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FANS FIRST ARENA: Interview with Guy Hedderwick, CEO at Arena Stadium Management

Katie McIntyre discusses the latest developments and issues surrounding the operations and management of Titanium Security Arena – home to the Adelaide 36ers and Adelaide Lightning – with Guy Hedderwick, CEO of Arena Stadium Management; the venue owner/operator.

 

 

Guy, as CEO at Arena Stadium Management, Adelaide 36ers and Adelaide Lightning, what would an average working week for you entail?

I would like to say I spend most of my time driving the strategic objectives, vision and goals of our business, which I do, but in reality the majority of my time is spent on dealing with human resources, WHS and meetings. It’s not all bad it’s very positive and each CEO comes from a different background and has more knowledge, experience and passion for different things. Operational requirements and logistics around running events and teams are so important but not my passion, so I employ good people in these areas. I spend my days developing and working closely with the commercial team to drive our revenue, game day/event day experience and our event acquisition team. I try and show my face at one or two practices a week so I stay in regular touch with the coaching and teams staff, especially when things are not going to well on the court.

 

I attend many events to network or speak and keep tabs on the business through regular meetings with heads of departments. My favourite pastime is going to find our facilities manager and maintenance staff to ‘rib’ them about their sports team losses or ask the catering manager or his staff about how things are going in the retail and corporate side of our business. The events and sports business is testing and people work long hard hours. Keeping in touch with them is important for morale.

 

Shareholders and board members require an enormous amount of time to both manage, keep informed, take on the journey and develop relationships with and time is always spent touching base, seeking council and sharing thoughts.

 

Over the last number of years, the focus and importance placed on the fan experience has grown exponentially. What types of products, services and solutions are you employing at the Titanium Security Arena to optimise the fan experience?

It is a new world out there and before perhaps talking through products and services or technology, one should address the fan. For the purpose of this question I am only going to focus on the basketball fan but one can extrapolate these thoughts to any fan.

 

Kim Skildum-Reid, a sponsorship guru based in Australia, talks of dividing ones sports fan audience into 4 categories; Traditionalist, Tribalist, Socialite and Family. One needs to deliver to each of these audiences an experience which brings them back.

 

Traditionalists come for the game and what happens on court. They’re season ticket holders, slightly older and want to watch the game. They know and understand the game, and are more pure in their pursuits of seeing their stars play live.

 

Tribalists come when it’s ‘the thing’ to do. Team performance is important, as is adds to a good night out with mates. They love wearing the colours and being part of something. They like to know the players and interact with them. They want inside bits of information and want to be part of the group.

 

Socialites want to be seen at the game, they like the hospitality, the networking and the ‘money can’t buy experiences’ that money can buy. They want to sip a drink and connect with people in the suite, lounge or corporate facility. The game is almost secondary. The quality of the food, drink and company are what matter.

 

Families come for good family entertainment. Family outings gives parents an opportunity to be with and engage with their children, especially through their pre-teen and teen years. It’s a competitive environment where the outing is in competition with the beach, the movies and other family-type events.

 

Over these groups one overlays the generational groups of the Baby Boomer who wants a consistent brand experience, good seats, information and recognition for their loyalty. Gen X who are amazingly loyal, want to make a difference and change their neighbourhood (not the world), are into brands and want it now. The rise of the millennial or Gen Y who want unique experiences and are now the largest working group who love team efforts and team sports and have access to unlimited information. Lastly we have the group termed Gen Z or Gen Now, who have grown up on screens, have entertainment at their fingertips and are used to having instant gratification.

 

 

Having taken all that into account, here is what we do and have done. The sport is the sport and therefore to our traditional market we offer the opportunity to buy season tickets, keep their seats, as many have for over 30 years. They receive in their membership pack the team colours, T-shirts and items which show they are members and part of the family. The most important thing to them is keeping their seat, recognition of their loyalty and having cost-effective season ticket options. Our season ticket and membership programme is one of our biggest revenue drivers. Meeting the players and interaction is really important. In order to ensure a great game experience we have recently installed LED lights, which allow us to have a high level lighting on court with little light pollution into the stands offering a better ‘live’ viewing experience, as well as digital and TV experience. An app, which allows you to choose and watch your team play ‘live’ away from home, is supplied to our members free of charge.

 

To the tribalist group, consisting of mainly millennials, we offer unique experiences within the venue. We theme games and use a combination of lights (colour wash), our LED Screens, central cube and other screens to engage the crowd and immerse them in the experience. The use of the venue to create areas of engagement, retro pinball and gaming machines for example, as well as using the exterior for sponsor or other activations.

 

For our families we offer cost effective ticketing, family friendly environment and player engagement opportunities. Our players walk around the perimeter of the court and sign autographs, take selfies and chat with the kids after the game. The concourses now have family type food, including candy floss and popcorn machines. We offer different and fun halftime entertainment all geared towards engaging the family. Free high speed Wi-Fi allows everyone to upload their latest Facebook, Instagram or Twitter comments or just surf the net.

