Some fan experience elements are obvious. A 58-foot-high, 1,100 lineal feet halo board and a 100-foot mega-column tend to stand out for their theatrical, one-of-a-kind qualities.
But as Mike Gomes, SVP of Fan Experience at AMB Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, points out: “It sounds basic, but you have to start with the basics.”
Gomes, a 20-plus-year veteran of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts before joining AMB Sports & Entertainment, has brought some of that Disney magic with him to downtown Atlanta in designing immersive fan-centric programming at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the basics means wider seats, wider and unimpeded concourses, plenty of natural light, increased vertical transportation, and access to great food and beverage amenities regardless of ticket type or event type. Whether its 70,000 fans attending a Falcons game, 40,000 at an Atlanta United match, or 80,000 for mega events like the Super Bowl, Gomes is planning a special experience.
“One thing I learned at Disney is seconds compound themselves into minutes of wait time very, very quickly.” - Mike Gomes, SVP of Fan Experience, AMB Sports & Entertainment
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sensory touchpoints that require tending to as part of a holistically designed experience. When asked about which details he is reinforcing to his service team, Gomes starts with food and beverage within the context of the organization’s Fan First mantra.
“When you start on the design of a food and beverage program, you have to think of the entirety of it as a system,” says Gomes. “If you change one piece, you have to take a step back and think of your entire system. Pricing is a component of that system because pricing will drive demand. And if you lower prices, which we’ve announced with our Fan First pricing, you have to do so contemplating your overall program design.”
Fan First Food and Beverage
Fan First is a first-of-its-kind for the Big 5 pro sports leagues, its only real comp being the Master’s golf tournament. Through the unique food and beverage model, AMB Sports & Entertainment, both at the design and operational execution levels, ensures high quality, plenty of variety, and easy accessibility for fans. Hot dogs are just $2. A Coke (with unlimited refills) costs you $2. And if you want to splurge for nachos, they’re $3.
To accommodate expected increases in demand due to this pricing strategy, while also keeping concession lines short, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is adding 65% more points of sale across all three concourse levels to ratchet seconds out of each transaction.
“One thing I learned at Disney is seconds compound themselves into minutes of wait time very, very quickly,” says Gomes.
Gomes claims the organization and its foodservice partner Levy Restaurants, who will be paid an undisclosed management fee, are not concerned about leaving money on the dinner table.
“This hasn’t been about oh, this is a loss leader,” Gomes says. “It also hasn’t been about oh, we’ll make up for this all in demand. It has solely been about how do we create a great fan experience and don’t lose money on food and beverage.”
In terms of sponsors in the building, Gomes’ fingerprints are all over the activations of those marketing partners. Also taking a page out of the Disney playbook, Gomes and his team put together an experiential design guide to assist companies with creating flexible and engaging destinations that are “not just a shill about a certain product they’re trying to sell.”
“This is more brand-centric, not product-centric,” says Gomes. “And then understand the adjacencies – what food and beverage is next to you? How are people going to be moving in and through the space? So you contemplate things like throughput and capacity.”
Naming-rights partner Mercedes-Benz, which has relocated its U.S. headquarters to Atlanta, is one world-class brand that will be intertwined with the fan experience inside the stadium.
“They have a very simple slogan that says ‘The Best or Nothing’,” says Gomes. “That has really governed a lot of our stadium design and stadium experience execution.”