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Innovation

Executives Outline Predictions for Arena and Stadium Concessions in 2019

Professionals from leagues, teams, arenas, and vendors offer their thoughts on changes and innovations coming to concessions stands.

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Photo via Aramark

Despite dealing with food and beverage, technology dominates sports executives’ concession predictions in 2019.

The past few years have seen concession stands trend toward more innovative food offerings, cheaper prices, and local options. Most executives dealing in concessions expect more of the same in 2019, but there’s a common theme of experimentation with serving fans quicker and more efficiently with technology.

Perhaps driving the quest for technology in concessions is the importance of time to consumers, said Carl Mittleman, president of Aramark Sports & Entertainment. Aramark is one of the major concession vendors in professional sports.

Mittleman pointed to several innovations at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., like the self-ordering kiosks, Pour Your Own Beer Wall and Federal Favorites Express, with the Mashgin Self-Serve technology.

“Time is becoming more and more important to the consumer, which is driving us to test technology, methods of service and overall offerings to meet the demand,” Mittleman said.

READ MORE: Tech Innovations and Highly Anticipated Discussions Cued Up at CES Sports Zone

Atlanta Hawks Executive Vice President Brett Stefansson agreed with Mittleman that kiosks will be more common, just as they are in the fast food industry. It’s all about getting fans through the lines and back to their seats.

“We’ll continue to see a push in every aspect on the tech side and what it means for quick and easy delivery to seats,” Stefansson said. “There will be a harder core look at kiosk ordering. You see that push in fast food service locations. There’s a lot of people talking and dipping of toes.”

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to technology in stadium concessions, said Chris Bigelow, a concessions consultant. There will be continued experimentation with technology, he said, but there will be a fine balance.

“There for a while it was all about efficiency and how do you pre-wrap items and have it ready to go,” Bigelow said. “But people don’t mind waiting in line when it’s coming right out of the wood-burning oven.”

Among the most creative and newsworthy teams in concessions has been the Seattle Mariners, who will continue to look to appeal to more fans. The team responsible for the T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) concessions spends the winter visiting local restaurants for ideas, said Steve Dominguez, the regional vice president for vendor Centerplate at T-Mobile Park. Not to be left out of the technology predictions, Dominguez said the payment technologies will be further streamlined.

“We like to think that our offering at Mariners games is like operating a hyperlocal restaurant for thousands of fans at once,” Dominguez said.

“Local” has been a focus at stadiums and arenas across the country the past few years, but Dominguez’s “hyperlocal” term resonates with Mittleman.

“Local doesn’t cut it anymore — hyper and flexible local are becoming more and more popular,” Mittleman said. “Guests are looking for menus representing the community, culture, and flavors that surround them.”

Also growing will be the offerings for special diets within sporting events.

The Head Chef at T-Mobile Park, Taylor Park, has a nutrition degree, which helps expand healthy offerings at the stadium, Dominguez said.

“We are going to further enhance the gluten-free and vegan nights with the Mariners,” he said. “And ensure that we have those items available in abundance throughout the season. At the end of the day, though, the standard ballpark fare is not going anywhere either.”

READ MORE: Eat Up! Here’s Why Fans Can Expect Continued Concession Innovation and Lower Prices

For those standard ballpark foods, Stefansson from the Hawks said he expects continued pressure on fan-friendly pricing.

“It’s not just the price pressure,” Stefansson he said. “With the demand on pricing, there’s a higher demand on quality products. The quality is important to us even in basic foods like chicken fingers. For example, ours is locally sourced and fresh, not frozen.”

The local options, specialized diets, wacky food offerings and friendly pricing making their ways into major league venues was a long time coming, said David Wright, CMO of Minor League Baseball.

“MiLB has been a leader and the rest is catching up. Food is such a big part of the Minor League Baseball experience,” Wright said. “If you go to one of our 160 ballparks, it’s incredibly local, very personal to that market. That will only continue. As hospitality and viewership become more personalized, food and beverage will be a big, big part of that.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Innovation

Mesh Seats Help Showcase Innovation at New Las Vegas Ballpark

The Las Vegas Ballpark is set to open this year with brand new mesh seats that promise to keep fans cool and comfortable in the Las Vegas sun.

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Photo via Las Vegas Ballpark

When Las Vegas Ballpark opens on April 9, more than three decades of stadium advancements will be on display.

The old stadium, Cashman Field, opened in 1983 and was already out of date by 1993, said Don Logan, president and COO of the Las Vegas Aviators, the recently rebranded moniker of the AAA team. The team also signed a development agreement this fall with the Oakland Athletics, after its agreement with the New York Mets expired.

Despite stadiums quickly surpassing Cashman, it took another 25 years to break ground on a new venue.

“Cashman, I hate to bash it, but it just outgrew its usefulness,” Logan said. “The world changed and it didn’t.”