 

Our socialites have the opportunity to either network in our restaurant, corporate suites (skyboxes) or be seen sitting courtside or on the big screens. We have a number of networking events, newsletters and business opportunities, even getting our top partners to bring down their corporate basketball team to play against our staff, including our coaches. The games are refereed (rather badly I might add) by our players. The staff team finds it very hard to win.

 

The use of lights, visuals, sound and the latest technologies are used to offer a variety of experiences to different audiences within the venue, alongside some old fashioned real engagement with each other and players.

 

Images courtesy: Adelaide 36ers

 

How do you keep up-to-date regarding all the latest best practices, technologies and innovations, not only in relation to the fan experience, but also in terms of managing and operating a multi-purpose Arena?

We are very lucky in the venue industry in that we have a fantastic association in Australia and New Zealand [the VMA] which connects with the IAVM in the US. The great thing about this industry is that people are happy and prepared to share both their information and time.

 

I make two visits a year to different conferences or places and visit venues, chat with colleagues or even host people at our venue. The internet groups via the Association allow us to ask questions and seek advice from a variety of people in the industry and of course there are publications and websites one can visit to garner and keep updated on the latest information. I have never visited another venue and not come away with a piece of really good information or an idea.

 

I understand the venue recently completed an extensive renovation process. Can you tell us what this involved? And does the finished product meet or better your expectations?

Yes, the venue has recently spent a great deal of money with a new LED lighting system replacing every light in the entire building. We did extensive work around the ability to have HD quality TV lighting, colour washes and to be more environmentally friendly, without the upgrade impacting on our bottom line. I am happy to say that the saving in our power bill covers the monthly cost of the lighting. It was a risk to take the idea to the board but given I am writing these answers, one which paid off.

 

At the same time we changed the lights, we had a massive failure of our central cube and needed to replace it. In order to get the size, clarity and processing speed we wanted, we had to buy directly from the manufacturer. This meant jumping on a plane and flying to China where we purchased, and with our connections in Australia delivered in a short space of time a magnificent and very cost effective central cube. The new lights and cube would have been lost without sound, so we also upgraded the sound system within the venue.

 

We also fitted halfway through the season a high density Wi-Fi system. No doubt we have had some teething issues but currently have 30% (industry standard) use of it during events. The upgrade have met all our expectations, but with anything new, it’s only new for a day and next season will require something equally shiny to catch the attention and ‘wow’ the audience.

 

 

Moving forward, what kinds of developments have you got planned for the Arena for the next 12-48 months?

I have a number of developments in mind, in particular we are looking at a major upgrade to our female athletes change rooms and an addition to the entrance which allows us to offer more food cart experiences. We are also installing an IPTV delivery system.

 

Longer term, I am keen to look at how we can extend our restaurant to include a balcony opening to the stadium and reconfigure our corporate suites (sky boxes) as we see the desire for more networking areas rather than individual boxes.

 

As the largest purpose-built basketball arena in Australia, does this place extra pressure on you, as the facility owners, to keep the venue at the top of its game?

No not really. We want to ensure fans come and watch games and enjoy the experience and want to come back. The venue being specifically built for basketball is great because we run at least 28 home games of professional basketball per season and the proximity to the court certainly allows for a great live experience.

 

I do believe venues and live sport or entertainment requires venues which caterer across a number of different generations and to a number of different fans, and that requires constant upgrades to ensure we stay relevant. Professional basketball makes up 28 of close to 300 events run per annum.

 

 

 

 

 

How do you see the sector evolving over the next decade? And the Arena?

The sector will see a number of changes over the next decade, with the growth of online gaming we will see, and are already seeing, the growth of eSports, YouTube stars and streaming centres for 3D-based entertainment.

 

I certainly believe that traditional entertainment will survive along with “new entertainment” I have mentioned above. Human nature is to connect, our instinct is to gather and engage, we may just do it slightly differently in the future and venues rather than roll their eyes at a YouTube star who is famous for doing their makeup should welcome them with open arms, because talent is just talent and that is what people come to see.

 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Or wish you had been given when you started out in this business?

SNIOP: Do not be Susceptible to the Negative Influences of Other People. Now I just need to practice saying it quickly.

 

Which products, services &/or solutions are on your wish-list and why?

My wish-list mostly consists of solutions which we need, rather than want. When the venue was built, it was not built with concerts in mind and now we host them. I would love the ability to fix our loading dock, create more crush space at the entrance to the venue and from a technology point of view, I would like a wireless system to deliver more content and the screens to achieve more touch points.

 

Guy Hedderwick is CEO at Arena Stadium Management, the facility owner/manager for the Titanium Security Arena in Adelaide, Australia, home to the Adelaide 36ers and Adelaide Lightning, as well as the host venue for many concerts and other events.

 

 

 

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