The National Football League generated an average impact of $75 million on hotel room revenue during the past eight seasons, according to the hotel research firm STR. In 2015 the NFL had a net impact of $77 million on hotel room revenue in U.S. cities with NFL stadiums.
Although the room revenue figures were not broken down in terms of leisure or corporate group business, the study confirms that hotels and professional sports arenas have a wonderful and profitable symbiotic relationship, whether it’s NFL, MLB or NBA, and savvy insurance and financial planners understand the benefits of organizing meetings, conferences and incentive events in cities with major sports venues. They attract attention, engage participants in positive ways and help give corporate event attendees that out-of-the-box experience.
“We placed a stage in one end zone (of the Georgia Dome) and had a crowd of 40,000-plus for our biennial convention.”
— Mike Burroughs
Some of the major advantages of organizing sports venue events include accessible and adequate parking, professional onsite event catering services, great audio-visual and lighting opportunities, numerous flexible meeting spaces, the association with popular sports teams and the likelihood of having event participants go back in time to relive the pleasurable moments of their childhood.
Of course, with all the great advantages that sports venues bring to site selection, there are issues that meeting planners need to be aware of. Some sports venues are not allowed, by local regulations or ownership decisions, to generate non-sports-event-related revenue. It also is true that many sports venues do not adequately communicate to planners the availability of their corporate event spaces or fine dining options for game-day or year-round private functions.
However, for insurance and financial event planners looking to provide that special experience for employees or clients, using a sports venue instead of a typical hotel ballroom will definitely impress participants. In addition to the physical advantages inherent in today’s modern, high-tech stadiums, there also is the glamour involved when a team’s current or former players are involved in your event.
In Atlanta, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and Atlanta Falcons have agreed on a new, retractable roof stadium that is being constructed just south of the Georgia Dome. Scheduled to open for the 2017 NFL season, The $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium will serve as the home of the Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United, in addition to the other sports, convention and entertainment events currently held at the Georgia Dome.
“We have used the Georgia Dome for conventions for the last 15 years,” says Mike Burroughs, executive vice president at Primerica’s metropolitan Atlanta location. “Our most recent convention there was July, 2015, where we placed a stage in one end zone and had a crowd of 40,000-plus for our biennial convention. The Georgia Dome has worked perfectly for us for many years since the Primerica international headquarters is located just north of Atlanta in Duluth, Georgia, so we used the entire Georgia Dome and the entire Georgia World Congress Center for our conventions.
“Primerica has the best team of meeting planners in the world, and our team works closely with them. Our team’s responsibility is the event production side of our meetings and conventions. Our team produces the event, so we are responsible for what happens inside the Dome, which includes all media, staging, lighting and sound.”
Naturally, Primerica is thinking ahead about its future plans for Atlanta-based meetings. “We started talking to them (Mercedes-Benz Stadium officials) last year, and we are continuing to have discussions with the leadership team there,” says Burroughs. For 2017, however, Primerica has chosen Indianapolis for its 40th anniversary convention, expecting to attract more than 50,000 attendees (out of 110,950 life insurance licensed representatives) in June to the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We couldn’t be more excited about Indy 2017. The city of Indianapolis has been amazing to work with, and they have an incredible stadium, awesome convention facilities and connectivity to hotels and restaurants like no place I have ever seen.”
In Glendale, Arizona, the University of Phoenix Stadium is home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. The stadium, with its retractable roof and field, is a marvel of design, engineering and technology. The 63,400-seat stadium (expandable to 72,200) hosts the annual Fiesta Bowl and was the site of the 2015 Super Bowl.
With a variety of spaces that can accommodate small events as well as large-scale, multi-space exhibitions, the technologically advanced facility is Wi-Fi capable throughout, and the scoreboard and ribbon boards are available for corporate announcements and advertisements. There is extensive parking, 20,000 sf of climate-controlled meeting spaces, and private exhibition entrances with direct access to the show floor.
“I have done a few events at the stadium for corporate groups, including one for International Securities Exchange, which has recently been acquired by Nasdaq,” says Hillary Clements, account executive with Southwest Conference Planners in Scottsdale. “In this case, with 350 attendees, we rented out the entire stadium for the event, using the show floor inside the venue.” The show floor is quite unique, as the grass football field is retractable and easily moves outside to transform the stadium’s show floor into a multipurpose, column-free exhibition space. Direct drive-on access ensures easy move in and out for corporate exhibits. The show floor features a full utility grid and offers 160,000 sf.
“As for my experience with this event, it was fantastic, and the stadium was a great venue for us,” says Clements. “The attendees all enjoyed themselves, the food and acoustics were great, and my planning process with stadium workers was wonderful. This financial client was looking for a large venue for a casual, fun event and the stadium proved to be the perfect fit.”
Opened originally in 1987 as Joe Robbie Stadium, and most recently called Sun Life Stadium, the newly remodeled home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and college football’s Miami Hurricanes, is now known as Hard Rock Stadium, which opened in 2016 following a $500 million renovation.
