The performing arts arena, like the sports industry, is about experiences. While the attire may be anything from black tie to band t-shirts instead of team colors and jerseys, it’s all about coming together for a common love. But the question on the minds of many in the performing arts sector is "How can we enhance the experience in a way that grows our audience but still preserves performances?". The answer lies in passion and practicality, but also dollars and sense, pun intended.
Enter the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida – thought to be the first performing arts center to implement a true premium club level overlooking its stage. Despite the glaring lack of precedents from other venues to inform developers, the Broward Center has made premium work in a big way.
The construction of the LATAM Airlines Club Level & Intermezzo Lounge was part of a multi-faceted renovation project, stemming from a $58 million capital campaign that the Broward Center undertook with three main focuses in mind: general facility updates, education, and customer experience.
These pillars shaped the changes to the facility and guided the implementation of a premium experience that could benefit patrons, corporate clients, and the Broward Center’s bottom line. It’s become a positive example in a performing arts world that is still warming up to the ideas of "premium" and "club levels".
Kelley Shanley, President and CEO of the Broward Center, saw the benefits that the addition could provide early on. He found himself considering the way the sports world has already been setting the bar, in terms of an attendee’s journey.
"We know that people are going to measure their experiences here at the Broward Center not just based on their experiences at other theatres, but based on experiences they have everywhere," says Shanley.
But there are challenges unique to the performing arts world. For instance, wouldn’t those club level seat holders be noisy? Any regular patron knows that you shouldn’t even clap between the movements of a symphony. The most stalwart attendees will go blue in the face before they allow themselves to sneeze or cough in the midst of Beethoven. Thankfully, the folks in Fort Lauderdale had it covered.
Isolating Sound and Light
"There are things we had to take into consideration, like isolating acoustically what’s going on in the lounge from what’s happening in the theatre," Shanley says. "We needed to respect the envelope of the hall from a lighting and sound standpoint, and protect the experience in the hall from what may be happening inside the club."
Additional steps taken to ensure the integrity of the experience in the hall was protected included sound and light locks, dimmed lights in the club, and curtains so that the viewing portion of the club is isolated from the rest of the space.
"You know, it didn’t take too much work," says Shanley. "We put in a few simple things that protect that environment in the hall, and we were up and running."
This success relied on combining relevant know-how with the right architects, in this case, Scott Butler and Tom Hains, the principals on this project from Wilson Butler Architects out of Boston.
"There were a lot of design considerations, but keep in mind, our architect was coming from the performing arts center world," Shanley says. "So they understood all the issues as we understood them. We were both coming from the direction of understanding what needs to happen in the hall and what needs to be solidly outside the hall, and I think that the architect, having that experience in this world, really helped create the right experience with the club level."
The Customer Journey
Pioneering premium spaces in the performing arts world is all well and good, but it takes more than building a nice club or issuing VIP tickets to make the effort worthwhile to patrons and venue staff.
"One of those principles [of the renovation] was to increase the time and grow the spend for each individual customer," says Shanley. "I think that people in our industry all understand what that means."
The Broward Center wanted to go from a venue where a patron shows up just prior to the show and perhaps stops at the concession stand on the way in, and perhaps not, to one where a patron shows up an hour and half before the show, has a meal, and enjoys all of the amenities in the club, spending more time on the campus and more money per person.
"Any customer coming to a performance at one of our venues is probably going to try to attach dinner to their evening," Shanley says. "And they’re thinking about, ‘Well, do I park there and walk down the street to a restaurant? Do I go to a restaurant?’. There’s stress involved in that. Not a lot of stress, but they’re thinking, ‘Am I going to get there in time? Is there going to be a line when I arrive? Are they going to be out of valet parking?’. These premium packages, where [customers] can show up sooner and get their food and beverage experience delivered as part of it, alleviates that stress."
Part of that food and beverage experience meant expanding the kitchen facilities. Aside from the club level and lounge, the Broward Center also added a ballroom/banquet space, prompting the inclusion of a central kitchen. According to Shanley, these food and beverage enhancements have resulted in a substantial boost in food and beverage volume, boiling down to an approximate 400% revenue increase.
The LATAM Airlines Club Level provides more amenities than were previously offered to the corporate community.
