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Evaluating the Future of Sports Venues

Armed with new technologies and premium spaces, stadiums are much more than just a place to watch the game.

Owen Sanborn

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Mercedes Benz stadium, the trend-setting new home of the Atlanta Falcons. Photo via: NFL.com

As recent as two decades ago, the basis of a prospective stadium’s blueprint emphasized sight lines, capacity, seat width, and, subconsciously, the amount of functional surface area to cram enough beer stands to quench a fan’s thirst.

The paradigm has shifted in a flash, and with fans being lusted towards the friendly confines of their spread of high-definition televisions, the industry has had to shift their focus.

A modern model has surfaced, with stadium construction acting as the basis for stadium districts that combine retail and real estate endeavors intending to shape economic activity in the area in which they inhabit. Ambitions are high, and not every plan goes as expected — I’m sure Glendale, Arizona’s West Gate might like a redo — but the surrounding aspects of an area are just as important as the inside.

The game is no longer the singular attraction for the sports consumer. Instead, complex technological infrastructures are breeding new opportunities for teams and players to interact with fans to provide them unparalleled experiences that cannot be replicated at home. The five-inch bricks glued to our palms provide a pathway for teams to engage the consumer to formulate their own experience. Continuing to evolve on deciphering which methods are of the best practice variety will lead commerce into the next decade and beyond.

New technologies aside, the foundation for all fan experiences will remain tied to the venue. And perhaps an essential question in today’s climate is figuring out an ideal capacity that will fit a market while also maximizing revenue.


It has become trendy for a sports owner to bark at their city with claims that their stadium is insufficient for the times and out of date.

Traditional stadiums used to last decades, but the model shift, along with differing consumer behavior, has brought a desire for increased suits, clubs, and premium seating that cater to the high-end buyer. Assorted seating sections are being swapped for vast walkways that evoke movement and freedom for the consumer. Unhinged from tying a buyer to a singular seat, teams can monetize these club areas to great heights, generating new revenues that supplement the reasoning for constructing a state of the art stadium in the first place.

“You need a system that can work for you to identify the new fans filling the new areas of the stadium to make sure you are providing them with unique offers that keep them coming back,” says Mike Hinson, VP, College Athletics Sales at AudienceView.

The Amway Center in Orlando has dedicated a level of their venue to premium seating with strong results, and there is credence to the thought of a future where most of a stadium’s capacity sides with the premium buyer. If teams were to swing premium, a decrease in capacity could come with it.

With that said, teams need to be wary of dipping their toes too deep into the pool of premium pockets. The sports business has been built on the foundation of fanatics — or fans, as we like to call them. Pricing out the loyal, but fortuneless fans would turn a raucous crowd into a gathering of quiet observers. Stadiums would lose their charm — if they haven’t done so already.

The current wave of venues is well positioned to tailor to the needs of the next generation of sports consumer. With Wi-Fi speeds approaching supersonic levels, and greater emphasis on gathering areas, venues are arguably a leg up in the arms race against the at-home experience. I imagine that will be the case for many years to come.

Owen is a current Master's student at Arizona State University studying Sports Law and Business. A University of Tampa alum, Owen has worked for Amalie Arena, Arizona State Athletics, and The Players' Tribune. Owen can be reached at owen@frntofficesport.com.

Business

Cut the Cord: How Ticketing Professionals are Shifting with the Times

Not only do traditional broadcast companies have to compete with streaming services, so do live events.

Owen Sanborn

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Image result for apple tv menu

Photo via: howtogeek.com

I have an Apple TV in my apartment. Two in fact — one for the living room and one for my bedroom. (It’s such a great experience that I had to take it to the bedroom.)

Its library of apps and interfaces gives me access to every NBA game (thanks, NBA league pass!), MLB game (thanks, MLB.tv!), NFL game (thanks, NFL Sunday Ticket Max!), and more college football and basketball games than I can handle (thanks, ESPN!). And I didn’t even include the onslaught of TV and movie options I have at my disposal because one of my friends has a friend that knows a friend whose cousin has a login hookup for HBO GO, Netflix, and Hulu.

