From Generational Perks to Ticket Quirks, Arena Managers Cover the Gamut

20 Sep

Representing four of the five generations found in the workplace are, from left, Matt Batson, student, University of Florida, Gainesville; Colleen Byrnes, The Ryan Center, Kingston, R.I.; Ruey Peck, Spalding Basketball Equipment; Kim Bedier, Comcast Arena at Everett (Wash.); Lisa Chamness, Freedom Hall, Johnson City, Tenn.; and Kevin Twohig, Spokane (Wash.) Arena. (VT Photo)

REPORTING FROM TULSA, Okla. — Dealing with generational issues, both with employees and patrons, from tattoos to touch screens, was a running theme through the Arena Management Conference here Sept. 11-14. Communication is a new ballgame throughout the industry strata.

Asked about future trends in the arena world, answers thrown back from attendees included Ping and other technology, more social networking, more family-oriented entertainment, more reality shows on the road, and fewer stairs as an older marketplace rebels at climbing up and down. Kevin Twohig, Spokane (Wash.) Arena, envisioned multi-level arenas where no one had to climb up or down more than six steps, and he was more than half serious. The arena of the future will have larger lobbies, more storage, interactive touch screens everywhere, convenient restrooms, and friendly production capabilities.

Attendance at this year’s AMC totaled 192 including walkups, down from three years ago, but up from last year, according to Brenda Pennington of the International Association of Assembly Managers, which presents the event. The name change to International Association of Venue Managers is under construction, but this event was not so branded.

Kim Bedier, Comcast Arena at Everett (Wash.), moderated the panel on “Best of the Best of Generations A to Z,” noting that there are now four or five generations in one workplace more of the time and that leads to a wider variety of problem-solving techniques and preferences. She identified Traditionalists, born before 1945; Baby Boomers, 1946-1954; Generation X (1955-1977); Generation Y, born after 1977; and the newest, Nexters, aged 18-25 and now entering the workplace. Matt Batson, a student in Hospitality and Tourism at the University of Florida, Gainesville, represented the Nexters on the panel.

Both Matson and Colleen Byrnes, senior event manager, Ryan Center, Kingston, R.I., confirmed that their generations (Brynes qualified as Generation Y) are taught by professors and teachers that it’s normal to have seven jobs. “Every day I’m told you’re not going to find your career with your first job. You always think there is something else out there,” Matson said.

“We’re funky,” Byrnes added, though she has been at Ryan Center for five years, having started as a student. Twohig said he is astounded by that attitude and, as an employer, he has to deal with it every day. “On our staff, there is no issue until we get to the Millennials (born 1980-2000), where we suddenly drop to a 50 percent retention rate. That generation are on their second and third jobs already.” Byrnes added that she went to school to get into this industry and Batson is specializing in event management, but they appear to be the exceptions.

Each generation is defined by the media they use. Nexters have even gotten to the point they express themselves by appearance. One in three now have tattoos or piercings. Employer response varied from Twohig — “I’m not a tattoo fan. In our market it’s not the right impression. It’s a negative to me.” — to Byrnes, “It can’t be visible.”

Ruey Peck, Spalding Basketball Equipment, (Generation X), noted that his firm supplies equipment to the National Basketball Association where “some of the ink on players in unbelievable,” but for professional purposes, they still say, if you have a tattoo, you should be able to cover it up.

“This business is relationship based,” noted Lisa Chamness, Freedom Hall, Johnson City, Tenn., referring to employees and customers and clients. “Your own integrity must be intact.”

Motivating all generations of workers is also relationship based. Byrnes said she sets goals and motivates the event staff with the carrot and the stick. “If you ever want an usher position on the floor, I will consider your record,” she tells them.

“Motivation is in the trust we’re given,” Batson said.

On the client relationship side, Bedier posed the question, “How far will you go?”

Peck said his firm donated basketball equipment to President Barack Obama’s White House because they saw that it meant recognition and opportunity and “it saved the taxpayers money.”

