ALSD 2019 Showcases the Industry Experience Evolution

Another ALSD year has come and gone. And what a year ALSD 2019 was. It is impossible to catch and cover all topics and trends picked up at the ALSD Conference and Tradeshow, but we set out to capture as many as possible, with your help.


We hope the 29th Annual ALSD Conference and Tradeshow, Sports Venue Design & Build Forum, and Sports Sales Training Forum delivered the content you crave. We are grateful for the stellar lineup of speakers, sessions, networking, venue tours, and tradeshow offerings that enveloped our industry in a four-day kumbaya.

Similarly, we appreciate the responses to our post-conference content survey, facilitated by our incredible partners at MacKenzie Corporation, who helped collect and aggregate the data and anecdotes below.

Read on for your takeaways and a few of my own, and shoot me a line about topics you’d like to see next year.

It’s the Shareable Stuff, Yo

It’s all about the experience. Sounds cliché, doesn’t it? Even so, its truer more than ever.

One consistent theme evident in survey responses was the need to invest in and strengthen the fan experience. Either you’ve all seen too many Mastercard commercials, or you agree the industry’s victories are based largely on providing experiences money can’t buy.

A popular breakout session was “A Cut Above: Uber Premium”, making it clear we are looking to create Instagramable, surprise-and-delight moments for our premium clients and experiences that improve our clients’ “experience memory”, as coined by one survey respondent.

Another respondent suggested customer experience is the new brand, validating the theme to invest in experiences designed to be social and sharable, while another voice added that premium is becoming less about “exclusive” and more about “social.” Fans want to connect with other fans.

Data Doesn’t Lie

Evidenced in the survey data, future innovation triggers the industry’s appetite. Sessions, including “Venue Vision: What’s on the Horizon”, “The Future is Now”, “Leading a Sports City”, “The New Age of Premium”, and “Staying Ahead of the Hospitality Curve”, discussed topics such as venue assessment and sustainability, venue transformations to social, multi-functional city hubs, new premium products offering simplicity, flexibility, and exclusivity, as well as F&B activations taking cues from outside of sports.

These topics deliberated how and why we keep corporate entertainment dollars coming into our venues, instead of diverting to other entertainment outlets, including your fans’ own homes.

Data continues to pave the industry’s landscape. As one survey respondent pointed out, “we have always done business that way” is a facility killer. To use available data is to design with the future in mind.

Erin Schnieders of the NBA assesses the future of the venue marketplace on the Venue Vision panel during The Sports Venue Design & Build Forum.

The Future of Sports and the Fluid Fan

Angela Ruggiero, CEO and Co-Founder of Sports Innovation Lab, delivered a keynote with compelling research on the future of sports, the venue marketplace, and changing fan behaviors. In 20 minutes, she successfully addressed several themes common to the overall conference.

Ruggiero outlined the intersection of sports and innovation, identifying trends and technology that will drive the future of our industry. She explained the signs of change and how to prepare smart venues for the next generation of fans. She pointed out sports are one of the last forms of live content, and 89% of sports fans prefer to watch games live.

However, she also pointed out one of sports’ challenges, which is the competition with other entertainment forms, such as video games and leisure. Ruggiero noted the most avid sports fans spend an average of 11% of their free time focused on their favorite sports during the season, begging the question in this “attention economy”, how can we keep fans engaged longer and with more loyalty?

Ruggiero also taught us about the Fluid Fan, explaining three attributes. First, the Fluid Fan is open to change and more willing than ever to change his or her mind. Second, the Fluid Fan is empowered to choose and is presented with more choice than ever before. And lastly, the Fluid Fan is continuously evolving and continuously discovering new content to love.

Fluid Fans may create new communities, follow players, cheer for values, have multiple selves, be creators, and change allegiances. They want to move freely through the venue, enjoying hassle-free experiences and memories. In a nutshell, the Fluid Fan challenges the industry to adapt.

Angela Ruggiero, CEO of Sports Innovation Lab and ALSD 2019 Keynote, discusses changing behaviors of sports fans now living in the “attention economy”.

Catching the Culture Fish

Shifting focus, what we cannot cast aside in sports business is culture, which sets our organizational sails towards staff well-being. The “Organizational Health and High-Performance” session was true to its name, illustrating that if organizations identify collective and complementary strengths, they function as a cohesive tribe.