Have you ever searched for your favorite sports talking head’s studio show on YouTube? I assure you that you will find each segment from that day’s episode cut up into separate videos so that you can pick and choose which one is worth your time. If the video is not straight from the source (ESPN, Fox Sports 1, etc.), then some ambitious YouTuber out there felt the desire to share it just for you. You are a search bar and a click away.

And people wonder why us millennials stretch a mile wide and about a half of an inch in with our brains?

Pretty soon it may not be necessary for me to summon the courage to leave the couch. What’s the point? Everything I’ll ever need can be found in this little black box provided by Apple, Amazon, or Roku — along with a second and third screen to boot.

That last part has a hint of hyperbole sprinkled in — I will relinquish the throne of my couch. I do not consume sports on three screens at once … at least not ALL the time. But the point of my prelude is: the in-arena experience has stiff competition on its hands. Professionals in the ticketing business are well-aware of this fact and are readying themselves to shift with the times.

Like an NBA wing switching along the perimeter, sales staffs have to be ready to cater to a myriad of fan desires. Some may be looking for a single-game ticket or traditional season ticket membership, others want a flex pack, and a new wave of buyers may seek a monthly payment for the right to obtain tickets to every game. As a ticketing professional, you have to be quick on your feet and ready to supply an experience worth paying for.

“I think it speaks to how the consumer is coming to the realization that they really only HAVE to pay for the things they REALLY want,” Mike Hinson, VP College Athletics Sales at AudienceView told Front Office Sports. “Unless you have something compelling and personalized to each type of fan, you run the risk of alienating a large percentage of your fan base with “one size fits all” products (such as season tickets). That shift is why the memberships and experiences become not just compelling, but critical.”

Memberships and flexible ticketing plans are two areas where I could see the future of the industry going. I may not be willing to dish out fifty dollars per ticket to go see a Phoenix Suns game, but would I be willing to pay fifty dollars a month for the right to have a ticket to each home game (with the location of my seat shifting based on supply) that month? That idea at least makes me raise a brow.

In that case, the Suns would already be making fifty dollars more per month from a fan of my ilk than they would have been previously, and that doesn’t even account for the ancillary revenue (parking, concessions, merchandise, etc.) that comes along with me merely entering the building.

It makes sense for some teams more than others — the Dallas Cowboys are going to find no trouble selling out their venue on Sundays. However, what the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to implement with their monthly payment program is an admirable pursuit. It should serve as a trailblazer for other franchises or college programs to follow.

“Consumers are so smart and adept at getting discounts,” Brent Jones, Deputy AD of External Operations at Troy University told Front Office Sports. “We have to add value with our ticket packages — promotional items, bobbleheads, vouchers, fan experiences and affinity-building items are all things that we consider.”

For the time being, the opportunity cost of missing the at-arena experience is too low compared to manning the fort in your living room, three screens on hand, monitoring the downfall of your fantasy team with each passing quarter. Millennials are conditioned to control what they consume.

As Hinson puts it, “They still want to consume content and experiences, just on their terms.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Sports

Astros Opening Day Tickets Are Second Highest This Decade For World Series Champ

After a memorable World Series run, a ticket to the Astros Opening Day is a hot commodity on the secondary market.

TicketiQ Insights

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Opening Day for the Houston Astros should be a raucous affair. (Photo via the Ballpark Guide)

*This post is part of the brand new FOS Insights program. TicketIQ is a proud launch partner of the program. 

When the Astros clinched game seven of the World Series in Los Angeles, Astros Nation celebrated the franchise’s first championship in history. While only a handful of Astros fans made the trip to Los Angeles for game seven at Dodgers Stadium, it’s estimated that between 750,000 and 1 million people turned out for the parade in Houston, that ended on the steps of City Hall. Six months later, fans have another opportunity to celebrate the franchise’s first World Championship, when the banner is raised on Opening day against the Oriole on April 2nd. As the below infographic shows, Astros tickets for opening day is the second most expensive opening day game for a World Series champion that TicketIQ has tracked since 2011.

