Member Insights: “Following Corona We Need To Show Fans The Added Value Of Coming To The Stadium”
By Ben Page | August 24, 2020
In the UK, trial events are underway as the British government looks to find a safe method to provide reintroduction for sports fans back to stadiums. Meanwhile, across some areas of Europe, where the pandemic is more under control, this process is much further ahead. Hungary’s Groupama Arena, home to Ferencvárosi TC, the reigning Hungarian football champions, was the first stadium in Europe to reopen following the coronavirus crisis.
So how were the team at the arena able to make this possible? iSportconnect spoke to Jens Koenig, Vice President Stadium and Arenas for SPORTFIVE and Andras Igaz, SPORTFIVE HUNGARY’s Managing Director in charge of the operations and commercial aspects of Groupama Arena.
So guys, it must be very pleasing to have been able to be the first stadium to reopen, how were you able to make this possible?
Andras: Hungary is in a fortunate position because it seems that the first wave of the COVID situation has been successfully handled by our country. Therefore, the government decided we could let fans back into the stands as early as May. In the first matches, our stadium was partially open with 4000 real people and 8000 cardboard cutout supporters!
Together with the club and the football association, we have taken very serious measures to make everyone feel safe. We created several official zones to provide the highest level of security. The SPORT zone was only for players, coaches and staff working at pitch level (where a negative PCR Covid test was mandatory within 24-36 hours) and a separate protocol zone for VIP guests. On a matchday each person could enter only one of the zones.
Nobody can eliminate the risk 100%, but when cases are as low as in Hungary, I think it’s reasonable to give people a chance to get back to some their normality in life.
Many tests were performed, disinfection points established and mandatory spacing required. Fans could only sit in every fourth seat and we had signs everywhere on the floor. The last two matches were fantastic, the level of infection dropped so much in Hungary that we were able to completely open our stadium, so returned with a full house derby win and championship title, which was an incredible experience!
Jens: I think an advantage was that we have quite a new and modern stadium, so there were good pre-conditions to open again in this situation of the pandemic in Hungary. Nobody can eliminate the risk 100%, but when cases are as low as in Hungary, I think it’s reasonable to give people a chance to get back to some their normality in life. We’re very happy to be part of that, but it had to be safe, so we provided a lot of information to our guests and did what made sense and luckily it worked out.
On the whole, the industry has been suffering greatly all around the world due to the virus, is reopening stadiums and arenas where safe to do so key in order to ensure survival of the industry and many businesses?
Jens: Survival is always a difficult word right now in terms of a pandemic, but indeed it is very important for stadium operators, football clubs to develop a scenario that is more than a completely empty arena. I don’t even want to talk about concert venues like indoor arenas that rely on entertainment shows, I think they’ve suffered the most!
The priority is safety, if you have a lot of cases, you can’t open the arena for spectators. But if it is under control as much as possible and you can track infected people to avoid super spreader events, then I think it’s essential, not only for the industry, but as well for the people. The entertainment industry has to adapt to these circumstances, and it has always been able to adapt, whether that was for seating only stadiums, hooliganism, terror, weather and I think this will be another adaptation process.
While the games have been postponed for the past couple of months, what activities have you been running around the stadium in the meantime?
Andras: Unfortunately, we had to limit our on-site personal community experiences in the first matches, but we extended the digital experience via activations we could provide not only to fans at home but those in the stadium.
It’s important for the club, stadium, football association and the broadcasters to be able to work together effectively. Everyone’s goal is to serve the fans 100%, we all understood the situation, and I am proud that it was respected by all parties, that the priorities were redrawn.
Jens: I’m very proud of the Hungarian team and happy with how we coped with this completely new situation. We have Andras and his team on site who had support from the hub in Germany when it came to ad-hoc digital sponsorship campaigns. Besides that, the team developed several “hands on community support activities”.
How quickly we created, for example, the cooking for hero’s activity using our facilities, stadium kitchen and caterers to serve hospitals was great to see. And our younger employees took the time to deliver food packages to older Ferencváros season ticket holders during the pandemic’s peak after we tracked down over 500 people over 65 from our database and helped to do their shopping with our team.
How was your relationship with sponsors in terms of compensation for lost sponsorship around the stadium?
