The Key Ingredients Of A World Class Stadium- Michael Cunnah

February 13, 2012

A world class stadium needs to be iconic to help the owners to secure events to build a busy and compelling business plan.  The iconic nature of a stadium is usually defined by its design and sometimes by a particular feature – eg. Wembley Stadium with its arch, or the Allianz Stadium with its distinctive exterior. Despite the need to be iconic, the appearance of the stadium it is not the most important aspect of the design. World class stadia can only justify this description if they deliver a fabulous customer experience. The quality of the customer experience is determined by the commercial and operational capabilities of the stadium. World class stadia are commercial successes; those that are not are a burden on the owners or tax payers. At worst, they are a white elephant.

In the last ten years, public buildings such as airports and railway stations have become very dependent upon technology to control almost every aspect of their operations. Despite the enormous benefits to be gained, stadia have been relatively slow to adopt technology and have not yet taken full advantage of its capabilities. Stadium design now needs to be much more sophisticated through maximising the use of available technology.

So many sports events are televised that spectators often have the choice as to whether to stay at home and watch the event or go to the stadium. Those in the stadium enjoy the atmosphere of the live event but many prefer to watch at home because of the comfort and because they now have a fantastic array of entertainment. Those at home can watch the game from all angles as the broadcasters use up to 60 camera positions; they get replays of key passages of play and expert analysis. It is undoubtedly true that, at the moment, those who stay at home are more aware of what has happened during the event than those who are in the stadium.

The challenge for stadium owners and designers is to deliver the comfort and entertainment of home, combined with the excitement of the live atmosphere. Stadia that do will be truly world class.

World class stadia will include the following-

1. Entertainment

Large screens deliver a shared experience for everyone in the stadium, small screens allow fans to have personalised entertainment. A lack of investment in the technical infrastructure has, to date, constrained the available entertainment within stadia, primarily because stadium owners are uncertain as to whether such activity has a financial payback. The outstanding question for owners is “can these fan offerings be monetised?” There may also be some concern as to the reliability of the technology.

Once uncertainty is overcome, personalised entertainment through fans’ smart phones will be commonplace. Those fans attending a live game will expect to be able to see the same replays and expert analysis that everyone at home enjoys. They will be able to receive match day information, tweet and participate in other social media with friends,  place bets, order food and drink, respond to on-line competitions and many other activities that are still be developed.

Stadium owners will find ways to monetise these offerings but more importantly, fans are going to insist on these facilities anyway. Going to the game has to be the ultimate experience not a compromise.

2. Comfort

Sitting at home on the sofa is a very comfortable experience. This will never be perfectly replicated in the stadium however the discomfort needs to be removed from the stadium experience. Largely this can be achieved through space and plenty of it. Sitting or standing in an inadequate space is uncomfortable. Queuing for long periods, to use toilets or get food or drink is unacceptable.

Every seat in a stadium needs to be wide enough and have the leg room to make it a pleasant experience. Fans are not battery hens; they need to be able to move around. When they do move around they should expect that walkways are wide enough, the areas around bars or TV screens are more than adequate for hanging around and for meeting and chatting to others to enhance the communal experience.

Space costs money. To really deliver space to the fan within a stadium will cost money. The stadium will probably need to be bigger than it has traditionally been. Stadia may even need to be a different shape. To date, stadia have typically been developed as a tall thin building around the playing field.  Space in communal areas has often been limited by the width of the building. The mindset has to change so that the shape and size of a building is determined by its function and not its proximity to a playing field.

3. Commercial

Through screens large and small, the stadium owners and their commercial partners have the power to pour out messages to their patrons. Through innovative, centralised digital and content distribution stadium owners can send different messages / content to every single screen in the stadium – even if there are a thousand of them. This means that sponsors and advertisers can really target the customers that they would like to reach.

Some sponsors might like to sponsor and provide tailored images to the screens in the corporate lounge. Others might want to sponsor and have images on the screens in one of the public areas. The stadium might package these rights for parts of the game i.e. one company could sponsor the corporate lounge for the first half of a game and another could sponsor it for the second half, with screen time shared accordingly.

The capability of this type of in-stadium technology means that the size and quality of the commercial programme is only limited by the creativity of those that are involved in its design. Some creative commercial managers or sponsors will come up with some fantastic ideas. This will blur the lines between sponsorship, advertising and entertainment. It will all be part of the live experience. The Americans have always been ahead of the rest of the world in thinking about and delivering in-stadium experiences and it may be no coincidence that Cisco, an American company, has designed StadiumVision, a package which delivers incredible possibilities in this area.