MLB Opening Day Ticket Prices

Only the Red Sox opener after their 2013 World Series had a higher average price on the secondary ticket market. Surprisingly, the Astros have a higher secondary average price than last years Cubs opening day. For that game, the cheapest ticket to see the Cubs hoist their first banner in over 100 years was $85. For the Astros opening on April 2nd, the cheapest ticket is $125 for the game, which starts at 7:10pm. In 2014, the cheapest ticket at Fenway Park was $155.

While Astros fans are bullish about 2018, Vegas isn’t actually picking the Astros to make to the World Series. At 6/1 odds, they trail the Yankees, who are favorites at 5/1. The Dodgers are favored to return back to the Fall Classic in the NL, and their opening day prices are just below the Cleveland Indians, whose fans remain bullish about the organization’s chances for a first World Series in over 60 years.

MLB Top 2018 Opening Day Tickets

For Astros fans not looking to spend opening day money on tickets, the cheapest tickets for subsequent games at Minute Maid Park start around $40. For fans looking to get the best value, the cheapest tickets are available for the Angels series at end of April, for under $20.

For anyone is looking to revisit some of the magic from last October, the Yankees visit Minute Maid park for a rematch of the ALCS for a four-game set from April 30th to May 3rd.  The last time the Yankees visited Minute Maid Park was game seven of the ALCS, when the cheapest tickets were going for $150. Compared to that, the April-May series will be a lot less expensive, and also a lot less dramatic.

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An Exclusive Look Inside Toyota Racing Development’s Driver Development Program

Through a commitment to excellence, Toyota has built one of the best racing development programs.

Kraig Doremus

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Christopher Bell, one of the drivers in TRD’s Driver Development Program, hoists the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship trophy with team owner and fellow Toyota driver Kyle Busch looking on. (Photo via from RacingNews)

Toyota’s stable of drivers includes a combination of some of the most established and up-and-coming names. How is Toyota able to obtain all these drivers? It’s in large part thanks to Toyota Racing Development’s Driver Development Program.

Drivers Erik Jones and Christopher Bell have participated in the manufacturers Development’s Driver Development Program, while Kyle Busch operates Kyle Busch Motorsports and mentors the best up-and-coming drivers in the Toyota stable. What is it that makes TRD’s program a success? There’s nobody better to explain it than the executives and drivers themselves. From finding a driver to building relationships, providing equipment and increasing diversity – Toyota Racing Development continues to be successful, and they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

The Driver Development Program

TRD has a very extensive process that they go through to find drivers who they want to put through their Driver Development Program. Jack Irving, the Director of Team & Support Services for Toyota Racing, is one of the masterminds behind the program and essentially works as a scout for Toyota. Irving attends hundreds of races each year and uses a combination of evaluations and analytics to help him try to find the next potential superstar.

”We’ve created ways of analyzing data to locate a driver,” said Irving. “We look at the equipment they’re in, the overall ability, the strength of the field they’re competing against and other factors. We’ll run them through various tests with different setups and crew chiefs and evaluate them. We also have a website that drivers who we aren’t actively recruiting can go on and fill out a resume of sorts. We have everything on it, from personal information to racing statistics. It lets us sort of keep tabs on them.”

The toughest thing for Irving and the TRD team is that while they may attend multiple races each season, they can only watch a certain driver a limited number of times. It’s not like baseball, where a scout can watch a team for 162 games. Instead, Irving might see a driver three or four times and have to base his evaluation solely on those races. To maximize his time at the track, Irving uses a scoring system for each driver he watches compete.

“We rate drivers on a multitude of things. It’s on a 1-10 scale. At the track, we might get ratings from four or five different people, and we can use those analytics to create comparisons for different data,” said Irving. “We’ve got to find the best kids at a young age and be able to bring them along and develop them within our program.”

Once Toyota finds the next best drivers, they then begin the pivotal tasks of keeping them under the Toyota umbrella, while providing top-notch equipment and teams to serve as mentors.