Andras: Everyone understood that we now need to come together and help each other, so we had exemplary discussions with them. Fans and sponsors also gave touching support to the club and showed how much they loved this community.
How have FTC’s commercial areas developed since moving to the new arena in 2014, both from a sporting and commercial side?
Jens: There were areas we were good in from the beginning, especially sponsorship. We have a great naming rights partner, Groupama with who we partnered up before the stadium was opened.
We had to establish sports sponsorship as a relatively new channel in a market, traditional advertising like TV and print, but after a few hiccups in the startup phase we established a broad partnership level below our Naming Right partner Groupama and our main sponsor, the Hungarian Telekom. Especially our exclusive partnership with Penny, a supermarket chain from Germany, started out smaller and has developed into one of our main partners, which is the kind of success story we are working for in the sales department.
In recent months, humanity has had to face something that it has not really encountered before. It encourages everyone to be human, to cooperate and to help. I see an exemplary collaboration on the international and domestic scene.
We have a lot of information of the preferences of our ticket holders due to our Ticketing and CRM system and our Tickets are personalised. This makes the stadium a safe environment. Furthermore, we can provide offers to our guests that add value to their experience.
In the last five years we’ve been awarded multiple times the best event facility in Hungary and we didn’t plan before that we would be so successful in the area of corporate events. The key to success is the close cooperation between the club and us as their sales agency and stadium operator. Both sides know to appreciate each other’s competencies. Andras is Sportfive Hungary’s MD, but I think many people would say he is as well an employee of the club and I think that is why it works.
Something a number of people in sport have spoken about during Covid is greater communication between others in the sports industry, how do you work with others to develop and improve?
Andras: In recent months, humanity has had to face something that it has not really encountered before. It encourages everyone to be human, to cooperate and to help. I see an exemplary collaboration on the international and domestic scene. We do it together, we experience it, we learn it.
Hungary is a smaller market compared to the big five so, although we might work a bit under the radar here from an international perspective, I can say that our operation here is on a very high level.
Everyone was watching the other for what he was doing. SPORTFIVE headquarters helped us to quickly share international opinions internally and we could share our thoughts as well and the Headquarter created a new daily newsletter because of the situation. Colleagues were able to say how they feel, how they can handle the current situation and think together about how we can serve our clients in this position.
How do you plan to continue innovating and improving the fan experience at the arena and for the club as a whole, what is key going forward?
Andras: At the end of 2019, we had defined the main guidelines that should characterise this year. This had to be changed partly but we intend to keep the same goals. This means progressing the digitisation of Groupama Arena and continuing to work on our Green Arena project.
These two campaigns are in line with how we can handle the new situation. We’re trying to develop the fan experience programs so that they work both for fans at home and those inside the stadium, which is a nice challenge. It’s important to develop the infrastructure of the stadium, as home comfort competes with the services of the stadium.
Jens: Hungary is a smaller market compared to the big five so, although we might work a bit under the radar here from an international perspective, I can say that our operation here is on a very high level. Corona slowed a few things down and sped some others up.
I think following Corona we need to show the added value to the fans of coming to the stadium. Some say, it is the atmosphere why they come to the stadium, but others might say why should I go when I have more information, different camera angles and am much more comfortable in my living room with huge ultra HD TV and a my mobile as a second screen.
We will focus even more on the small details that make the difference for a stadium visitor in the future. I think following Corona we need to show the added value to the fans of coming to the stadium. Some say, it is the atmosphere why they come to the stadium, but others might say why should I go when I have more information, different camera angles and am much more comfortable in my living room with huge ultra HD TV and a my mobile as a second screen.
That’s what we want to further develop, we want to provide a completely disruption free experience for our visitors. Let’s call it operations 2.0 to increase the experience of everyone who visits the stadium. It’s about both the connection to the fan and how you can involve our partners in that to provide added value for both.
We have an obligation to make it even safer than in the past due to the virus, but also more comfortable, cleaner, provide greater content options. Those content options are interesting for our partners as well. Our database has over 150,000 registered fans in a market that has a 10 million population, if we’re able to find out what our fans need from our partners and which services they would like to get from us it is beneficial for all.. We don’t want to fire out a lot of offers that aren’t relevant; we want to use data to connect provide the right offer at the best time and location to the receptive supporter.