Enter the Howard Hughes Corporation, a major land developer in Las Vegas — specifically behind the Summerlin neighborhood. The company purchased the Las Vegas 51s in 2013. With more than 400 acres at its disposal for Downtown Summerlin — about half of which is developed — a space was reserved for the Las Vegas Ballpark, an approximately $150 million project right next door to the corporate headquarters and practice facility of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

READ MORE: Minor League Baseball Showcasing Deeper Partnership Connections With Hot Dogs

The two sports facilities are at the center of a master-planned community meant to provide an idealistic “live, work, play” environment in Las Vegas. More than 4,000 urban residential units can be built around the stadium in the near future.

“Even in 2011, I’m not sure we’d see iconic sports facilities in downtown Summerlin,” said Tom Warden, Howard Hughes Corporation senior vice president of community and government relations. “It’s a lot of opportunities for the team and also for Summerlin; we view this as an amenity for the Summerlin community.”

The new stadium has greatly improved amenities in all aspects, largely focused on player development and fan amenities, with a capacity for 10,000.

The centerpiece might be the video board, which Logan said is in the top 25-largest in all of organized baseball with 3,930 square feet of digital space. On off nights, movies might be played on screen for community residents.

A big consideration behind much of the Las Vegas Ballpark design was the high heat of Southern Nevada summers. The seats in the stadium are mesh, which greatly reduces the heat on spectator backsides. Logan said when a summer day reaches 110 degrees, plastic and metal seats can reach near 200 degrees. The mesh seats maintain temperatures below 100 degrees.

Likewise, there are giant fans from the company Big Ass Fans circulating air throughout the concourse. Fans can navigate the stadium 360 degrees with various destinations throughout to keep fans occupied and in the stadium, Logan said.

In the outfield, a swimming pool will look out at the field. A kids splash pad is also found in the stadium.

“This is all a tribute to the Hughes Corporation being willing to spend money where it matters and improve the experience,” Logan said. “We want to make people more comfortable and want to come back more often.”

The suite level will have two end caps with walkout party decks with capacity for 350 people.

Logan also said the food and beverage program will be much more aligned to modern minor league baseball than Cashman was and more indicative of the Summerlin community. They’ve even built in a show kitchen to bring in celebrity chefs to cook for fans.

“What other Triple-A team has the ability to do that?” Warden asked.

For players, they too get a respite from the baseball season heat. Cashman Field had no indoor batting cages, weight training or rehabilitation center. The facilities were regularly regarded among the bottom of organized baseball.

READ MORE: The Minor League Baseball of the Future

Now, there’s three indoor batting cages under the right-field stands, as well as greatly improved player facilities for better development.

The organization is already in talks with college conferences to host tournaments, and it plans on hosting more MLB exhibitions than the one or two a season at Cashman. The Aviators’ former stadium is still home to the Las Vegas Lights, the city’s United Soccer League team.

Las Vegas Ballpark is one of two Minor League Baseball stadiums opening next season, along with Advanced Class-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers.

“We’ll be the belle of the ball,” Logan said. “The good thing is we had 35 years to learn from and improve on, and we’re benefiting from all of it.”

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Innovation

Gratitude Helps Chelsea FC Unlock Winning Engagement Strategy

Over the holiday season, Chelsea FC launched #CFCFansgiving, a social campaign designed to honor its most loyal American fans.

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Photo via Chelsea FC

The holiday season has come and gone; so have the social posts from brands honoring the several weeks of heightened spirits.

Amidst the traditional holiday posts from different brands, however, was a full-fledged social campaign from an English club that started by celebrating a very non-English holiday. In November, Chelsea FC launched a multi-week campaign to celebrate Thanksgiving — a holiday that, at a glance, wouldn’t be a brand fit for the London-based club — and the rest of the holiday season. 

The soccer world is still buzzing about it weeks later. The campaign, branded #CFCFansgiving, was designed for Chelsea’s American fan base and executed on @ChelseaFCinUSA, the club’s new U.S.-specific handle that launched earlier this year.

During the week of Thanksgiving, Chelsea showed appreciation to its U.S. family by deploying over 200 random acts of kindness to fans across the States. Recipients of these surprise-and-delight moments were chosen either through nominations by fellow U.S. fans or based on their use of The 5th Stand — Chelsea’s mobile app and the chelseafc.com website.

READ MORE: Super Soccer Stars Grows Its Presence in the Health and Wellness Space

Surprises coming out of the campaign included a father and son duo from Los Angeles receiving a trip to London to watch Chelsea play live; recognition of two youth soccer leaders from the D.C. area; and a donation to fight ALS in honor of a fan suffering from the disease.

Many more fans were sent #CFCFansgiving gift boxes that included autographed memorabilia, an authentic ‘18-19 home jersey, or a “your next drink on us” package that included two pint glasses and gift cards.

While the campaign was primarily executed during Thanksgiving, surprises from #CFCFansgiving lasted well into December when the club visited New York City for NBC’s Premier League Mornings Live event.