Toyota Racing Development and Relationships

In any sport, it’s tough to keep the talent you have. Lebron James left the Cavaliers for the Heat in his infamous “Decision” on primetime TV, and many other stars have left teams for more money or a chance at winning a title. Toyota, however, competes for championships (the manufacturer won the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship with driver Martin Truex Jr.) and has a low turnover rate. The key is relationships with its crop of drivers, according to Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson.

“We try to build a relationship with these kids,” said Wilson. “Get to know them off the race track. Get to know their families, their parents. We want them to get a sense of who we are as a company, as a team and a measure of our commitment. While we’re in this to develop competitive young men and women, it’s frankly important that we do it in a respectful manner and treat them right. It starts with the emotional connection. Beyond that, it’s about the hardware and being able to partner with teams that have the capabilities and commitment to put these kids in the best equipment.”

Equipment and Mentorship

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and owner of Kyle Busch Motorsports has mentored Toyota drivers Christopher Bell and Erik Jones. (Photo via Sporting News)

Teams like Kyle Busch Motorsports offer not only the best equipment for drivers, but the chance to be mentored by a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

“We are looking for teams that want to work with us and that are committed to mentoring these kids,” stated Wilson. “Kyle (Busch) is one of the best. There is nothing better than to listen to him and hear him coach up a driver, crew chief, and team engineer. He’s amazing.”

Busch isn’t afraid to tell his drivers when they do something right, but he doesn’t shy away from addressing issues on the track either.

“I tell them all how it is,” said the former MENCS champion. “If they do something wrong, I tell them they did something wrong. There’s a point where me being the boss, but also being a racecar driver, I understand who is at fault or who should have done something different. I’m able to explain those things and to try to get the most out of our drivers as they go on and go through the years.”

The championship winner knows that he has the platform he does because of his on-track success. Certainly, it ensures that drivers are always listening when he speaks.

Said Busch: “I think my on-track success is a huge part of what we’re able to do and accomplish at KBM. I think it gives the younger guys a reason to listen because if I wasn’t successful but had this race team, then it would kind of be like what’s this guy know?”

One driver Busch has mentored is Christopher Bell, while Bell’s JGR teammate Erik Jones was remarkably the first-ever driver to go through the TRD program.

Christopher Bell and Erik Jones: Toyota’s Next Stars?

Last season, Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship with Kyle Busch Motorsports. His reward? Moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and running a full schedule in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Jones, who competed with Furniture Row Racing last season, is also a product of the TRD Driver Development Program. This year, he’ll move to JGR to pilot the No. 20 Toyota in the MENCS.

Bell grew up racing on dirt tracks, but has transitioned to asphalt like a natural. He can thank his team owner for helping that transition go seamlessly.

“He (Busch) helped me become a NASCAR racer,” said Bell. “What that means is growing up racing sprint cars on the dirt tracks, they taught me good habits that could translate to NASCAR. A big part of it was the longer distances. In sprint car racing, you go as fast as you can for a certain number of laps and hope to be out front when it’s over. In NASCAR, a lot more goes into it than running fast.”

While Bell is a product of Toyota’s program, Jones holds the distinction of being the first driver to go through the Driver Development Program.

“I think for me, being a part of Toyota, it means a lot of different things, said the second-year MENCS driver. “I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I’ve had in NASCAR without them. I think early on even in ARCA with Venturini Motorsports and then in trucks with Kyle Busch Motorsports, Toyota was always such a big influence and a big part of my career right from the start, when I got out of late models.”

The man who watched Erik Jones? Jack Irving. He had some assistance from Kyle Busch too, who let the Toyota brass know just how good Jones was.

“Kyle (Busch) let us know how good Erik (Jones) really was when he was racing late models for KBM,” said Irving. “When we first started evaluating Erik, his IQ was off the charts. At a young age, his communication was vastly different than most, which let him give feedback to the crew chief who then was able to alter the car, and not just alter it, but alter it in a positive way. We evaluated Erik throughout the program, but especially during his time with KBM. Erik won and he won quickly. What he showed was that his ceiling continued to rise and ultimately that helped him get to the Cup Series quickly.”

