The Luxury Stadium Experience

August 11, 2015

If you’ve stepped inside a stadium or arena over the past few years, you’ll have noticed a shift in the overall experience. While hotdogs, foam fingers and rowdy fans are still present, many new and, more significantly, upscale additions are becoming standard practice. You’re now just as likely to find microbrews and artisanal delicacies, as you are peanuts and crackerjack.

I’m sure the thought of indulging in something other than a foot-long and a tall, cold Budweiser during a game might make old school sports fans cringe. But elevating dining options and extending to the masses the type of service attendees might experience in luxury boxes makes perfect business sense. While the need to fill seats has been one of the driving forces behind this luxury stadium renaissance, there are other aspects at play.

COMPETITION IS STRONG, AND NOT JUST FROM OTHER SPORTING EVENTS 

We are living in a time with the greatest number of entertainment options – options that are constantly competing to demonstrate the best combination of value and experience. And it’s not just other sporting and entertainment events that stadium owners battle. With expansive home theaters becoming increasingly popular, the “comforts of home” are increasingly stealing fan-share. Factor in record ticket prices and stadiums have needed to step up their game. An interesting recent trend has been strategic partnerships between stadiums and brands from outside of the sports category. The GQ barbershop at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Sky Studios behind-the-scenes experience at London’s O2 Arenaboth offer attendees unique and unexpected game-day attractions that are memorable and succeed at capturing the attention of passive fans.

FOODIES ARE SPORTS FANS TOO

The rise of the foodie has had a profound effect on food culture, and this impact has resonated within ballparks and stadiums. Discerning consumers not only want to try unique fare, but also want to be inspired with every bite they take – and this interest has extended far beyond restaurants. Ty Cobb is probably rolling in his grave watching baseball fans nosh on quinoa and truffle fries within the sacred grounds of America’s ballparks. Of course, encouraging passive fans to spend money at those same ballparks would contribute to his salary were he still playing today.

THE GROWTH OF ON-DEMAND 

The explosion of the on-demand economy has placed everything from car services to home improvement just a tap away.

This proliferation has made our lives easier and more efficient, but has also created a widespread impatience.

On-demand is partially the reason why more stadiums are offering in-seat wait staff service. The other reason rests firmly on the idea that spending good money on decent seats should also bring with it an elevated level of service.

On a recent trip to Yankee Stadium, I was somewhat surprised by the prevalence of these elevated experiences. Having visited stadiums in Seattle, Houston, Chicago, Baltimore and DC, I knew what to expect. But the Bronx Bombers’ home still offered some surprises. From wait staff serving large sections of box seats, to concession menus offering chef-inspired fare, the shift toward upscale was highly visible. It was also effective. I brought along a friend whose interest in baseball is minimal. However, the various food and beer offerings piqued his interest to the point where he spent an entire inning cruising the concourse just to see what he could find.

On our way to the train after the game, I wanted to gauge his experience. On the positive side he raved about the food options, and how going to a game now is so much better than he remembered from his childhood. Would he go again? “Absolutely,” he replied. “I’ll be honest, the game was super boring, but the food was incredible.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

More than ever before, stadium operators are approaching their challenge the same way that successful brands tackle their business – by crafting an experience where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Giving people an excuse to indulge in a sporting event means demonstrating the worth of the entire in-stadium experience.

In an age where our entertainment options are growing daily, enticing new attendees while retaining existing fans means raising the bar and expanding the experience. Just make sure the next time you visit a stadium you bring plenty of cash and a healthy appetite.

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