‘Zalgiris Kaunas makes everybody feel at home’


Unė Marija Jurkštaitė, Chief Business Officer of Zalgiris Kaunas Club, Lithuania (home arena of Zalgiris Kaunas), believes that in order to run a successful arena, one should keep the fans in good humor. It is not just about a sparking arena, but it is also about an exciting environment.

As a top official of the professional basketball team based in Kaunas, Lithuania, Unė has been able to pull off a success story. How is she running such a successful arena despite basketball not being the most popular sports in the world and the sporting team not being the best? “The key to our success is we do not look into running a basketball team only or selling basketball tickets or victories. We create emotions, we create community, we create atmosphere – key ingredients to fill up an arena. We do not just concentrate on winning but on everything that is around the court.”

As Ticket Sales Director of the club, she ensured that there was a huge jump in sales by providing fans an exalted experience. Her mantra is that every experience needs to be “memorable, personal and effective”.

The Zalgiris Kaunas Club not only invest in their fans but on all and sundry. Anybody who is not even a follower of the game can walk into the arena and “feel at home”. They also embrace the technologies that help them develop their business and engage in one to one interaction with visitors. Millennial and in-arena attractions are at the heart of the club’s success. Zalgiris believes in offering a holistic experience to its spectators.

The Žalgirio Arena which is the postcard of Lithuania,opened in 2011, and is the biggest avant-garde venue in the Baltics. It can fit in as many as 15,552 spectators and the attendance has beaten several international records. Basketball may be the second religion of Lithuania, but, that does not mean that the management only concentrates on basketball. The management is responsible for organizing even other events like concerts, seminars and exhibitions.

Like Une says that it is no longer about cheap ticket but unique experiences which people prefer to undergo while visiting an arena. The enriching experience motivates them to come back to the venue again and again.

Your fans are a mixture of the normal hardcore fans and also a lot of new fans? “Yes, our fan base is a mixture of ones who are really into the sport and understand all details about the sport. But, we also have a lot of people who are coming in for the first time into the sport and they don’t know what the sport is. We make them feel welcome and we help them understand the sport. We make them feel they are in the right place, they are a part of the community and that feeling is what makes them return to the arena,” she shares.

This is the age of experience economy. The club’s success story also lies in building trusted, one-to-one relationships with the people. People want an exceptional, positively charged and memorable experience and the Žalgirio Arena provides them the same.

The electric atmosphere at Žalgirio Arena also inspires loyal fans to attract others. Une says that they are into the business of passion and lend an ear to everybody. She understands that fans no longer want to walk into the stadium and just watch the game. They want something more – well-equipped gathering places inside arenas for visitors who want to walk around more; a game experience that extends outdoors before and after games; and premium spaces where fans can be in touching distance of the athletes as they go to and from the playing floor.

Apart from basketball, the venue also hosts figure skating championships to concerts, artistic ventures, film festivals, or private events. Majority of millennial do not think twice to spend money on a desirable experience – temporary basketball themed tattoos, printing pictures, face painting, DJ and dancers’ performances. The Žalgirio Arena provide such unforgettable episodes.

Une points out that they attach highest importance to first-time comers just as they do to hardcore fans. The latter are great promoters and they do not lament even if the team loses. They visit the arena more for a memorable experience, entertainment and open their purse strings when it comes to buying expensive tickets and food and beverages.

She also points out that it is not just about the game of basketball per se for the people, but varied entertainment options. Fans now expect a plethora of services and entertainment when attending a match. With the help of leading-edge technology, fans can use their smart phones to take a high quality video of a game, interacting in real-time on social media with other fans in the stadium and clicking selfies which kind of creates an identity for them.

Stadium food services these days have become much more diverse. Keeping in tune with the same, the Žalgirio Arena boasts a selection of restaurants, bars and bistros which is truly a gastronome’s dream. They walk the extra mile so that fans remember them for their unique culinary flair.

Une states that she is well aware of the fact that fans today while visiting a stadium to watch a game, also likes to travel and enjoy thus enhancing the experience – a kind of sports related tourism attractions and activities. Breathtaking spots near the arena are what people prefer these days.

If you say people can expect a real experience, what is in the package, what can they expect? “When we say experience Zalgiris yourself, we invite people to experience the passion you can feel in the building, again you can experience being part of the community, being among the like-minded people. You really feel you are in the right place, to have lot of show, entertainment items and lot of different activities around the court. We have games, in terms of reality activity, we paint faces on the people, we have a great show for the beginning, for introducing the team, so the mixture of all this is the evening that we promise. So, basically we promise that you have a good time with your friends, family or colleagues,” remarks Une.

The Žalgirio Arena has scripted a success story even in a small country like Lithuania because it is not just the game which draws the crowd to the gorgeous arena, but the off-court activities and the friendly atmosphere gives reason to people who aren’t too keen on basketball to visit the arena.

Une sums up by saying, “We do not sell just basketball. We offer memorable experiences, an incredible atmosphere and being a part of the community – things that usually all of us care about.”

Due to the “personalized touch” policy of the club, Zalgiris has become the highest-attended team in Euro League history. They have proved that there is no match for the green-and-white-army – Zalgiris averaged 14,737 fans each night throughout the 15 regular season home games.

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