The success of premium marketing has allowed sports franchises to extract greater value from their inventory. As the overall gameday experience has evolved, premium seating has captured the imagination, and greater wallet share, of more and more sports fans and guests. But the premium boom has come at a price – the literal crowding out of the luxury segment.
This is driving a transitional period in the luxury economy. Jolted by the pandemic, the global luxury goods market imploded in 2020. It lost $79 billion in sales, a staggering 23% decline from 2019, according to Bain & Company. There is a growing consensus that luxury consumers have used the pandemic to reassess their habits and values, with unknown consequences for traditional luxury brands.
At Burns & McDonnell, we see a need for a luxury reset throughout the process of designing sports facilities. We believe that franchises must make space for the ultra-customized, highly personalized choices that define truly luxurious experiences in the modern era.
Where premium fans often welcome peer recognition through shared experiences, luxury fans desire a more restricted circle with shared values. In fact, conspicuous consumption may be a negative for luxury clients who may also look for high levels of sustainability and moral clarity around their purchases – what is being called quiet luxury or conscientious consumption. For example, the conscientious luxury consumer may want to see vegan menu options as often as dry-aged steak. The new state of luxury is one where extremes of choice must always be made available.
The luxury fan also may use the rarified experience of gameday as a means to attain a more elevated and meaningful end. Perhaps they want to bond with friends and family, as well as kick back and enjoy watching their childhood team. This combination amplifies the overall event experience. A suite then becomes not only a venue for sporting memories but also an extension of a larger self-narrative around curating meaningful relationships. The sales methodology for luxury needs to embrace this greater sensitivity to ulterior motivations that sit below the surface of price.
In the architectural domain, we are seeing more intimate – not necessarily larger – spaces that allow luxury seat holders to choose their proximity to the atmosphere of the public arena. The ability to move instantly from extreme privacy – say, from a private restroom to back out into the heat and noise of the action – is more valuable than either of those experiences alone. Air quality considerations and the incorporation of smart technology will be integral as facility owners and operators meet stringent health and wellness standards. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic makes hygiene and wellness considerations absolute must-haves moving forward.
In the materials-and-design domain, we see a move toward personalization – such as monogrammed tableware and seating – and bespoke decoration and furnishings that are stored until ordered. Imagine heirloom seats designated for each member of the family, or reserved for special guests, with curated memorabilia on the walls. Programmatic events might allow suite holders to stock their own private bars with custom-blended and custom-bottled liquors.
In the service domain, we predict a return to high-touch, flexible dining with the ability to move from the formal to the informal in seconds. For luxury buyers, time is their most prized possession. Waiting is simply not on the menu. To that end, we imagine more integrated, embedded technologies, including voice command, facial recognition, and predictive artificial intelligence, paving the way for a frictionless experience, from parking to the last play of the game.
Digital luxury, with exclusive access to hidden or rare knowledge driven by data and digital twins, will become a key differentiator for franchises with an eye to maximizing inventory value. Imagine a calculus that allows the suite owner to understand all the experiential dimensions of choosing certain seat locations based on the totality of the stadium’s data and on every major game-changing event that has ever taken place?
At Burns & McDonnell, we see the trajectory of luxury diverging from premium. The main driver of these changes is the primacy of the luxury consumer as a collaborator in the experience. In our view, the personal meaning of a luxury experience can only be determined by making space for the authentic voice of the buyer. In an era defined by choice, luxury demands options fit for every preference.
This venue solution was published in partnership with Burns & McDonnell.
Erica Muhlenbruch leads design projects in the sports, performance, and entertainment practice at Burns & McDonnell. With more than 20 years of experience as an interior architect, she has led over $1 billion in projects in all phases of design for NBA, NHL, NF,L and MLS stadiums, arenas, and training facilities.
Jeff Sittner leads development for sports, performance, and entertainment at Burns & McDonnell. With nearly 30 years of experience, he has extensive knowledge in all phases of the architectural process, including expansion, renovation, and creative visioning of professional sports venues and large-scale developments.