4. Flexibility

A stadium is normally limited in the number of events that it hosts. A stadium might have (say) 30 events annually and therefore have 335 days per year when the stadium is potentially unused. The challenge for all stadium owners is to build flexible facilities that can be quickly converted from one type of event to another. The possibilities for the combination of events are limitless and dependent upon the local market. In Houston, Texas the Reliance Stadium hosts rodeo and NFL football, many Australian stadia host cricket and Aussie rules football and, in England, Wembley has hosted football, rugby, concerts, motor racing, NFL football and many more events. Even greater flexibility will be achieved by more easily dividing large stadia into smaller arenas to increase the type and number of events that can be hosted.

The flexibility of a stadium is limited by the fixed nature of the structure and key features, such as seating. World class stadia will, in future, be very flexible because they will include easily removable seats so that smaller events can be held without that dreadful feeing that comes from seeing so many empty seats in an oversized venue. It would be commercially attractive and add to the customer experience if large stadia could be adapted in this way.

There are some very sophisticated seating systems that allow them to be installed or removed in hours. This allows stadium owners to respond to games with huge demand by putting in extra seats. When the demand is less the seats can be excluded and the space that is freed up could be used to provide more food, drink and other commercial concessions. Temporary commercial concessions are very convenient for such purposes as they are easy to install and would have a very attractive payback as well as adding significantly to the customer comfort and experience.

World class stadia will be less about permanent, immovable facilities and more and more about the inclusion of flexible seating and other key facilities. The more that the stadium can be temporary by nature, the greater the flexibility of the stadium and the better will be the stadium’s business plan.

5. Environmental sustainability

Sport is not very environmentally friendly. Fans travel miles to attend events which consume huge amounts of power and water and generate tons and tons of rubbish.

World class stadia will be those whose net impact on the environment is negligible. Stadia could generate their own electricity, even be a net contributor to the national grid. They can use their roofs to catch rain to be used within the stadium.

Events can become zero-waste. Everything that fans dispose of can be re-cycled or composted.  World class stadia will be environmentally friendly.

The importance of detailed operational design in creating world class stadia

Too often stadium construction is undertaken before some key questions are addressed.  Who are we, what is the commercial opportunity, how do we sit within the local community and how does this impact on the business plan? If not tackled up front, key issues will arise during the build and will still need to be addressed. This adds cost through re-design and sometimes through re-work.

Key elements such as commercial capability, operational flexibility, technology and environmental sustainability are far more important than the look and shape of the building in which they are housed. World class stadium design in the future will stay in the design brief stage for much, much longer. The key design work will be completed by the operators, the commercial managers and the technologists. Input from the architects at this stage will be minimal. As stadia get more sophisticated, the challenge will be to keep up to date with technological developments. It will be imperative that the detailed operational design includes a digital network that will be easily updated and upgraded in the future.

Commercial and operational design is very iterative as one impacts the other and both need to use technology to produce the best results. The challenge for architects is to make suggestions during the design process that improve the operational capability of a stadium. They should contribute to the creation of the design brief but not control it. Commercial, operational and technological aspects of a stadium should be the starting point for design and not, as sometimes seems to be the case, retrofitted at a later stage.

When the detailed design brief is completed, and only when this document exists in great detail, it can be handed to the architects who will design the building which delivers all of the specified operational requirements. The commercial and operational managers who created the design brief should stay involved in the design of the stadium and also through the construction phase. In this way stadia will be fit for purpose and well-coordinated to deliver an excellent customer experience and achieve the business plan targets.

About Michael Cunnah:

From 1998-2001, Michael was the Chief Financial Officer for The Football Association. He was responsible for guiding English football’s governing body and its finances through a period of strong commercial growth. He also Initiated the creation of the Football Foundation, which has raised more than £500m for the development of grass-roots football for the purpose of maximisng participation in the game.

From 2001-2006, Michael worked as Chief Executive Officer for Wembley National Stadium Ltd where he was guided Wembley National Stadium Ltd (WNSL) from a perilous financial position – with a very uncertain future – to become a huge commercial success with much public acclaim for the new National Stadium itself.

His CV also boasts a stint with Aston Villa F.C as Chief Operating Officer from 2007-2008.  He is currently the Chairman of Mobsventures Ltd, a Strategic Advisor at Jamaica Village Ltd, Director of Int’l Media Content Ltd and the Managing Director at International Services Group.

Michael has been a Strategic Advisor at iSportconnect since Feb 2011.

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