Today’s sports venues are taking the viewing experience outside
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
High ticket prices have often discouraged fans from seeing a game at their local sports arena or stadium. Teams have recognized this, and in recent years have allowed fans to watch the big game on large screens outside with hundreds, if not thousands, of other individuals like themselves.
Not only has this furthered game-day revenue for franchises, but it has also been expanded upon with the creation of sports districts — blocks surrounding arenas and stadiums that cater to fans on game day and beyond.
As millennials are looking to live, work and play in a city's downtown core, developers have taken note. While past stadiums and arenas were often built in the suburbs or areas difficult to travel to, today's buildings are serving as anchor tenants that are close to public transit and a variety of restaurants, hotels, offices and other entertainment options.
Fans can attend games inside their team's building, and also outside — with outdoor viewing parties being held on large screens around the building.
"Originally, the idea was that you would build a new [sports] facility and then everything would occur around it naturally. But this doesn't always happen," Dan Mason, a professor of sport management at the University of Alberta, told the Globe and Mail.
Today's plans must be strategic in order to create developments that benefit the city as well as the public. Public viewings have allowed both arenas and nearby hospitality vendors a place for fans to gather, eat and watch.
Over the past few years, the Air Canada Centre has designated its public square as the go-to fan zone for sports action. Known as Maple Leaf Square when the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs are playing, and as Jurassic Park when the NBA's Toronto Raptors are playing, fans are able to buy food, beer and team merchandise while watching the game on a 50-by-80-foot video screen.
Ford has signed a five-year sponsorship deal with Maple Leaf Square, and hosts the Ford Fan Zone on game days, allowing fans to partake in activities, contests and free merchandise giveaways.
Teams have been experimenting with different viewing experiences. This past spring, the NHL's Edmonton Oilers offered fans an $80 concourse pass for the playoffs. This admitted them into the arena, but did not include a seat in the stands to watch the game — fans were encouraged to watch the game on the TVs in the concourse.
Not everyone was a fan of the idea, as many pointed out that it would negatively impact fire escape routes, overall crowding and result in lengthy lines to both washrooms and concession stands. The consensus was that one could have a cheaper night out at a local bar, with less crowding and a place to sit.
While it's uncertain if the concourse pass will continue into future seasons, Edmonton's Rogers Place is only a year old and is home to the still-growing Ice District. If fans do not want to hang around a crowded concourse to be a part of the action, they are sure to find the game being broadcasted nearby.
Hockey isn't the only sport to create districts devoted to the game. In 2018, Texas Live! will be making its debut in Arlington, Texas. Marketed as a “$1.25 billion stadium and mixed-use district featuring dining, entertainment, hotel and a convention facility," the new sports district of the Texas Rangers will create thousands of jobs and bolster the local economy. Beyond game-day, the district will host community events and will be home to breweries, smokehouses and more.
Heading over to the Bay Area, the new home of the Golden State Warriors' arena, Chase Center, is set to open in San Francisco in 2019. Located close to AT&T Park, 11 acres of land will be home to a 35,000-square-foot public plaza for game-day viewing, as well as restaurants, offices and a bay-front park that will connect with bike paths and local transit.
Much like Texas Live!, the area will be used an event space beyond Warriors game days, and will see fireworks over the Bay on holidays. One of the best parts of this new development? Taxpayers aren't being held responsible to fund the project. The Mercury News reported that the Chase Center is the nation's first 100 percent privately financed sports arena.
In some cases, funding has proven to be a point of contention. The Calgary Flames have yet to reach an agreement with the City of Calgary for a new sports venue. Built in 1983, their current arena, the Scotiabank Saddledome, is the oldest building in the NHL.
Team president of hockey operations, Brian Burke, stated that, "We're not going to make the threat to leave. We'll just leave," should a deal not be reached. Given his gruff reputation, his words should be taken with a grain of salt. The Flames are continuing to look for government support.
Beyond finances and construction, issues such as crowd control and security are important to consider. Potential threats were amplified with 9/11, and have been at the forefront in recent years with attacks in public event spaces, most recently with the Manchester Arena bombing during an Ariana Grande concert. Considering the densities of several downtown cores, ensuring the public's safety on game day and beyond is already a top priority.
With new arenas, stadiums and districts slated to pop up over the next few years, there are plenty of opportunities for teams to provide an innovative fan experience, even if the fans aren't in the stands. Not only will sports franchises profit from expanded viewing opportunities, but so will the community, benefiting from employment opportunities, increased hospitality revenues and a new way of enjoying a sporting event.
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