The Fan of the Future is Now

VenuesNow addresses visionary disruptions just around the corner for live sports and entertainment

  • by Linda Deckard and Brad Weissberg
  • Published: July 19, 2017

CNN's Philip Mudd; Prevent Advisor's Michael Downing and Bill Bratton; Michel Ferris, CEO, Abacode and the NFL's David Mccain on the security panel at VenuesNow. (Photo Credit: Rich Fury)

REPORTING FROM BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — Imagine a ticket that’s not tied to a seat and a fan who is free to watch, socialize, text and even share a seat for an evening of fun in an arena, just the way they want it.

“No one goes to brick and mortar; they go to an experience,” said Peter Guber, chairman and CEO, Mandalay Entertainment Group, during VenuesNow here, summarizing the tone of topics discussed – how to improve that fan experience.

Imagine a sporting event live that has no scoreboard because each fan gets stats, replays and instant tweets on his smartphone.

Imagine a fifth major sports league, something like the “International eSports League,” that is franchise and city-based. That’s happening now.

And remember that things move at infrared speed today. Just 10 years ago, there were no smartphones and today they run our lives. Acknowledge that today’s largest transportation company has no cars and the biggest hotel company has no rooms.

Uber and Airbnb have positively disrupted their industries and want to tie in with venues, sports and entertainment in new and creative ways. Remember, they once had seemingly fantastic visions for the future.

It was no holds barred during the inaugural, invitation-only VenuesNow conference that rocked our world July 12-14. Produced by the Oak View Group in association with Venues Today, attendance numbered about 600, including the 26 largest arenas in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) that form the Arena Alliance.

“In the touring business, good things are out there,” said Tim Leiweke, co-founder and CEO of Oak View Group. “We have the opportunity here to create a better platform and a more dynamic conversation.”  To that end, OVG bought Venues Today, established VenuesNow, and, last week, announced purchase of Pollstar and Pollstar Live to keep that dynamic conversation going.

Live Nation and Ticketmaster were presenting sponsors of VenuesNow, with other partners including Mobilitie, Goldman Sachs, Pepsi, Icon Venue Group, Belkin, Uber, L’Acoustics, Prodigy Sports and Mohawk Flooring.

For three days, the fan was the star. “They are not passengers; they’re participants,” said Guber. “They think they own the team and they do.” Mindset is the most limited commodity, Guber added. It’s important to give every fan his own personal experience. “Every detail counts.”

Security was a hot topic, heavily discussed given new urgency by the senseless act of terror conducted in the U.K. at Manchester Arena in May.

“Who would have thought that a character sitting in a cave in Pakistan in the 90s, Osama bin Laden would shape all of our lives?” asked Bill Bratton, executive chairman, Prevent Advisors.

When this century started, Y2K was the big security threat, said Bratton. “Now a group that was formed decades ago — Islamic Radicalism — and new technology are shaping the world of sports and entertainment.”

Bratton said that social media has allowed the recruitment of  tens of thousands of people into the world of venue security. “With all these people running around we cannot protect everything, everywhere, all the time. But with prioritization and capabilities, we can try to predict and prevent.”

Bratton said the main challenge for venue security is “taking the world of uncertainty in today’s world and turning it into certainty.”

The ‘toolbox’ approach to security was highlighted, which blends together the government, private and public sector contractors, business, and constant monitoring of social media platforms.

Trying to keep one step ahead of disruptors is challenging. “They know we are monitoring social media, so instead of writing things with key words we will pick up on, they are posting pictures with messages,” said Michael Downing, EVP security, Prevent Advisors, who believe the threats “will get worse before they get better” and that the current threat is generational and will play out for decades.

The fans want to feel safe. “It’s a balancing act,” said Michael Ferris, Abacode. “We want them to feel confident but not cognizant.”

The future of stadium design was discussed at VenuesNow. “We’re seeing now that people are curious and want to move around,’ said Tim Romani, CEO, ICON Venue Group. “The game is primary to fans now for only 20 percent of the time the fans are in a baseball park. The other 80 percent of the time they want their attention spread out over five to 10 different things.”

Romani said that design must find ways to accommodate and lead this new paradigm.

Al Guido, president, San Francisco 49ers, concurred. “Technology has changed everything. In a six-hour experience, only 28 minutes of people’s attention is on football. We have to change to fill the void.”

Entertainment districts are popping up at breakneck speed according to the panel.

“People want to come early and stay late,” said Christopher Lambeth, VP, sports development, HOK. “If you are going to do a development and make an investment, you are looking at a development that is integrated and inclusive. Fans of the future want an experience, not a seat.”

