Friday in the Field: Enhancing the Fan Experience in an Ever Changing Industry

Kirstin Leung
The sports industry has evolved over the past 10 years. Now attending the event is about so much more than the competition. It's about the atmosphere, the food, the 360 degree experience.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with our New York Marketing Manager Courtney Grill Buckley to discuss my current project, which consists of providing project and cost management services to a large scale sports arena. We got to talking about these types of facilities and their specialized requirements in today’s marketplace.

Courtney Grill-Buckley: How did you get started in construction management?

My background is in architecture, but after some time working on the design side, I grew tired of drafting and decided to try working on the build side. That was eight years ago and I have been working in construction management ever since.

CGB: What are you working on right now?

My current project is a major overhaul of a sports arena. We are providing project and cost management services on a five-year project that began in 2013 and is expected to be completed in 2018.

CGB: What's your role?

I am providing both project and cost management, though my focus is primarily in cost management consulting, managing the budget and using Primavera Unifier to streamline the process - and everything that entails for a project of this size.

There are many variables to consider, particularly in today's marketplace.

When I was first hired, I was assigned to oversee two major pieces of the renovation, but then last year I took over the cost management delivery for the entire project. To put that in perspective, my initial responsibility covered a construction value of about $170 million and now I am responsible for more than triple that.

CGB: That sounds like a lot of responsibility!

It is, but one of the reasons I came to Faithful+Gould was the opportunity to work on a project of this magnitude. This is the biggest scope of work I've had to date and while it's certainly been a challenge, it's also been a really rewarding experience. Both the client team and my colleagues at Faithful+Gould have brought their "A game", collaborating to deliver some really great work. This is crucial when you're working on any project, certainly one at this scale. It's been an incredible learning experience for me.

CGB: Have you worked on anything similar in this industry? A sports stadium project?

No, that's another first for me. I'm not sure I realized how specific an industry that can be in terms of construction. Not only is the scope larger than normal, to accommodate the number of fans who attend events in the space, but there is also a heightened drive to maximize the experience and expectations of the fans. There are many variables to consider, particularly in today's marketplace.

CGB: How has the industry changed to reflect these current times?

Well, in general, sports events nowadays, especially in the United States, are much more about the fan experience as opposed to the actual event. If you go to some of the great stadiums, Citifield in New York or Wrigley Field in Chicago for example, nine times out of 10 you don’t even need to make it to your ticketed seat. You can walk around and watch the game from various viewpoints within the stadium. High profile brands and celebrity endorsed vendors are taking charge of amenities, with restaurants and bars that are good enough to visit even if they weren’t part of an event space. Things like that have become the standard and fans are expecting this kind of 360 degree experience, of both entertainment and comfort where their every need is met. In order to truly be successful, the project planner has to be conscious of enhancing that fan experience.

CGB: I wouldn't have thought about it that way, but you're absolutely right.

It's not the first thing you think of with a sports arena. My initial thoughts were on seating and occupancy concerns, coming from my technical understanding of what the project would entail. We had the opportunity to go out to several other sports arenas, including Wimbledon, and learn from those events. Seeing these types of arenas from the fan's perspective really opened my eyes to the expectations. After all, this is a space for entertainment, so it's hardly just about packing the seats.

CGB: I can understand that. I’ve been in the stands at overcrowded events and it can really ruin an otherwise enjoyable event. What has been done to counter this?

Exactly. We've created a space that allows for fans to check out the games from different viewpoints around the stadium. Part of the design that I think will subtly improve the fan experience is the concourse-level viewing areas.

In order to truly be successful, the project planner has to be conscious of enhancing that fan experience.

Fans are drawn into the main arena from the rest of the campus via two sets of grand staircases, with a walkway that allows them to move freely along the perimeter of the stadium from the concourse level to the upper levels under the cover of a translucent canopy overhead. The top of the walkway provides an expansive view of the whole arena. It’s a great way to increase viewing options for spectators and avoid a claustrophobic feel.

CGB: Sounds like a great plan. Have you done anything else to address fan expectations?

Obviously a big element of the fan experience will be tied to amenities and concessions. Last year, we essentially demolished all the outdoor concession stands and bars in order to build from the ground up. Our client decided to lease an additional 200,000 square feet from the parks department in order to expand and put in some really incredible concession options. Oyster bars, wine bars, celebrity chef endorsed concession areas, more like that.

Another major element you might not think of is wireless connectivity. Now more than ever, people expect to be as connected as possible. Again, it's about the experience and no one wants to worry about poor cell reception when they are trying to find their group or text pictures to friends, for example. There have been upgrades in this regard over the last two or three years as part of the overall project, in terms of Wi-Fi. Even with construction still in progress I am happy to report that there is free, reliable Wi-Fi throughout the space. We’re also adding charging stations this week, people underestimate how important those can be.

CGB: What would you say has been the biggest challenge of your project?

I think the hardest part is coordination, getting everyone on the same page from the construction manager to the client. The larger the project, the more important and conversely more difficult it is to have everyone on the same page in regard to design changes and costs associated with those changes. This is true with any project, but all the more so with a sports arena as there is an inherently tight schedule. On some projects, even those with tight schedules, there may be wiggle room, dates can move a week or two and it’s not the end of the world. But with a professional sports arena we really don’t have that option. The show, or in this case the game, must go on.

CGB: How do you feel about opening the gates to the public?

We're still wrapping up, there are always last minute details to tidy up, but I am very pleased with how things are shaping up for our next deadline. I think for the fans, it will be an amazing experience when they get to see the space. We're creating an environment that really caters to the consumer, in this case the fans. That's what our client cares about and so that’s what we care about.