“We’ll buy it, promote or co-promote,” Twohig said. “Right now I’m looking for a rock show for the fall. It’s what our community wants.”

“I’m not above begging,” Chamness said. Hers is a leased facility, she cannot promote, but she brings other value-adds to the table. “We’re willing to go the other step.”

Eschewing the negative, Twohig wrapped it up noting that despite the economic crisis, “we’re having the best year we’ve ever had. It’s a bright time in the industry for us.”

Not for others, though. Bob Skoney, Nashville Municipal Auditorium, and Sue DeVries, Metrapark, Billings, Mont., talked about recovery from floods in Tennessee and tornados in Montana on another panel. Skoney said he spent the week after the floods booking events from his home. Fortunately, though the arena had no power nor entry, he had a backup calendar.

The city is slowly recovering since the May 1 flood, he said. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center hopes to open again by the end of January, having sustained $45 million in damage. The Opry House, with $16 million in damage, opens this month (VT Pulse, Sept. 5), and Municipal Aud was up and running after eight days out of the building.

The tornado in Billlings was June 20, and DeVries said it was the first F2 (scale of intensity) tornado there in 50 years. The 186-acre grounds was hosting events the day after the tornado hit, but the Rimrock Auto Arena, where it did at least $40 million in damage, won’t reopen until April 1, 2011. On the plus side, it will be a much improved arena, DeVries said, with more bathrooms, sound improvements, more than one elevator, additional signage, a new entryway and possibly a new bridge from the parking lot.

Grand openings were also revisited, including Intrust Bank Arena, Wichita, Kan., where Scott Neal, assistant general manager, said lessons learned included knowing what the venue means to the community, scheduling time in the facility before the grand opening (they had two months), managing expectations, and having a good pair of community boots on hand for construction site tours.

Steve Miller, general manager, Huntington Center, Toledo, Ohio, agreed that managing expectations is key. Huntington Center replaced the 1952-era Sports Arena, which had no air conditioning and glass that was four feet tall for hockey. The $105 million facility took 20 months to build and has hosted 425,000 people so far.

Bookings and discounted tickets were the hot topic during the Town Hall for 10,000-plus seat arenas. Some bemoaned Live Nation relations, saying the promoter apparently has “a list” of 70 buildings they regularly do business with and woe to the arena that’s not on the list.

“You have to make a co-pro deal,” said Michael Marion, Verizon Arena, North Little Rock, Ark., in response to the list worries. “Let’s not be coy.”

Marion also noted an increase in experimentation with ticket pricing. “I’m not a fan of discounting, but sometimes it happens,” Marion said.

Several were also not fans of all-in tickets, including most family show producers and those who have a fee-free box office option. Most so-called “all-in” prices are still advertising the base price on the Ticketmaster web site and there has to be at least one place where buyers can pay that price, many attendees opined.

Paperless ticketing will require a lot of education, it was suggested. Marion said people still lined up at the box office to get the “ticket” for a Brooks & Dunn paperless show to the point that they posted employees to head them off so they didn’t stand in line twice.

Alternative events are also on the rise and most of those mentioned revolved around food. Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky., did an Incredible Food Show featuring celebrity chefs and drawing 8,000 attendance in two days. Growers, producers and suppliers exhibited. Rich MacKeigan, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Mich., hosts a Wine & Food Festival, which features 80 wineries and drew 10,000 people in two days. Jo-Ann Armstrong, Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif., said their Orange County Foodie Fest featured 50 gourmet food trucks and drew 8,000 attendance in one day (Venues Today, September 2010 issue).

“Food is a growth area right now,” MacKeigan said. — Linda Deckard

Interviewed for this story: Kevin Twohig, (509) 279-7002; Kim Bedier, (425) 322-2611; Lisa Chamness, (423) 461-4855; Matthew Batson, (239) 887-4979; AJ Boleski, (316) 440-9015; Ruey Peck, (800) 435-3865 x2406; Colleen Byrnes, (401) 788-3205; Sue DeVries, (406) 256-2412; Michael Marion, (501) 975-9030; Bob Skoney, (615) 862-6393

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