With Bell moving up to the NASCAR XFINITY Series and Jones competing in his second full-time Monster Energy Cup Series season, Toyota’s evaluation and research has paid off. Are these two the next big stars of the Cup Series? Time will tell.

Diversity: A Call to Action

Hailie Deegan will race in the K&N Pro Series West as a member of the TRD Driver Development Program. (Photo via NASCAR Next)

Think it’s only male drivers in the Toyota stable? Think again. Toyota has a call-to-action from its top executives to find the next great female driver. Hailie Deegan and Natalie Decker are two of the young women who hope to make their mark and achieve their ultimate goal of making it to NASCAR’s premier series.

“We have a commitment to diversity,” said Wilson. “We have a call to action from top management to find a more diverse driver lineup. The sport is gender and race neutral. It’s upsetting that there haven’t been more possibilities for girls, but Danica helped to truly open the door and we’ve seen there will be plenty of opportunities and fast.”

Decker will compete in the ARCA Racing Series with Venturini Motorsports, a trusted TRD partner, while Deegan, the 16-year-old daughter of motocross superstar Brian Deegan, will run the full K&N Pro Series West schedule.

“Just 18 months ago, I was trying to figure out the next steps for my late model career,” stated Deegan. “If you had told me I’d be where I am now I wouldn’t have believed you. All the training, practice and hard work is paying off. At first, it was a weird feeling being in this position. I’d see drivers were once in my position and now I’m in the same position as them. I never thought I’d be racing stock cars. Toyota paved the way for me.”

Deegan wants to win and win quickly. While taking a checkered flag is at the top of her list, she also knows just how much of a positive influence she can have on young girls that watch her put the pedal to the metal.

“I want to be the one to open doors,” she said. “There have been girls in the K&N Series that have raced, but they’ve never won. I want to be the one to race and win. I want to open doors so that girls can follow in my footsteps.”

Deegan grew up racing bikes and while many tangible aspects will transfer to the asphalt, she relies most on an inspirational quote from her father.

“We have a saying that it’s always important to have fun and it’s the most fun to win. I try to remember that.”

Primed for success, the budding star, who many friends and family call the “Dirt Princess,” has one piece of advice for girls who want to race.

“I’m out there with guys and parents don’t want a girl beating their sons out there on the race track. When that happens, some people get upset, so it’s important to not let people get to you and just keep your head up.”

As for Toyota’s plans for Deegan and Decker? Well, this might be the only time that going slow actually wins a race in motorsports.

“Natalie and Hailie have done very well in the places that they’ve raced,” Wilson noted. “What we’ve learned is that every driver adapts differently. Some take to (pavement racing, full-bodied cars) like a fish in water and others slowly. You don’t want to push too hard, but we have to keep challenging them. We think the world of them.”

The Future

With championships under their belt, including the most recent MENCS title, what’s next for Toyota and the Driver Development Program? Continue to build on its success and quite simply, never stop improving.

“We have a reputation that we care about these kids and we put their best interests first,” noted Wilson. “Yes, we want to develop drivers that will be a part of TRD, but most importantly we have a quality reputation that we do the best we can for these young kids. It’s early, but we’re happy with what we’ve done so far. Time will tell whether this model has a long-term value. I genuinely believe it does. It’s the right thing to do and it’s different. I think we’re famous in motorsports for taking the path less traveled.”

The good news for Toyota is that they’ve stocked their stable with young drivers, something that Bell recognizes makes the program so successful.

Toyota has invested in young and up-and-coming drivers. Erik and I are a product of that. They (TRD) do a great job and without them, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.”

As the guru behind it all, Wilson won’t rest anytime soon.

“We’re exploring new ideas,” he said. “One of the things that we’re doing is talking to other sports and looking at the ways that they develop their athletes. We know there’s no one size fits all approach and we can learn from other leagues. We aspire to build on what we’ve done. I’ll be excited to see what we’ve built in even 10 years.”

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