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Seating Satisfaction Depends
On Your Point of View
By John Poyner
Everyone is a chair expert. Most people have three or four chairs they use on a regular basis—at work, multiple situations at home, in your car, in your garden—so what is all the fuss about? Well, manufacturers in the public assembly facility seating business and architects that design buildings such as arenas and stadiums go to great lengths to ensure patrons can get in and out of the facility safely, are comfortable, and have a good view of the show or game. A truly great seating installation should go almost unnoticed. After all, patrons come to see the game and not evaluate the seats.
These basic requirements have not changed
much since the Romans were building amphitheaters and arenas such as the
Coliseum. The modern arena, though, has to change shape to be a true
multi-purpose facility capable of presenting anything from basketball to ice
hockey or to be an exhibition space or concert venue. Successful facilities
in North America present 200 plus events a year and this requires special
designs with products that allow the seating arrangements to change
There are several changes that are taking place in the arena/stadium seating world and these reflect an element of the business model for these types of building that has been developed in North America and is rapidly gaining ground overseas. In simple terms, you get 20,000 people in a building and then proceed to sell them stuff. The entry ticket price is not the only revenue generator and certainly not the element with the highest profit. This strategy developed by Disney of capturing customers so that they spend their cash in your facility also changed the movie theater business during the 1970s and 1980s during a time when the last thing you would expect to be growing was an industry then threatened by home videos. But it did and while it has stalled in the U.S. at the moment, the business model for movie theaters is driving construction of these facilities all over the world. It’s an American idea exported and as successful as McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Speaking of which, have you noticed how big the popcorn containers are getting? New arenas and stadiums overseas are recognizing—thanks to input from U.S. architects and management—the potential benefits of providing for other income streams within these facilities. Spending/shopping has become a leisure activity. One of the first changes to seating to accommodate the feeding/drinking frenzy at a sports event was the inclusion of cup holders on chairs. As well as providing a place for your drink or popcorn, these low cost additions provide advertising space/revenue and reduce clean up time.
It is now possible to order food and pay for it using an interactive screen attached to the seat or even through your cell phone or PDA. These communication channels can also provide a means to buy tickets and other concession items while providing game information, replays and statistics. The opportunities for data mining with this level of customer contact and interactivity are enormous and will elevate the seat/chair space to a patron’s private domain where he may be greeted by the chair and asked if he wants the same drink as the last time he was there.
So what are the key changes and trends? These facilities have to make profits and this is driving change at various levels. There is an increasing need for rapid conversion of arenas without compromising comfort or sightlines. This coupled with flexibility of use in the future is a reason many seating companies continue to introduce new innovative solutions, such as Hussey did with its new Vari-Rise FX Platform System. This systems offers super fast and simple conversions between basketball and hockey seating configurations. Chairs remain in place during the transition, eliminating labor requirements and allowing the same chair to be used on these units as fitted to the fixed areas.
Another innovative product is the new Intelligent Sports Track (IST) System. This product provides long-term flexibility and the ability to incorporate technology at the time of installation or at any time in the future. The solution is based on a beam mounted modular system that deals with the wire management issues combined with a second generation of the Medallion chair. The ‘technology’ is part of the Sports Entertainment Package being developed by Hussey in conjunction with Epson and Ignite Sports. This includes the new iDirect screen product available as a chair attached option in a self storing, lockable docking station in the arm of the chair – similar to that seen on an aircraft.
iDirect is much more sophisticated however as it’s an open portal capable of being configured to provide exactly the requirements of any particular team. The objective being to enhance the in-venue fan experience and benefit the sports franchise . iDirect not only offers new, engaging ways to enrich the game experience and connect with fans in-venue, but also is designed with an open platform to enable teams to leverage existing media assets and network systems. It can be fully integrated with point of sale (POS) or ticketing systems, offers incremental sponsorship and transaction revenue opportunities, and can help build fan/venue community.
So, there is a lot happening in the arena and stadium world that will benefit the spectator by improving the total venue experience and as a significant player in this industry.
John Poyner is vice president of marketing at Hussey Seating and based in North Berwick, ME.
International Association of Assembly Managers