‘Future-proof of venues a tricky proposition’



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Super Panel on Coliseum MENA Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

In an exclusive interaction with ‘Coliseum’, global entertainment design venue leaders, all heavy hitters – Mark Kelly, Managing Director, Ashton Gate & Bristol Sport, UK, Rashed Abdulla Ali, CEO, AACIC, UAE, Rob Hunden, President, Hunden Strategic Partners, US, Joachim Schares, Managing Director, AS+P, Germany, Tim Brouw, Senior Project Manager, Sports Facilities, Avijit Yadav, CEO, Tamdeen Mall Management, Kuwait, and John Lickrish, Chief Executive Officer, Flash Entertainment, UAE, do a brainstorming on the topic – ‘The Venue as a Destination’ as well as several other topics concerning the venue per se.
 

Mixed-use

Mixed-use today is the name of the game. And the trend is that mixed-use developments are using sports stadiums as their anchors. Venue operators are raising their bets on sports venues as catalysts for generating new revenue streams and for becoming the cynosure of their communities’ economic vitality.

Gone are the days when spectators used to be satisfied just walking into the stadium, watching the 90-minutes of game and then going back home happy souls. Today’s Generation Z and millennial are not satisfied with just watching a game or an event. They view the stadium as a place to hang out, put their hair down, savor gourmet food, and enjoy a shop-till-you-drop-experience, apart from watching the event. And venues are also being planned to anchor large entertainment districts that’s programed to attract visitors and customers year-round.

While talking about his company Bristol Sport, Mark Kelly stated his stadium comes armed with residential, arena, food and beverage, and hotels.

Observed Mark, “The stadium is no longer just a single venue, it’s a place, and it’s a City.”

Kelly felt that today everything is about placemaking and venues will have to be future-proofed to cater to the diverse tastes of Gen Z.

Joachim Schares, whose architectural practice is an expert in urban planning. Most recently, the masterplan for the Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Non Profit City Residential in Saudi Arabia was prepared by AS+P, Germany.

Schares talked about how a modern stadia be integrated into urban or City planning -“Unfortunately, very often, projects or stadiums come to the agenda of planning either when there is capacity expansion in a stadium or the activities. Rather than putting them on the agenda, everything should be streamlined and not just issues of noise pollution or capacity constraints.”

He further opined that the ideal location of a venue is some spot inside the City and not on the fringes – “We have a project going on in Berlin where the main club is thinking of moving the stadium even outside of the City limits. This creates communication bottlenecks for fans and stadiums should not be integrated in this manner.”
 

Size matters

Rob Hunden feels that one of the ironies of major venue development, whether it’s an exhibition center or stadium or arena is that they are so huge that they sometimes cause problems for walkability – “Though we have to do a really tight job of shoehorning these venues into a really walkable area to make sure that they stay walkable and don’t put them outside in a bubble surrounded by parking. You can jam the parking underneath, you can stack it so that it is a walkable area. I think that’s really important.”

He pointed out that in the United States, it is actually being led by the minor leagues – minor league soccer, minor league baseball, and it’s the major leagues that are following that.
 

White elephants

Plush venues are built for soccer spectacles or any other event. But these venues should be designed in such a manner that they leave behind a lasting legacy and not just become white elephants once the event is over.

To the above Tim Brouw stated, “It might be bit of a cliché but it is important to take into consideration the legacy factor of venues before construction starts. For Qatar 2022, eight stadia have been built. Qatar has a very small population and my point is that once the football extravaganza is over, maintaining those venues for such a small population is going to be a real challenge. I just hope that these facilities do not prove to be white elephants later.”

To buttress his point, he stated that China, even with a very huge population, their stadium once the Beijing Olympics was over in 2008 remained unutilized and soon became a white elephant.”

The 2022 FIFA World Cup™ is scheduled to be the 22nd running of the FIFA World Cup™ competition, the quadrennial international men’s football championship contested by the national teams of the member-associations of FIFA. It is scheduled to take place in Qatar from November 21st to December 18th, 2022.
 

Key takeaway

  • Venue operators should have a business case and a legacy case from Day One.

 
He advised, “The above is something which the UAE could consider because the Middle East country does not have a lot of brand new venues but holds many events.”

While building chic venues, countries should give considerable thought on the utility factor of the venue in the long run and ensure that it does not turn out to be a white elephant.
 

Linger-longer factor

Fans today do not just want to be inside the seating bowl but want to experience the environment of a stadium in the form of multiple offerings. Today, there are shopping malls which are integrated into the stadium.

Avijit Yadav pointed out, “To cater to the changing tastes of the customers, we ended up building an arena inside the mall.”