"As far as the corporate community goes, with any [performing arts center], if you do something like this [renovation], they’re going to be the quickest ones to understand what it is and what its value is," says Shanley. "They are already over at the arena and the stadium. They get the whole experience. They see its value, and they know how to use it. They’re the easiest ones to sell."
That feedback should make the performing arts center (PAC) community breathe a sigh of relief. But that’s not the only group that PAC adopters of this concept may see darkening their doors and brightening their prospects. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the "Drag-Alongs".
"We also realized that there’s a new segment of the market that we’re going to reach because we’re offering this experience," Shanley says. "Our marketing department affectionately refers to them as the ‘Drag-Alongs’. Typically, the Drag-Along is a spouse who may or may not be that interested in attending a Broadway show or the ballet, but if they can come and attend through the LATAM Airlines Club Level or the Intermezzo Lounge, and they can have that type of experience, then they’re in. They’ll come. And we see evidence of it in all those spaces. Subscriptions have increased during this time period. We hit a ten-year high last season for subscriptions for our Broadway series."
To be fair, every aspect of the renovation has contributed to this uptick. All praise cannot solely be laid at the feet of the LATAM Airlines Club Level & Intermezzo Lounge. For example, the Broward Center has also created new spaces like its education wing, a way for performers and clinicians to touch base with students and aspiring artists.
But those in the performing arts community can appreciate the importance of introducing new people to their art forms and cultivating audiences. On that note, it feels great for those connected to the premium seating industry to hear Shanley’s cadence when he says, "Once we got it in place, everybody got it. And now there are subscribers to the opera that won’t go anywhere but the club level, and certainly the same thing for the Broadway series."
Selling to Corporations and Performers
Traditional arts and performance companies understandably still have some reservations about the premium and club level models being implemented into PACs. While corporate clients might have experience with hospitality environments for quite a long time, resident companies across the board just haven’t had the opportunity to test that kind of addition to their environment, and therefore also haven’t had as much experience trying to sell it.
"It goes back to the advantage of having a tangible example to point to," Shanley says. "They can all talk to their peers in this market about the results, how it’s worked, and overcome a lot of the fears associated with this kind of an element being added to their performance."
Malena Mendez-Dorn, Director of Corporate Partnerships at the Broward Center, has much to say about the measurable influence that the renovation and the club level have had, especially on corporate hospitality.
"The club level subscription rate is 1.5 times our non-club level subscription rate," Mendez-Dorn says. "When we started the corporate membership without the club level, we started the program off basically selling access to seats, and we had probably five members. When the club level was brought on, we grew it to almost 30 corporate circle members."
That’s nearly a six-fold growth. Mendez-Dorn also comments on how a partnership with a performing arts center can offer a consistent experience, whereas a client may leave a sports game disappointed because the team lost.
"I always tell everybody in my big sales pitches that nobody ever leaves a Broadway show angry," she says. "It’s a great avenue for corporate entertaining because: A) You can bring the husband and wife as a fun night out or date night, and B) Everyone has a great experience."
Finally, it’s important to remember that the space is an opportunity for other types of income.
"It also created a space for naming, hence the LATAM Airlines Club Level," says Mendez-Dorn. "Those were dollars that came from a multi-year partnership."
Start Spreading the News
"The more that we can sell these shows by providing these experiences, the more the promoters and the agents are going to be interested in putting shows into our building," says Shanley. "So we’ve created a lot of excitement, both through the process of going through the renovation, unveiling the new renovation, and then allowing people to experience the Broward Center now in new and different ways."
It all comes back around to experience. It’s true, the Broward Center didn’t just add a premium club. They added more food and beverage amenities, an education wing, a ballroom, substantial refurbishing, and more. But even just on the point of club levels and premium areas, there is merit to understanding and implementing new experiential aspects to the benefit of corporate clients as well as the "Drag-Alongs".
Preserving the presentation of art forms is also important, but the Broward Center was able to do just that through careful planning, while also increasing engagement and strengthening the bottom line. What’s better than a visitor, who would have never come to the theatre otherwise, discovering that he or she has an affinity for listening to a killer soprano? Or a businessperson who can finally entertain high-level clients with a night at the symphony?
Now other performing arts venues can finally start looking at best practices in this area and have discussions about what will work in their spaces.
"Success breeds success," Shanley says. "So when agents see shows doing well in our building, they’re going to call us and want to share in that success and have their artists be successful here as well."
Is your performing arts center considering premium installations?
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