After years of “bigger is better” sports facility planning and design, trends are now pointing towards smaller venues. In response to the trend, facility owners are removing seats in existing arenas and replacing them with space for a wide array of features aimed at improving the fan experience and increasing general revenue opportunities.
“The attendance shifts have been dramatic over a period of two decades,” Melnyk told reporters Thursday. “The whole trend now is less seats and more clubs and frankly smaller stadiums.
“When you look at things like a new stadium downtown, we’re not going to build a 20,000-seat stadium. It will probably be closer to 15,000-17,000 in there.”
This from a team that made it to the Atlantic Division Conference final last season.
In a recent interview with Sports Business Daily, Tim Romani, founder and CEO of Icon Venue Group, commented on the current arena trend:
“Overall, there is a move to downsize capacity. It’s happening up top, but not in the lower bowl or in the P1 [top-tier] premium areas, because 70 to 80 percent of the ticket revenue still comes from the first 15 to 20 rows. There’s a real focus on making sure that those counts are right.
The concept of a shrinking arenas can be difficult to grasp, or not take as a negative for live sporting events because the traditional seating bowl (venue layout) has been in place for decades. But that is changing.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
First and foremost, reducing the number of seats in an arena does not necessarily correlate to a reduction in the popularity of a team or sport. It is more directly related to a shift in generational and cultural values and the public’s desire to attend traditional live events – A shift from the traditional “sitting in a seat” to a need for enhanced, variable and dynamic experiences. In short, arena sizes aren’t drastically changing, but the contents and uses inside the arena are (continuously) evolving. And this will continue.
Seat reduction at the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field. In the NFL, local television broadcast availability is dependent on official “sellouts” status, thus empty seats take on added significance. (Photo: The Fantasy Football Guys)
STATIC PLANNING FOR A DYNAMIC VARIABLE
Planning and designing for a new arena is much like trying to hit a moving target, as live event attendance and pop cultures are continually evolving and shifting. All Sports Facility designs represent what was best for the times the facility was designed. While all degrees of facility planning include forms of long-range forecasts and future predictive models, the fact of the matter is they don’t take into consideration cultural values and other ethereal values. Simply put, Arena “right-sizing” is a tricky game that changes with time.
Having said that, there ARE additional factors leading to the current trend in sporting event attendance. Increased ticket and concession prices and transportation challenges are being countered with a wide array of event participation alternatives including live streaming, social media participation other digital experiences. (A team’s poor performance will obviously affect numbers as well.) The trick for owners is monetizing the new experiences.
[Editorial reminder for Caps fans: Ted Leonsis inherited a terrible lease on the Capital One Arena (formerly Verizon Center) when he purchased the franchise (Leonsis has stated it’s the worst deal in the league). As a result, Ted’s hands have been essentially tied to some extent, with regards to pricing and budget management for the Capitals.]
Shifting Cultural Values
Existing facilities are also currently adapting to meet the new needs of millennials who are more interested in hanging out than sitting in a seat to watch the game. (AKA short attention span syndrome for us old fogeys).
One benefit to “right-sizing” arenas that hasn’t been mentioned is the overall affect on the fans and the home teams. The sight oempty seats does no one any good, including fans attending the game and the perception to the home team.
Anyway, the bottom line? The only constant in life is change, and that can also be stated for Sports Arenas. And this is a good thing.
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By Jon Sorensen