletic director and venue manager. But being armed with the appropriate questions and knowledge of all the issues is the first step for improving the venue experience for your fans, staff, and athletes. FM