Rethinking Arenas Of Future: Sports Book Meets Epcot Meets Top Golf?

April 2019’s Marketing Insider speaks to how fan insights have and will continue to reshape event venues in the future.  A major question facing properties surrounds where to draw the line between innovation and erosion of the traditional experience.

Sports marketers remain focused on optimizing in-venue fan experiences. Earlier this decade, much of our research in this space surfaced fan demand for more social spaces, enhanced WiFi and upgraded food and beverage that leveraged local cuisine and broader, healthier menu options.
As the proliferation of OTT options and the continuing evolution of home theater raised properties’ concerns about the potential downgrade of value for live events, there was greater attention paid to upgraded seating options and the reimagining of family-friendly oases and ticket packages.

Today, we see an extension of these trends towards an even bolder vision of the future. Legalized sports gambling will continue to crumble the walls of “church and state,” under the watchful eye of sports’ governing bodies.

The idea of in-venue sports books puts a modern twist on parimutuel betting windows — although this time ensconced in VIP lounges replete with digital kiosks, banquettes with built-in interactive tablets, video monitors and maybe some fire pits and a DJ for those who want to multitask on more than just the game itself.

For those who aren’t inclined towards betting, the confluence of technology and a desire to build greater interactivity harkens back to one of my first visits to Disney’s Epcot Center. There, I was enamored by a theater that foreshadowed today’s in-flight entertainment, with interactive touch pads that allowed guests to compete in trivia contests. Extend this concept to tomorrow’s sports venue — and second-guessing the coach, playing armchair umpire and daily fantasy sports take on a new crowd-sourced dimension.

Also, imagine a push of a button on the in-seat console summoning wait staff to deliver your chicken and waffles or avocado toast.

Interactivity integration can also borrow from pro sports’ current embrace of esports and the Top Golf phenomenon, focusing on participatory activities where guests can simulate placing themselves in the middle of the action.

As a sports and entertainment junkie, I’m excited by the prospects of these potential enhancements. But as a Gen X marketing researcher, it’s incumbent upon me to question what the customer really wants.

Our testing some of the above enhancements also surfaced a healthy dose of skepticism, particularly from older, affluent fans fearing the dilution of the core product.

Last week, journalist Mike Purkey, suggested the same in the golf space, coining the wickedly wonderful term, “Youth-anasia.”

It’s important to consider whether these new in-venue diversions will fail to resonate with “old school” fans or even younger ones — who, our research has shown, often embrace the tradition and escape from the day-to-day multitasking digital world through live sports.

Will these innovations ultimately be discarded by younger targets for the next shiny new object? The right answers will vary by market and property. I hope operators seek those answers.