Henderson’s Takeaways from VenueConnect 2022

Russ Murdock, venue sector technical director, and Allison Black, venue sector client relationship director, recently represented Henderson Engineers at the International Association of Venue Managers’ (IAVM) VenueConnect 2022 conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The annual event hosted professionals from a variety of venue types including arenas, convention centers, performing arts centers, and stadiums. Murdock and Black returned with several key takeaways from the event:

Project Creation and Execution Processes Remain Mysterious

From facility operators to community leaders, economic development professionals to AEC partners, and civic officials and beyond – there is a notable desire to better understand the steps inherent in project development and the overall approval process. Most crucial is finding and creating definition, vision, and purpose around the underlying need for a project, in addition to concept generation, approvals and permits, and design team involvement. All are potential pitfalls that must be successfully navigated long before the project vision is ultimately clear. Industry leaders spent significant time talking about better processes and practices to achieving projects at venues successfully.

Engagement, Interaction, and Thought-Provoking Brainstorming were Center Stage

Nearly 10% of the overall event attendees registered for, and participated in, an interactive design and development charrette. The scenario in question presented the problem of an underutilized and underperforming portion of a convention center, and its transformation into a community hub and social gathering place in the form of a local brewery, but the real success was tapping into the thirst and desire of the attendees for meaningful interaction and discussion.

A few logistical and organizational frameworks really helped set the stage for a great experience. The room was set up to create multiple concurrent roundtable discussions to drive interaction and to keep distractions at bay. Industry thought leaders with varied backgrounds and expertise were tasked to facilitate and open the conversation. Finally, the problem statements and objectives that were presented and chosen organically fostered conversation and collaboration. The statements and objectives helped to invigorate the dialogue. What was the problem? How was that problem experienced by the roundtable attendees? What were the potential solutions? How did those solutions differ for the various roundtable attendees?

Guest Experience Continues to Drive Decisions and Investments

A presentation from the Phoenix Suns, Denver Broncos, and Verizon Wireless titled “Streamlining the Guest Experience” offered many insights into the importance of a positive guest experience. Venues are leveraging technology to eliminate friction for guests by maximizing what can be accomplished during natural breaks in the game. Venues are creating efficiencies and alignments between restrooms, grab and go food/beverage ordering options, QR code driven merchandise browsing and purchasing, and dedicated areas for online order pick-ups, all with a goal of getting you back to your seat with your hands full.

Focused guest experience enhancement strategies and tactics that were discussed revolved around the grab and go concession options, in-seat order/purchase merchandise options, touchless payment, and unique experiences not often seen in venues such as local restaurant outposts and the integration of live betting in-venue, which in and of itself will open a myriad of sponsorship and revenue generation opportunities. Touchless/cashless payment options (or more and more commonly, requirements) have of course been on the rise in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But while these handsfree payment methods were initially implemented to limit the spread of germs, facilities have noted that they have also helped to ease the flow and queueing constrictions present during peak times, such as pre-game and halftime at sporting events.

Underutilized Spaces are Ready for a Re-Birth

Much discussion at the conference was focused on the increased effort to assess and reimagine underutilized or transitory spaces. By design, convention centers have large pre-function and lobby spaces that surround smaller breakout meeting and event spaces. Even with the best design intent and assumptions, certain portions of those spaces may become underutilized or transitory over time. Watching the flow of attendees through a space during a series of events could unearth actionable intel for design and experience intervention or reinvention. With the right data and design expertise, those underutilized spaces can be transformed and reactivated into experiences, or interaction inducing checkpoints – likely through some type of food and beverage installation or walk-through.

Attendee Movement and Traffic Flow Analyses and Opportunities

VenueConnect launched several conversations about attendee mapping and traffic pattern analyses. The common theme seemed to be that data is available for viewing and investigation but is perhaps not being leveraged to its full potential by facilities and event producers.

Facilities may be missing out on simple/efficient ways to document and quantify where the building is bustling, and where it’s languishing (beyond booking data, there are opportunities for actual traffic/occupancy data). Event producers are passing over real time traffic and mapping data that could be pushed to the event attendees, driving engagement into zones, booths, and experiences that are designed to multiply event attendee interactions and returns on investment for exhibitors. Additionally, event producers and facilities are potentially ignoring positional and traffic data that could validate the exposure received in sponsorship zones (or identify zones that are underutilizing sponsorship opportunities).

As technology evolves and moves at hyper speed, Wi-Fi and DAS systems are being upgraded and replaced. Those upgrades should consider and capitalize on new opportunities and available product lines to integrate mapping and positioning within the installed Wi-Fi/DAS infrastructure. If integrated in a forward-thinking way, the installation reduces the need for third party, expensive, and standalone options to retrieve the same data, increasing the facility’s operational efficiency and driving value to conference attendees and exhibitors.

Henderson Knows Venues

When it comes to arenas, convention centers, stadia, airports, and multi-purpose venues, we know what it takes to design a space that’s performance and experience ready for every athlete, entertainer, fan, attendee, or facility operator. Our Venue Sector experts are always focused on the end-user, blending functionality with technical expertise, and exploring innovative solutions to showcase the competition, enhance the aesthetic and amenities, and ensure patron and fan comfort. When it comes to designing environments where thousands of people come together, our Venue Sector experts lead the field.

Written By
Russ Murdock

Venue Sector Technical Director | Venue Sector Convention Center Practice Director | Principal

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Written By
Allison Black

Venue Sector Client Relationship Director | Associate

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