James Dolan, Madison Square Garden, and the Sphere at the Venetian
Jim Dolan of The Madison Square Garden Company and Irving Azoff of of the Azoff Company kicked off the event with a 1-on-1 conversation which was heavily focused on the opening of MSG's new 'Sphere' venue, slated to open in 2021 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The multipurpose venue is designed to be used for a variety of events from concerts, to esports events, business conferences, and more. Outfitting existing venues with new technology can be extremely expensive, notably Dolan shared how expensive upgrading Madison Square Garden's existing tech infrastructure would be today. With this in mind, Dolan and his team are working to incorporate the newest technology in the Sphere from day one. One notable technology is wave field synthesis, which Dolan described as a "beam of sound" in which only people within the beam radius can hear the sound or music being played. Additionally, the beam can also follow attendees around a venue allowing event organizers to further tailor the experience for attendees.
Dolan also stressed how connectivity enhances the fan experience, as venues often struggle with reliable WiFi or cell service. He shared that MSG sold out for a League of Legends esports tournament to watch 5 people play 5 people, but in the future he'd like to see venues with the ability to hold tournaments where thousands of attendees play against thousands. Watch some of his thoughts in the video below.
Esports: What do Venues Need to Know?
Another interesting panel at the conference was titled 'Esports: Where do we go from here?' Which featured Bob Jordan of Venue Road LLC, Tyler Endres of Esports Arena, Craig Levine of ESL, Todd Merry of Delaware North, and Brian Mirakian of Populous. The discussion was centered around what venues need to know, if they want to begin holding esports tournaments. Venues are always looking for new revenue streams, and the rise in esports events, some of which sell out arena like the Barclays Center in New York, has provided a new type of event for venues however with their own unique challenges. A few notable challenges discussed include:
Connectivity: Similar to what was mentioned above by James Dolan, esports events need lots of high speed broadband to assure that game play is not interrupted. Esports fans also tend to me heavy users of technology on site, so allowing them to stay connected is a must.
Length: Esports tournaments can last up to 11 hours, far more than the length of traditional sporting events. There need to be engaging activations or other types of entertainment on site to engage attendees throughout the day.
Food and Merch: The event organizers and venue operators need to be careful to not simply run their gameday operation the same as they would a traditional sports event. Todd Merry of Delaware North stated, "These new fans aren’t coming with traditional expectations. They aren’t coming to buy hot dogs and peanuts. Especially for an event which lasts 11 hours. This is a new audience with new expectation. The slate is blank. How do you define the brick and mortar around the unknowns?” Esports event attendees also tend to buy lots of merchandise, so organizers need to capitalize on this revenue stream.
Brian Mirakian of Populous is currently helping build a 50 million dollar Comcast venue in Philadelphia, which will be primarily used for esports events. He said the focus of the development team is fan experience, and creating a versatile venue which can hold multiple types of events from esports, a conference, a TED talk, and EDM concert, and more.
5G: What Does it Mean for Venues and Events?
The '5G' panel from the conference was a fireside chat in which Dave MacDonald of Director of Strategy at AT&T was interviewed by Elinor Klavens, of the Sports Innovation Lab. MacDonald was quick to say that, "Many of us have heard about 5G, however not many of us know what it is, how we're going to pay for it, or what we're going to do with it." MacDonald was adamant about the impact this technology will have for the fan experience at live events. From connectivity for attendees to participate in engaging games from their phones, to sports betting, new streaming abilities, and more.
New web-based AR and VR technologies will also be popular, as the pictures will be rendered in real time with 5G. The Dallas Cowboys have taken a leadership role when it comes to enhancing fan experience through VR. Currently in their stadium, fans can run down the field, and attempt to avoid the Cowboys defense while they try to tackle the user. They have also created an augmented reality experience, in which attendees can take pictures with digital recreations of their favorite Dallas Cowboys players. 5G will allow many more of these types of fan experiences at events.
Outdoor Venue Challenges
The next panel, titled The Great Outdoors: Stadiums, Amphitheaters, Festivals and the Evolution of the Open-Air Experience, featured executives from Target Field, Lie Nation, Forest Hills Stadium, Silverstone Circuits Entertainment, and Founders Entertainment which organizes GovBall in New York City.
A topic which was heavily discussed was weather, and what can venues do in a last minute thunder or lightning storm during an outdoor event. Venue and event professionals have s much data at the topics of their fingers how when it comes to weather and storms, but as we all know, weather can change in a hurry. GovBall in particular had to deal with a weather emergency this year, when they had to evacuate over 35,000 people Randall's Island when a storm changed it's course last minute. What made it worse, the weather looked fine when the announcement was made, frustrating attendees. Technology has been able to help with communication to attendees, as many festivals or concerts have a mobile app or the organizers have the cell phone number of attendees to send them emergency alerts. The consensus was that at the end of the day, organizers need to use all the data they have, and make a judgement call, while maintaining attendee safety as a priority. Stuart Pringle of Silverstone Circuits which holds Formula 1 events in England also mentioned, half jokingly but also with sincerity, that the cancellation insurance policy which the venue purchased was some of the best money spent.
Much more than weather was discussed; listen to Tom Russel of Founder Entertainment discuss how festival programming has evolved.
How Venues and Sporting Events Approach Decreased Attendance Numbers
It's no surprise that millennials are attending traditional sports events less and less. With more types of entertainment available than ever before, live events need to continuously innovate and help increase fan engagement for attendees. Michael A. Neuman of Scout Sports and Entertainment, a division of Horizon Media, weighed in on this paradigm shift.