A Conversation with Maureen Sweeny, EVP and Chief Development Officer at Delaware North

Q&A highlights include the synergies between the entire Delaware North portfolio, the critical components of people and data, and the future of sports and entertainment - where events, hospitality, and technology converge.

  • Delaware North's Maureen Sweeny, EVP and CDO, and Frank Mendicino, EVP and CAO, volunteering for the United Way Day of Caring.

With 30 years of experience, which includes stints at IBM and in the gaming industry, Maureen Sweeny now brings her deft feel for customer experiences to the foodservice and hospitality industry. Enjoy her insightful, and wide-ranging conversation with the ALSD, covering the synergies between the entire Delaware North portfolio, the critical components of people and data, and the future of sports and entertainment – where events, hospitality, and technology converge.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Can you briefly outline for us your résumé and professional experience?

I started my career with IBM, and over the course of 30 years, I held a diversity of senior leadership roles in many different divisions and different geographies. I left to become the first Chief Commercial Officer for Aristocrat Technologies, a global gaming technology company.

I am now serving as Delaware North’s first Chief Development Officer. People ask me about the difficulties of creating a new position in an established enterprise, but I am more focused on the opportunities to create value for Delaware North, our clients, and our guests.

Maureen Sweeny, Delaware North

How does your past experience in the gaming and technology industries serve you well now in the foodservice industry?

Gaming is an experience business, meaning it focuses on the customer’s experience and enjoyment of products and services. The same is certainly true of foodservice and hospitality.

Delaware North strives to create one-of-a-kind experiences for our guests across all of our operations, and we put our customers at the center of every decision we make.

Growth is another equalizer across industries. In order to survive, a company must grow. I am the first person to hold the title of “chief development officer” at Delaware North, which is not to say they have not grown tremendously over the years. But it does signal a very deliberate and intentional plan to expand existing lines of businesses and potentially enter new markets to accelerate our growth.

Our growth will be fueled by delivering value to our company, our clients, and our guests.

Speaking of industries crossing over, how do Delaware North’s subsidiaries (and other industries in general) synergize with sports and influence how hospitality is presented throughout all levels of stadiums and arenas?

When you look at the rest of Delaware North’s portfolio – fine dining, hotels/resorts, travel, gaming – you see elements from each subsidiary incorporated into our sports business. As an example, we are very good at providing concessions and premium catering for thousands of people at sporting events, including Super Bowls and All-Star Games. That’s in our company’s DNA. But through our acquisition of the Patina Restaurant Group, we are now catering the GRAMMY and Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, and operating restaurants at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The ability to take expertise and lessons learned from Patina and apply them to our sports venues is taking us to another culinary and experience level.

The tremendous popularity of sports lends itself to all of our subsidiaries, and our travel business is another great example. We have partnered with the Minnesota Twins to open Twins Grill in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and with the iconic Jack Nicklaus to open Golden Bear Grill in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Charleston International Airports.

You can draw very obvious parallels between our lodging business and the surge in mixed-use developments adjacent to sports venues. Titletown in Green Bay near Lambeau Field, the District Detroit outside of Little Caesars Arena, and our own Delaware North-owned Hub on Causeway outside of the TD Garden are all examples of complete entertainment destinations. We maintain more than 3,000 rooms in a diversity of hotels and resorts – from luxury accommodations to campgrounds – so we are well versed in operations at these arena-adjacent developments.

What other assets within the Delaware North portfolio can be fused with sports and entertainment to bolster the performance of all those assets?

Our greatest asset is our people, so continuing to develop our talent pipeline is critical for operational excellence and growth. We encourage our associates to evolve their careers by moving across the traditional boundaries of our subsidiaries, and we leverage our associates’ experiences and knowledge to build value across all of our operations.

“Our greatest asset is our people, so continuing to develop our talent pipeline is critical for operational excellence and growth.”

– Maureen Sweeny, Delaware North

Data is another critical asset, and one that enables differentiated value for Delaware North and our clients. Across the diversity of our business we are collecting huge amounts of data, and we have significantly invested in building out our analytics infrastructure, which is how we make our data work for our partners.