To wrap up the campaign, Chelsea surprised three members of New York Blues, a Chelsea supporters club, with a VIP experience at Barclays Center ahead of a Brooklyn Nets match. The club also treated them to dinner with former club player Eidur Gudjohnsen, and surprised them with a personalized message and autographed jersey from current star Eden Hazard.

“#CFCFansgiving was an incredible event, from the packages being sent out across the country, to the fan experiences with Eidur Gudjohnsen in New York. For American fans, Fansgiving not only made us feel part of the club, it made us feel valued as a fan base,” said New York winner Anshuman Bhatia.

Now looking ahead for new campaign ideas to execute in 2019, the club is set to ramp up its efforts in North America — and the strategy to engage with their loyal fans there is a smart one.

Many followers of the @ChelseaFCinUSA account have been fans of the club for years, supporting the team from overseas without there being any strong American ties.  The benefit of the new Twitter account is that it provides a home for these fans and content that is more tailored to their interests and culture than the main @ChelseaFC handle.

Some have questioned the need for U.S.-specific accounts for Premier League teams, given that the main club accounts are managed in English.

#CFCFansgiving is a prime example of the value that an account like @ChelseaFCinUSA can have.

READ MORE: Sacramento Republic FC Makes a Child’s Dream Come True

The content is tailored to the American audience whose holidays and interests often differ from those of Chelsea’s UK-based fans, making an activation like this successful in a way it wouldn’t be on the main handle. The fan community in the U.S. is also different in that they wake up early to watch matches being played thousands of miles away. The content generated by these accounts can play into those norms and bring together this community in a way that the main club account cannot.

Bhatia, like many others, hopes this is just the start of the club’s American fan interactions.

“It was a great experience, and I hope it’s the start of a growing connection between the club and their worldwide fan base,” said Bhatia.

#CFCFansgiving was a way for the club to honor the fans who loyally wake up to watch their club — no matter the time — and celebrate, for the first time, what it means to be a Chelsea fan in the United States.

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Innovation

Double Amputee and Paralympian Driver Finds Unique Way to Overcome Obstacles

Alex Zanardi designed hand controls to be able to continue racing and will pilot a BMW for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the upcoming race.

Kraig Doremus

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Photo via BMW

Go back to 2001 and take a look at who members of the motorsports community thought were the best drivers in the world.

Chances are, CART — now known as INDYCAR — driver Alex Zanardi was at the top of the list.

Tragically, Zanardi lost both of his legs in a racing accident then, but he’ll compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the first time on January 26-27.

The date was September 15, 2001, and Zanardi was competing at EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany. A violent crash resulted in having both of his legs amputated. Following the crash, Zanardi worked to recover and not only continued racing, but took up hand cycling. In the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, he won a combined six medals – four gold medals and two silver medals.

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation

Zanardi also continued racing. With a no-quit attitude and a strong backing from BMW, he has been able to race with the assistance of specially modified prosthesis. The kicker? Zanardi designed and built the hand controls himself. Between 2005 and 2009 he won four World Touring Car Championships and is ready to make his first start in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“It’s difficult to explain by emotions leading up to the Rolex 24 at Daytona,” Zanardi said. “It’s exciting to be driving a BMW race car. I’m here, and it’s extremely special. It’s a unique opportunity that I have to compete in Daytona and to see so many old friends too.”

Zanardi, who will turn 53 this year, knows just how complicated the cars are and that he faces an even tougher challenge having to use hand controls to pilot his race car.

“These cars are complicated with all the electronics inside them, and all I have to work with is my hands,” Zanardi said with a laugh. “Our lives as drivers are more complicated because we have so many instruments to try to deliver the best performance. I’m used to just a few switches. Now, I have more to deal with and my hands are all I can use to drive the car and shift, etcetera. I hope I can be a fast learner and support my team with a sufficient performance to not let them down.”

Zanardi, who began testing the BMW M8 GTE that he’ll pilot for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in December, is able to change gears with the simple touch of a button. On the steering wheel, he moves through the different gears. His right hand breaks and downshifts.

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

The race checks off a bucket-list item for Zanardi and although it is currently a one-off, he doesn’t guarantee that it will be last race of his career.

“This race is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I can’t say for sure that it’ll be the last race of my career. In 2009, I really started focusing on cycling, and now racing is just something I still do on the side. I don’t think I’d have sufficient energy to compete at the level that it takes to compete for an entire championship, but an event like the Rolex 24 at Daytona is fascinating to me.”

Will we see the inspirational driver back in a race car in 2019, or will he officially hang up the helmet following the 57th Rolex 24 at Daytona? He uses an interesting analogy – one involving a cat and mouse – to explain his feelings.

“If you ask me if I want to drive a car, it’s like asking a cat if he likes the mouse,” said Zanardi. “The answer is yes. We’ll see what happens down the road. BMW offered me a great opportunity, and we’re taking things one step at a time and just focusing on this event.”

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