The Arena Kuwait (TAK) is a 5,000 + capacity indoor venue that stages all kinds of live entertainment events. The venue, which is owned by the Tamdeen Group, is an integral part of the 360 Mall entertainment, leisure and shopping complex and a key tourist destination in Kuwait.

Yadav further explained, “The arena is well connected to the Mall as well as to the parking area. It has accessibility to a five star hotel – the Grand Hyatt, and it has accessibility to the Rafa Nadal Academy which we built into our mall. So, we have moved from actually being a luxury shopping center to a lifestyle destination because that’s what the customer was looking for and that’s what they wanted.”

Tamdeen Mall operator Live Nation expect that 60 percent of people coming to the arena spill over to the mall once the event is over and spend around five to six hours inside the mall – “Earlier people coming to the mall wanted to shop-eat-play. Today, it is shop-eat-play plus lot of adrenaline rush adventures. They want to be pampered and stay engaged. Malls per se are very inflexible but it is the arena which has made the mall flexible and this benefits us financially and also helps to keep the fans coming to the arena inside the mall for a longer time – the linger-longer factor.”
 

Future-proof venues

 

How can venues be future-proofed for Generation Z and the millennial?

John Lickrish opined that to future-proof venues is a very difficult task – “There is only so much we can do with our industry knowledge and we learn from what we have done in the past, and when you are developing the upcoming facility you have to be aware of what are the future technologies, what is being on the grassroots that’s really interesting to people. You take electronic music, for example, which has become a huge phenomenon now. But you have to really be thinking about that. Obviously, things have changed over five or 10 years and new facilities are going to be developed, existing ones will have to be refurbished but it is really hard to future-proof venues.”

He further stated that one can develop the infrastructure, do massive planning and boast spiffy restaurants, ease of transportation, future development or redevelopment of the existing venues, “But to predict the future is almost impossible. If you look at what they did in the 1800s about transportation, they had boats coming out of the water on to railroad tracks. That was what they thought was going to be in the future which is not the case. So, it’s going to be impossible for us. We can only use predictors and hopefully use our industry knowledge. You can definitely use your industry knowledge and kind of try to find people who are younger than you and see what they are engaging with and see what the trends are and hopefully be able to future-proof your stadium too.”

Added Lickrish, “Technology definitely is changing. So, you have to be adaptable, you have to be structured so that you can switch out that technology and also from flexibility and design point of view and that is important.”
 

Fit-for-purpose projects

Today, mega venue projects are being implemented. But how to ensure that it will be fit-for-purpose in the next 20 to 30 years.

Tim Brouw averred that “Future-proofing is really subjective to different people – if you are the client, you are the Government, depending who you are.”

He said that it is the work of the designers to foresee the future-proof part of the venue with their clients – “It depends on what the vision of the City and the country is. Walls that aren’t structural which you can remove later on and put in another five or 10,000 seats.”

Brouw said that in this regard, one should take a leaf out from the 3,800-capacity London Aquatics Centre which has been future-proofed.”

Yadav asserted that only futuristic technology and flexibility can future-proof venues.
 

The ‘family factor’

Rashed Abdulla Ali of the Al Ain Club held out a brief profile of the 25,053-capacity Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, UAE.

The Al Ain Football Club or Al Ain FC is a professional football club based in the City of Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It is one of many sport sections of the multisport club Al Ain Sports and Cultural Club Al Ain SCC for short. The Hazza bin Zayed Stadium serves as their residence.
 

Hazza bin Zayed Stadium – at a glance

  • The stadium holds 25,053 spectators and opened in the year 2014;
  • Spread across 45,000 square feet of area;
  • One of the most advanced stadiums in the region;
  • Completed in record-breaking 17 months time;
  • Has received several international awards including ‘Stadium of the Year’ through jury vote;
  • The Hazza bin Zayed Stadium community complements the stadium’s unique design;
  • The external pitches are available for a wide range of activities;
  • Top class lounges and venues;
  • Hospitality suites with sweeping views of the pitch;
  • The stadium has hosted the world’s biggest football teams like Manchester City F.C. (UK), A.S. Roma (Italy) and several others; and
  • The stadium has hosted the 2017-2018 FIFA Club World Cup™ and the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

 
Ali was in the United Kingdom for a while to learn about the football experience and study the different venues such as the 41,837-capacity Stamford Bridge in London (home of the Premier League team Chelsea F.C.), the 55,097-capacity Etihad Stadium in Manchester (home of Premier League team Manchester City F.C.) and the 74,140-capacity Old Trafford in Stretford (home of Manchester United F.C.).

He wanted to replicate the football experience of the above clubs in the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium -“It was quite a challenge to bring the experience of Premier League and Bundesliga to UAE.”

E-ticketing was deployed in the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Earlier, the process was not streamlined at all and the crowd used to create a huge ruckus once the doors of the venue opened.