From point-of-sale data in retail and F&B, to hotel check-ins, to gaming players’ cards, to demographic and psychographic overlays, we know a lot about our guests, and we use every bit of data we can to improve on the guest experience.

Considering all of these cross-pollinations going on, and the many disruptive technologies driving our economy and society, how do you envision the future sports and entertainment marketplace looks?

Those were the same questions that inspired a project in the last two years at Delaware North. Our Chairman, Jeremy Jacobs, and CEOs Jerry, Lou, and Charlie Jacobs commissioned two volumes of a book called The Future of Sports. The books make a number of pretty “out there” predictions about the future of the sports industry, a lot of which center on the idea that you can no longer separate out technology and entertainment from sports. Everything is intertwined. So the future sports and entertainment marketplace is one of increasing convergence.

To give you an interesting example, in the future we could very well move toward “predictive experience ticketing,” which would utilize artificial intelligence in the ticket purchasing process to optimize the fan experience. Fans would be suggested seats based on a series of algorithms, not unlike how Facebook uses algorithms to customize your feed, that predict where they will most enjoy sitting at the game – seated near compatible fans, preferred view based on past purchase, proximity to preferred retail and F&B. This technology would help us customize our guests’ hospitality and culinary experiences, which is a major value-add. The use of facial recognition technology and augmented reality are just two other exciting technologies that we are exploring to enhance service and the fan experience.

Maureen Sweeny and Lou Jacobs (far left), Co-Chief Executive Officer of Delaware North, on a recent visit to the company's properties in Australia.

 

Within that future stadium or arena, how does the foodservice look? What will the food and drink specifically look like?

Gameday foodservice trends will very much mirror restaurant trends – focus on farm-to-table, organic, and other specialty nutrition offerings, “Instagrammable” dishes, instant reviews on social media, etc. I think that going to a game will become as much about the culinary experience as it is about watching the action on the field.

What will the hospitality environments look like?

We seem to be getting away from the traditional premium model, with guests contained to 16-person suites and ordering full-course meals. We are instead moving toward more bespoke, small-plate offerings and community dining in premium clubs. And that is driven by guests’ changing tastes and preferences. It’s not just big corporations looking for premium seating. At the TD Garden in Boston, we are increasingly accommodating young professionals and small and mid-sized companies who are unwilling to purchase an entire suite, but still want a VIP experience.

“All signs point to mobile and kiosk ordering, and cashless, blockchain payments.”

– Maureen Sweeny, Delaware North

What will order systems and payments look like?

All signs point to mobile and kiosk ordering, and cashless, blockchain payments. The benefits are certainly compelling, from lowering transaction costs and speeding up transaction times by reducing friction at the point-of-sale. Cash that is tied up in the system cannot be used to reinvest in our guests’ experience. At Delaware North, we are constantly putting money back into our business to make improvements.

What will the service staff look like?

I think, and hope, that we will continue to see diversity of age, sex, and race. Technology will help us to better allocate labor. For example, ordering kiosks will allow us to take more people out from behind cash registers and put them into other areas of the guest experience, like culinary prep, where it will be most beneficial.

Maureen dines with Mickey and Minnie during a visit to Delaware North's restaurants at Disney Springs.

 

What will the fan look like?

The statistics tell us that fans of traditional stick-and-ball sports are aging, and younger fans are increasingly gravitating toward non-traditional games, like esports. The value of The Future of Sports is that it continuously forces our company to think about what’s next, not just what’s happening now. If we stay ahead of the trends, we can meet the evolving preferences of sports fans. We take comfort in knowing that, at least for now, sports still have two major advantages over other forms of entertainment – people like to watch games in real-time, and people like to watch in social settings. That bodes well for filling seats at our venues.

Is there anything else you had earmarked to share with us today, that you would like our readers to think about before clicking to our next story, that my questions weren’t good enough to cover?

We have affirmed a concise, but compelling, vision for Delaware North – To delight guests by creating the world’s best experiences today, while reimagining tomorrow.

This statement speaks to our focus on leveraging experiences, innovation, clients, and guests, whether it’s in sports, gaming, dining, parks and resorts, or travel.

And of course, Go Bruins!

 

More from Delaware North: Read the thought-provoking editorial on esports by Todd Merry, CMO at Delaware North.

 

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