iSportconnect Stadium Masterclass
Customer experience and hospitality within stadia and arenas is a constantly evolving facet of the buildings we design. In a saturated market of venues of all shapes and sizes, innovation and uniqueness is key, and when a scheme can take up to five years to transition from the drawing board to opening, there is an inherent risk of a concept becoming dated before it is built. The only solution to this challenge is to involve clients as early as possible because they see first-hand, week-in, week-out, how their own customers’ habits are changing. Little observations, when accumulated, can lead to big innovations. We understand that a fantastic idea can come from anywhere. Our expertise as architects allows us to turn those fantastic ideas into reality – to bring what might seem far-out within touching distance.
On 7th October we held our first Stadium Masterclass with iSportconnect at Emirates Stadium in London. Overall, we found it to be an incredibly valuable experience because, on this occasion, we had input from six different clients, when usually we would have input from one. The focus of the Masterclass was on emerging trends in the hospitality sector. Our guests were all industry leaders within that field; Charles Allen, Head of Marketing at Arsenal; Bill Mannarelli, Project Manager at FC Barcelona; Steve Brice, Vice President of premium Seating at AEG Europe; Alistair Spears, Director of Hospitality at Paris Saint-Germain; Paul de Keerle, Finance Director of Fédération Française de Rugby; and Felicity Black-Roberts, Senior Director of Acquisitions & Development at EMEA Starwood Hotels.
The Masterclass was conducted in the format of a design workshop, with teams of architects and designers working alongside our guests, brainstorming ideas, identifying those areas that could be developed to provide fans with the ultimate match day experience, while simultaneously expanding the reach of a venue’s influence and interaction with supporters. The diversity of our guests’ backgrounds produced some interesting insights. For example, Felicity Black-Roberts, our only guest based purely in hospitality, highlighted the positive correlation between height and value within the hotel industry. In stadium hospitality the view of the playing field itself is becoming less important – much more of a factor is the uniqueness of the experience offered, so we see developments like event-level bunker suites, which don’t necessarily give the best view of the match but instead benefit from the atmosphere of being as close as possible to the on-field action. Conversely, sky bars raised high above the stands might not have the advantage of proximity but they also offer an experience that is undeniably singular, for which spectators are willing to pay a premium.
Alistair Spiers was concerned with the unique requirements of Paris Saint-Germain, being the sole major football team in a city as large as Paris. Their strong international fanbase – they have more Facebook ‘likes’ in Brazil than they do in France – has led them to explore ways they can interact with overseas fans and extend the PSG brand outside of the home ground. Innovations like a fully interactive virtual stadium have been the result.
A common issue raised was that, in striving to offer an excellent premium hospitality service, clubs risked alienating the core fans who buy general admission tickets. In particular, Bill Mannarelli was worried about how any new developments at a stadium with the history and the prestige of Barcelona FC’s Nou Camp could interfere with the revenue generated by tours of the ground, as well as affecting the match day atmosphere. The public perception of clubs selling out to corporate hospitality is at odds with reality – people like Bill understand that for a team to remain successful, both financially and on the pitch, they need to respect their core supporters above all. This doesn’t just mean in the stadium, either. In the same way that Alistair looks to extend the PSG brand internationally, Bill looks for ways to bring the Barcelona brand to the huge percentage of fans who will never actually set foot inside the stadium. During the workshop, we considered the common practice of bringing external brands into the stadium in areas like sponsored bars or boxes, and how this model could be inverted by placing the club’s brand outside the stadium – an Arsenal bar in central London, perhaps, or further afield with branded lounges in airports. Extensions like these could be linked with loyalty schemes, allowing fans exclusive access to facilities in areas where clubs don’t traditionally have a presence.
Smartphone technology has, unsurprisingly, become a big factor in the way venues interact with their visitors. Smartphones can deliver a more immersive experience, keeping spectators informed about everything that is happening on the field, with in-ear commentaries and access to statistics that would previously be unavailable to them. Technologies like Under Armour’s smart garments, which deliver biometric data to a sports team’s coaching staff, could be adapted to provide the same information to spectators within the stadium so that they can evaluate an individual player’s performance. With the advent of technologies like Google Glass we can only expect an increasing desire for information.
Steve Brice, from AEG, suggested how smartphones could be used to offer discounts and instant upgrades to customers in-stadium, tapping into impulse-buying psychology, which is normally difficult to do when tickets are bought days, or weeks, in advance. Offers like these would bring general admission fans into premium hospitality areas, making them feel less separated from those paying higher admission prices. Utilising the popularity of smartphones is also another way of taking the club’s brand outside of the stadium and could be tied in with the loyalty schemes already mentioned.
Another big issue to consider is how a stadium is used outside of its main function as a sports venue. A football stadium is generally only fully utilised once or twice a fortnight, and even that is limited to the playing season. Paul de Keerle’s FFR will see the national French rugby team play out even fewer matches at their new Grand Stade when it is completed, which is one of the reasons a retractable pitch has been incorporated into the design. With the turf removed, the number and diversity of events the stadium can host is greatly increased. Clubs can also look to attract new audiences, not-necessarily affiliated with their team, by incorporating nightclubs and restaurants into their hospitality areas that don’t just support revenue on matchdays, but offer the kind of quality that can attract their own independent client base.
Our time was limited for the workshops – we condensed our usual consultation process into only a couple of hours – but despite those limitations the exercise demonstrated, through the wealth of ideas generated, just how key this kind of discussion with our clients is to our business. There’s no doubt that it was worthwhile for our guests to see how we work, but also for them to see how others within their sector work as well – the similar problems they face, and the ever-changing nature of the solutions that are available.