A Strategic Approach to Reopening Our Venues

As venue and event managers, handling logistics is what we do. However, the pandemic has required venue managers to reassess every aspect of operations. We must take a proactive approach to the current reopening process to better prepare for the future.

Venues across the country face a myriad of logistical challenges as they open their doors to guests. Venue managers must consider the impact of new health and safety protocols on both the guest and employee experiences. They must consider ever-evolving CDC guidance and incorporate any remaining local/state restrictions, new league or conference protocols, and even university requirements for those on a college campus.

Beyond those external stakeholders, venue managers may also be impacted by related constraints from tenants, promotors, artists, sponsors, and clients, which may be in direct conflict with the previously mentioned requirements. Venues may also consider different protocols for various spaces within the venue, such as the seating bowl, concourses, clubs, and suites.

Communicate Clearly

So, what’s the silver bullet? Unfortunately, there isn’t one. Each venue manager must take into consideration the applicable external requirements for their venue, along with guest expectations and staff requirements. Some guests are hyperaware of the venue environment and may be reassured by visible, active housekeeping activities and third-party cleaning and sanitation certifications as visible confirmation of what is being done to keep people safe.

On the other hand, some guests are just ready to go, as evidenced by the recent reopening of Madison Square Garden with a full house (of fully vaccinated guests) to see the Foo Fighters and the steady progress toward full capacity at NBA arenas. Fans are expecting changes, but communication is critical to help educate and establish expectations.

One strategic method to gain a better understanding of guest sentiments and expectations is to survey season ticket holders, premium guests, and the venue/team database to help inform any new venue protocols and communications.

Re-Engage Premium Clients

Re-engaging premium ticket holders is an important part of the process. Many venues and teams have worked diligently to keep their premium ticket holders engaged throughout the pandemic. For instance, STAPLES Center granted a 10% bonus for those premium ticket holders who left money on their accounts and froze accounts for a year, essentially adding a year to premium contracts. They have sent swag and are planning to spend more this year on client gifting and entertainment.

To re-engage their premium ticket holders, BOK Center hosted suite holder tastings which provided an opportunity to introduce their premium guests to new menu items while also giving them a chance to see the changes at the venue in advance of attending their first event.

Retrain Venue Staff

In general, as we look toward “normal” operations, another important consideration is the venue staff, including both the event staff and full-time personnel. While many members of the event staff are eager to get back to work, some venues are having a tough time securing enough personnel to appropriately staff their venue.

Some believe this challenge can be attributed exclusively to the unemployment benefits being offered, but event staff members may also simply be hesitant to return because of ongoing concerns regarding COVID-19, and the overall cost-benefit analysis is keeping them away. Just like with guests, venues can benefit from strategic surveys to engage event staff members, gauge any concerns, and seek recommendations to encourage them to return to work, all of which can be used to inform protocols and communications with event staff members.

Many venues that are currently welcoming guests to events have reported that event staff members are a bit out of practice in general, plus they need to learn any new protocols and procedures in order to properly take care of guests, such as new bag policies and search procedures. So planning for refresher training for event staff is key to a successful reopening.

In addition, many venues have fast-tracked their move toward a cashless, touchless event experience. Therefore, the event staff must also be trained on new technology in F&B and mobile ticketing, including any resulting changes in overall box office operations.

Consider the Needs of Full-Time Staff Members

Last, but not least, are the needs of the venue’s full-time staff members. They have been through a great deal over the past 16 months, including venue shutdowns, remote work, furloughs, layoffs, and a constantly changing industry environment, not to mention personal challenges such as childcare, finances, family concerns, and their own personal health and well-being. As we come out of the pandemic and focus on returning to normal operations, we can’t forget these individuals who, for many venues, went above and beyond during this time and often contributed by working in areas outside their normal scope of work.

In order to help employees process the experience and move forward, some venues are incorporating a formal debrief with their full-time staff as part of their strategic reopening process. This activity provides an opportunity to address the past, assess the present, and prepare for the future.

PAST – What did we do well, and what could we have done better?
PRESENT – What are the greatest challenges as we return to normal work operations?
FUTURE – What does the new normal look like at the venue?

In the end, venues must learn from this experience in order to be prepared for future crises. Over the past 16 months, venue managers were often forced to take a reactive approach to managing the changes, but taking a proactive, strategic approach to the current reopening process will help us better prepare for the future.

Kimberly Mahoney, Ph.D., CVP is the Principal with VENULOGIX, LLC. She can be reached at kim@venulogix.com.