SOCCER-SPECIFIC: Interview with Orlando City SC’s Director of Corporate Partnerships, Chelsey Burns
Orlando City Soccer Club’s Director of Corporate Partnerships, Chelsey Burns, shared insights about their brand new 25,500-seat Orlando City Stadium with Sports Venue Business CEO, Katie McIntyre.
With Orlando City SC only having joined the MLS’ Eastern Conference league in 2015, the team played their first two seasons at Florida’s Citrus Bowl, while your brand new Orlando City Stadium was envisioned and rose from the ground. How have you, your team, the club and indeed the fans found the transition from a rented venue to a shiny, new stadium, tailored to the team’s and its’ fans specific needs?
For anyone who has been to a soccer-specific stadium, the difference between it and a standard American football stadium is very clear. Some of the best aspects of our new home are the steep grade of the seats providing amazing sightlines, the overhead roofs echoing the sounds of the game and our unparalleled supporter “wall” that fills the stadium with excitement and really sets the atmosphere for the game.
We are home to the only fully-standing room supporter section in North America accommodating about 4,000 of our most passionate fans, who form our organized supporter’s groups known as The Ruckus and the Iron Lion Firm. The soccer stadium experience is what our Club needed to help solidify our teams in the city we live in.
For myself and my team, we now have the opportunity to offer new, all-inclusive premium seating options and private luxury suites. This has made a big impact for our fans looking for that exceptional gameday experience.
What can fans and visitors expect in terms of the Premium Seat offering and premium fan experience at the new stadium?
We have several different premium seating options and price points for fans to find the best fit for them. We have everything from private luxury suite leases, all-inclusive shared suite seats, Club seating and our Mid-Field East Premium seats that are all-inclusive with grab-and-go food options. We also have two areas for private groups with hospitality needs—one of which is a unique set of seats and deck area underneath our Scoreboard with private bathrooms. We have received great feedback about our premium seating amenities and food and beverage offerings throughout this opening season for our stadium.
How were the needs and wants of you, your team and your customers translated into the design?
Our team wanted to create premium spaces, which comes with the comforts of having a level of intimacy in private spaces, while not excluding those in these areas from that amazing stadium atmosphere we worked hard to achieve in the stadium. An example to describe our goal here is the retractable glass windows located inside the private suites. We felt strongly that it was extremely important for Suite Members to be able to slide back their windows to eliminate any separation from inside the suite and the view of the field. Luckily, everyone agreed that this was an important feature to keep. I was able to be involved in pricing decision as well as food and beverage discussions for the premium areas.
How does the reality compare with the concept?
For me personally, the stadium is everything I hoped it would be. The suites and Club spaces are beautiful with excellent amenities and views of the game. I believe we delivered on the expectations of our fans.
Which were the key challenges you needed to overcome?
Early on, a challenge for us what trying to sell seats and suites without anything other than renderings to show. The stadium at that time was only a concept on paper. It was difficult to try and paint the picture of what it would be like. It was great when we were able to finally start bringing people out to the stadium construction site for hard hat tours.
Another challenge has been within the business community itself. Educating business leaders on the sport of soccer and the value of entertaining during our games has been a hurdle. As you would expect, there are several companies who jumped on board early, but others that we continue to work with.
How has the Premium Seat offering at Orlando City Stadium been future-proofed and what developments can those attending events on the Premium levels expect in the next 3-5 years?
We are learning with every game. Our Member Services team also solicits ongoing feedback from fans. We always strive to improve and expand on the fan experience, and we’ll take that step by step as we see areas of improvement.
How has the sector evolved over the last decade? And what key developments do you foresee for the coming 5-10 years?
I think teams will need to figure out ways to add value to their Premium clients through experiences. Fans today are looking for more than just a ticket – they want the whole experience that starts from the minute they leave their homes until they return. Managing this expectation has made those in this industry get creative to find unique ways to add entertainment and experiential value.