The “Thriving Organizations & Championship Culture” session reiterated care and feeding of employees leads to organizational loyalty and, in turn, to those loyal employees offering the best care and feeding to their clients.

Additionally, one survey respondent learned a pointed statistic about development: “If not trained properly, employees do half the work and make twice the mistakes.”

State and Future of the Industry

To understand where we are going, we have to understand where we are today. And to understand where we are today, the ALSD once again brought in Rob Hunden to deliver his annual State of the Industry presentation. It was no surprise to observe half of the ALSD and Design & Build Forum audience snapping pictures of his PowerPoint. This year’s iteration outlined the roughly $13 billion in major league sports projects currently finishing or underway and studied a comprehensive list of major league stadiums with entertainment districts.

The Wrigley Field Super Panel equally intrigued the crowd by illustrating for attendees how the $1 billion restoration and expansion of the venue icon turned the ballpark into something of legend, as attendees later got to see firsthand. One attendee commented that the renovation recognizes new clientele needs and specifically pointed out the grab-and-go concept accommodating those fans who wish to get back to their seats.

ALSD 2019 attendees enjoyed a tour and reception at Wrigley Field, which showcased its four new premium clubs and renovated suite level to its industry peers.

If It Ain’t Broke, Break It?

Solid sales and service strategies remain industry pillars and topics attendees find perpetually valuable. Sessions like “Calculate Found Money”, “Closing for Champions”, “Creating a Service Culture”, and “Answering Your Clients’ Biggest Questions” honed the industry acumen necessary for success. We also witnessed new topics like “Business Intelligence in Premium Seating” and “Presentation Skills Using Comedy Roots” reveal growth areas in how we study and deliver on those tried-and-true pillars.

Technology is introducing a flurry of enhancements to simplify and personalize the customer experience. “Mobile Ticketing and F&B” is outgrowing its pains. Clients now understand the benefits, and teams are educating clients at a higher level, instructing them on the incentives and offering constant communication, such as day-of-game notifications. One key to success in mobile ticketing and F&B attendees agree on: over-communicate.

Further uses of technology, such as facial recognition, can save on labor costs, capture client profiles and preferences, and simplify security, making the in-venue experience more seamless and personalized. In addition, emerging and growing leagues continue to push venue design and innovation, evaluating and acclimating to the most efficient technologies needed to appeal to clients and prospects.

What’s more, resale of suites and seats is less restrictive than it once was. The breakout “Playbook to Benefit from the Secondary Market” outlined how teams can control secondary scenarios and remain victorious in retaining clients by adapting to their premium usage.

ALSD 2019 concluded at Wintrust Arena, highlighted by Philip Folsom leading a workshop designed to realize optimal organizational health and performance.

The Modern Buyers’ Market

Premium seating remains an advantageous investment. Yet flexible consumption options are a growing prerequisite to purchase. It’s a buyers’ market, your clients using seats and suites on their time. Several sessions pointed out adaptive opportunities. For instance, the Spurs Passport Program and San Francisco Giants Cloud Club each provide flexible hospitality designed to fit modern business needs. Likewise, some venues allow clients to buy a pool of credits to redeem throughout the year on clubs, suites, floor seats, loge seats, and more.

Clients’ preferred means of communication are also changing. Many clients prefer texting. Specifically, Zipwhip was called out as a new tool which can facilitate text from landlines. On the same token, influencer marketing generates business. Brand influencers may have more followers and can engage more strongly and organically than you can alone. Moreover, the social interactivity of an experience heightens brand visibility.

Lastly, we must create a want, not necessarily a need, for premium. One way to find success is by creating a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Statistics reported on the post-conference survey pointed out that FOMO fuels American spending. 52% of people post pictures of their food, and 88% of parents report they would rather spend money on experiences than on goods, proving the ability to create the want exists. It’s on us to hone in on it.

What topics are you interested in learning about at ALSD 2020?
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Watch our entire ALSD 2019 video series, featuring interviews with industry leaders, expositions of the conference’s best ideas, and venue tours of Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, United Center, and Wintrust Arena.