Bruce Miller, senior principal, Populous said that the future is building a facility and continually improve it over time. “We have to keep up with the trends of our culture. As technology changes, our buildings change.”

Miller expects new buildings to be “more intense, more engaged,” becoming “a place for an extended game day experience.”

Romani expects new facilities to be “smaller, more intimate and they must have a social environment. The trend is to downsize. People don’t want a ticket for a particular seat, they want to move around the building and be social.”

“One size does not fit all anymore,” he added. “Bigger is not better.”

“Authentic” was the key word from the brand perspective when talking sponsorships that work. “It has to be an authentic experience and partnership for both,” said Andrew Georgescu, Lincoln Marketing Communications Manager, Ford Motor Company. Sponsorships must have engagement and fan connection. “It has to feel right,” said Mark Weinstein, SVP & Global Head of Customer Engagement, Hilton.

Adoption of streaming and virtual reality is accelerating and venue managers were advised to jump on board. 4K display is hot and 5K is coming, sharpening the experience and decreasing the delay and latency. Facebook Live is still facing a 10-second delay and most are 20-30 seconds or more, depending on traffic congestion, but “in today’s world, there is no reason to deal with any delay,” said Nate Parienti, president, Live Alliance.

VR provides other experiences while fans are at a live event, said Brad Allen, NextVR. “You’re not sitting in a courtside seat? Try on a headset and be courtside.” Or put the viewer onstage during a concert.

This panel saw VR and streaming as a new revenue streams.

VR content is a wide-open field, and Jed Corenthal, CMO, PhenixP2P, believes things that happen pregame or backstage are key. “I would pay to watch a player warm up every day.”

Think of the smartphone as a Jumbotron in your hand, said Chris Wagner, NeuLion. “Wrap all that content you’d see inside, outside for the fans who didn’t get in.” It looks different, he added, so it would not cannibalize ticket sales.

Corenthal advised VR and streaming has to get beyond what is inside the venue. It has to be a whole experience unto itself.

The NBA is offering a subscription-based model, offering any eight games in a virtual reality season pass for people who follow the Knicks, for example, but cannot get to the games.

“What technology can do is the challenge for all of us,” Corenthal said. Monetization is the other big challenge. Sponsors will undoubtedly pay for this technology and there needs to be real ways to integrate the brand.

The Metropolitan Opera in New York has been streaming to movie theaters in real time to great success – like $60-million worth, said Corenthal.

Pete Vlastelica, CEO, Major League Gaming, Activision Blizzard, likes to design eSports games that are really fun to watch. The audience for eSports is becoming a very viable fandom.

rickfox300.jpgRick Fox, owner, Echo Fox (Photo Credit: Rich Fury)

That fandom, dubbed “Generation Always,” wants to be connected and there is a generation of gamers who want a career in gaming, said Rick Fox, Echo Fox. “You guys are going to be filling your arenas with us,” he said at VenuesNow.

A new eSports league that, like traditional sports leagues, is city-based is gearing up now. Activision Blizzard announced the Overwatch League, consisting of seven city-based teams, just the day before this conference. In Los Angeles, it is the L.A. Immortals. Teams are connected to NBA team owners.

The significance of a city-based league in eSports is much bigger than traditional sports because eSports is global. It will be a global league, Vlastelica said. It is a new model.

“No game is going to fill your stadium. The players are going to fill your stadium,” added Jace Hall, Vision Venture Partners. In the future, eSports athletes will be (and some already are) superstars. “For 35 years, eSports has been about the game. Now it’s about the players.”

“These players want to come to your arena,” Hall added. “An event at an arena has a legitimizing effect. That’s what you bring to the sport.”

Guber also chimed in on the VR business, the ability to “virtually be at the game. You’re in the entertainment business. You fill your arena with 18,000 people. There are 7.5 billion who might want to watch. Do the math.”

“How can I use change? That is the attitude you must have,” Guber said. For instance, be aware there will be fewer cars and less parking at future events.

Leiweke responded that in Miami, where OVG is involved in building a new soccer stadium, Uber, Lyft and Curb will be the preferred transportation. He also envisions drones flying people to the venue. To that end, the soccer stadium has no parking (there are parking garages three blocks away.).

“The rule of change has changed,” Guber responded, amazed Miami will have no parking. “You can’t get ahead of it. The pace is blistering.”

  • by Linda Deckard and Brad Weissberg
  • Published: July 19, 2017