Aside from the experiences we can create, businesses and groups are looking for customizable menu of options for their premium areas. A one-size fits all model does not work anymore and there is growing need to expand their choices and get creative with the distressed inventory within older stadiums to meet the demand.
Lastly, I am interested to see where technology takes us over the next few years and how teams plan to integrate it into the premium gameday experience. In our stadium, we have the newest connectivity technology and offer free Wi-Fi throughout the stadium with designated portals in different areas to ensure wide coverage. I’d like to see where we would be in three years with the technology in the building.
What are some of the key features/amenities and benefits of the suites?
Some of the key features of our suites, at least for the lower level of suites is the proximity to the field. Not many stadiums offer suites only 10 rows off the field. To put this into perspective, the field is sunken 6-feet below ground level along with the entire lower bowl.
Additional amenities include:
- All our Suite Members also seem to like the fully retractable glass windows facing the field, as mentioned above. We also allocate premium parking options to suite members, which is a huge benefit when considering public parking options typically available in a downtown area.
- Many of our Suite Members enjoy being a part of our City Alliance program. It is an opportunity for us to help businesses that spend over a certain threshold with us to get together to network and hopefully do business together.
- As we book more and more non-Club events in our stadium, we will always look for ways to integrate our Suite Members as much as possible. The goal of the Club is to allow Suite Members access to their suites for as many outside events as possible at no additional charge.
What role does technology play in the Premium Seat offering and premium fan experience at Orlando City Stadium?
Not specific to premium seating but for all fans entering the stadium, we have gone completely paperless as we do 100 percent mobile ticketing through Ticketmaster – Orlando City SC is the first professional sports team to have adopted Ticketmaster Presence program. In our early trial, the program has helped us eliminate ticket fraud entirely.
While there was a transitional period, our Member Services team did an excellent job communicating with our season ticket holders in preparation for this change.
Additionally, for one level of our suites located directly off the main concourse, we had suite door scanners installed. Suite guests use their ticket to scan and unlock the suite door and enter. This has been a huge hit among Suite Members, giving them the comfort of knowing that only their guests will be able to access the suite.
As the stadium has been 100% privately funded, does this mean there is added pressure for the venue to start paying its way from the word go? And have Premium Seat and suite sales reached your expectations?
Of course, we are always doing everything we can to drive revenue and growth; however, we also make sure to not lose sight of the fan experience. Regarding Premium specifically, we did sell out of most of our premium seating locations and only have two luxury suite leases remaining. We are obviously working hard to fill those remaining suites and the Member Services team is also working toward renewing our Season Ticket Members for the 2018 season. Currently, we have 18,000 season ticket members in a 25,500-capacity stadium.
How has North America’s only safe-standing supporter section gone down with the fans?
I would say “The Wall” (also known as the supporter section) has been one of the most spectacular features of the stadium. The fans, particularly our supporter groups, seem to love it. I can only imagine that for a visiting team, seeing that wall of 4,000 chanting fans must be an intimidating sight. Opposing players and coaches comment on the stadium’s supporter section and how loud they are during the game. It is among the top mentioned feature of our stadium across the league!
What kinds of revenue-generating/revenue-optimising initiatives and techniques are being employed?
Several months ago, the Club promoted our former Senior Vice President of Sales, Chris Gallagher to Chief Revenue Officer. Along with the promotion some re-organization happened within the Club moving all revenue-generating departments under one umbrella. I think this re-organization will help enable us to streamline some of our processes and make sure that each revenue-generating department is working together to optimize growth. As the Club has grown rapidly over the past few years, making sure we are all striving toward common goals has been a focus that will enable us to make the best of our efforts to cultivate our fan base both locally and globally.
Additionally, we launched a new Salesforce CRM that integrates with our ticketing system. Having an established CRM has helped by offering us a place to collect data about our fans to get a better idea of who we are talking to and how to best create content and strategies to keep them engaged. We are also able to be more efficient when approaching sales activities and pipeline tracking.