The Al Ain FC’s fan base has increased considerably since the opening of the stadium in 2014.

Coming to the family angle, Ali stated that the scenario in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is different because it is full of expat population who enjoy the game of soccer in stadia – “In Al Ain City the population largely comprises the local people and they have their own culture and the environment is not very permissible for women. About 10 years back women and families were not allowed inside stadiums in Al Ain. We gradually brought about a change in people’s mindset. Slowly, we realized that stadiums can also be used to provide entertainment to families. Events which kids will enjoy because not all people have a passion for football.
 

Cultural shift

He added, “We started organizing concerts in the stadium for families to enjoy and maybe, we are the only stadium that organized a fashion show and it was an event held exclusively for women.”

To lend that “family touch” to stadiums, Ali wants to organize weddings inside the facility which he recalled he saw at a venue in the United Kingdom. Such type of events helps bring the community on which the stadium sits closer. He said that more and more events should be held in the venues which hold much interest for families and this will help create a 365-day attraction.

To this Yadav put in, “At the arena inside Tamdeen Mall, we have specific facilities for the bride and holding weddings in arenas also helps to keep the cash registers jingling. We have a suite for the bride and a separate makeup room. We are looking at things beyond sport, the family kind of events.”
 

Community factor

Ali stated that the venue should be able to identify with the needs of the community on which it sits – “During the pandemic, the whole world shuttered down but the venue still served as a COVID testing center or a vax center.”
 

UAE event calendar

Added Lickrish, “The Formula 1 in UAE came with its set of challenges. Right now holding future events in UAE is a challenging task as we do not have a lot of content coming in and drawing crowd by droves is another challenge. Post-COVID, a lot of people think twice before stepping out of their houses. Moreover, sponsorships are also hard to come by. So, with these kinds of inhibitors, it is very difficult to organize events though the Government is trying hard at its level.”

He asserted that Flash Entertainment is firm on raising the standards of the ecosystem in UAE that they developed – security, ticketing, facility management, logistics, transportation, health and safety, even working with the police – “Flash is going to make a big push because the whole region needs to be functioning to be successful.”

However, Schares painted a positive picture, “There are events coming to the region, already scheduled. I think we have the 2030 Asian Games in Qatar and we will have the 2034 Asian Games in Saudi Arabia. So, these events are already awarded to the host nation and we have a pending decision regarding the AFC Asian Cup. Saudi Arabia is also competing against Qatar. So, there are major events again coming and let’s wait and watch to see what will happen at the market. Though COVID was a deep dive, but the worst is behind us now.”
 

COVID positive

Lickrish concluded by stating, “The only good thing that came out from COVID is the ability to sit back, assess and then make a plan for the future. That pause allowed us to reassess and look at the synergy that need to exist – the planning, the coordination amongst different players – whether it’s Governmental, private sector or semi-Government and how we are all going to coexist.”

It is in the financial interests of venue operators to ensure that the streets around their facilities present a welcoming, safe and fun atmosphere that, with greater frequency, incorporates live- work-play components.
 

Footnotes:

  • Mark Kelly, Ashton Gate & Bristol Sport, UK – Bristol Sport is based at the 27,000-capacity Ashton Gate Stadium and oversees the business, commercial and operational interests of its affiliated clubs which include the Bristol City Football Club, Bristol Bears Rugby Club, Bristol Flyers Basketball, Bristol City Women’s Football, Bristol Bears Women, and Ashton Gate Stadium.
  • Rashed Abdulla Ali, CEO, AACIC, UAE – The Al Ain Club Investment Company (AACIC) seeks to implement Al Ain FC strategic development plans that aim to support the UAE sport sector.
  • Rob Hunden, President, Hunden Strategic Partners, US – Hunden Strategic Partners (HSP) is a full-service global real estate development advisory practice, providing public and private sector clients with confidence and results so they can move their projects from concept through execution.
  • Joachim Schares, Managing Director, AS+P, Germany – The architectural firm develops office and residential buildings, design hotels and shopping complexes. Its core expertise is in architecture, urban planning, transport, and landscape planning.
  • Tim Brouw, Senior Project Manager, Sports Facilities.
  • Avijit Yadav, CEO, Tamdeen Mall Management, Kuwait – The Tamdeen Mall Management, formerly known as GLA Property Management, manages 1.45 million sq. ft of retail real estate for the Tamdeen Shopping Centers in Kuwait. An additional five million sq. ft of retail real estate is in the development pipeline across mixed-use, community center, neighborhood center and outlet center formats.
  • John Lickrish, Chief Executive Officer, Flash Entertainment, UAE – Flash Entertainment is Middle East’s leading live entertainment company based in the UAE.

 
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