The two major upgrades include a huge shade canopy, which protects 92 percent of the fans from the blistering sun or occasional downpours, and high-definition screens, each 112 feet long and 50 feet high, providing 22,400 sf of video so clear that spectators may be tempted never to look at the actual field. There also have been deluxe upgrades to the unique facilities within the stadium that can be used for corporate events.
For non-game days the Dolphins Locker Room offers planners the opportunity to customize lockers with guest names and can accommodate up to 150 for a theater-style presentation or 200 for a reception. Another great space is called The Nine, a room located over the 50 yard line, that offers a great field view, a large lounge with bar and food service stations, and access to nine open-air suites for up to 200.
Other corporate facilities at Hard Rock Stadium include The 72 Club, a multifunctional space with two dining areas that can be used for presentations or receptions for up to 700 persons, a large center bar and easy access to the field. The Hyundai Club has high ceilings, video walls, eight illuminated wooden trees and rustic furniture. The largest of the new club spaces, with easy access to a platform overlooking the field, the facility can accommodate 400 theater style, and 2,000 reception capacity.
“I would definitely consider hosting an event at the Hard Rock Stadium,” says Kayla Schwenk, CMP, director of meetings and events at Paragon Events Inc., in Delray Beach, Florida. “The renovations that the stadium has completed are incredible. There are multiple spaces with a different feel to each one. The spaces can accommodate groups of 25–2,000, which makes it easy for us to sell to a variety of groups.
“Because Hard Rock Stadium can offer so much variety in space size, formality and access to watching the game, the venues at the stadium are ideal for larger conferences wanting to give their attendees a unique experience or will captivate a smaller group making them feel like a VIP,” says Schwenk, who works with insurance and financial companies in the area. “Having a reception in the Dolphins locker room would be a great experience for any type of client!
“We find the best way to plan for a corporate group at a sports venue is to tie it to a game. We look for spaces that allow the attendees to network while also providing them additional entertainment.”
“I am a big fan of hosting events at great sports venues,” says Dan Meister, CMP, of Meister Meetings and Travel, who has organized many corporate events around the country. “At Busch Stadium, home of MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals, we rented several large hospitality suites during a baseball game for an offsite event for 300 persons. We brought our own signage into the suites, which was great, and the stadium was within walking distance of our downtown headquarters hotel, making it very easy and convenient for guests to leave on their own time during or after the game, saving transfer expenses. Guests could see the stadium from the hotel every day, so we themed the entire meeting around baseball, culminating in the final night dinner at the stadium that was well received.”
Meister tries to get creative when planning events at or near sports venues, including hosting a financial conference for 250 persons that was close to, but not actually in, one of the most popular sports venues in Chicago — home of the now World Series champion Chicago Cubs. “We took over one of the famous rooftop venues across the street from Wrigley Field,” says Meister. “It was an optional fundraising event during the conference, and everyone loved the uniqueness and exclusivity of the venue. Even if they had to watch the game from the outfield, they could still see everything on all the TVs, and enjoyed the great bars and lounges on the roof.
“We have also used suites and club seats to entertain our client’s customers for hospitality events from 10 to 400 persons at many of the nicer stadiums and sporting venues across the country,” says Meister. “I am a big sports fan and personally feel the opportunity to see and experience a local sports game is a great way to get attendees out of the typical meeting rooms and have some local fun and network. Baseball, basketball and PGA events are easier to coordinate around firm convention and meeting dates due to the frequency of games played, and football is always a big draw. These events are always fun, popular and memorable.”
At the Jacksonville Jaguars EverBank Field, the US Assure Club offers two specially designed spaces for hosting corporate meetings, conferences and incentive groups for 20–500 people. US Assure East is similar to an urban microbrewery or gastropub, with a somewhat raw and industrial look, using black, tan and gray design colors, with concrete accents. The US Assure Club West has a country club theme, with classic and polished black and white design finishes and marble accents. The patio areas of both clubs, with 17,827 sf, have great views of the field with soft seating couches or high-top tables. Both clubs also offer indoor/outdoor bar areas, 11-by-19-foot HD screens for sports action or corporate presentations.
Hagerty, the world’s largest global provider of collector vehicle insurance and products, has organized events at Chicago’s Cellular One Field, Reliant Park in Houston, Texas, and Angel’s Stadium in Anaheim, California, but they also like using the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“As part of our advocacy efforts to help fuel the future of the collector vehicle community and engage the next generation of enthusiastic classic car owners, we organized the Hagerty Driving Experience at the Atlanta Motor Speedway,” says Tabetha Hammer, the firm’s advocacy and public relations manager. “This program is designed to teach young drivers, ages 15-25, how to drive a manual transmission, all while behind the wheel of cool classic cars to provide them a unique experience of driving exciting cars they may not have had the chance to otherwise.
“Approximately 40 young drivers participated and a total of about 100 people were in attendance, including parents, car owners, media and guests,” says Hammer.
Using the speedway as its venue for the event, Hagerty was able to provide an exciting experience for their participants. “We were very pleased with the overall outcome of the event. We hosted it in the infield of the paddock area and utilized the media building to host our classroom session and lunch. The visual of the speedway surrounding us provided a great atmosphere for our guests and further enhanced the car culture and enthusiast environment,” Hammer says.
The Atlanta Motor Speedway offers planners various facilities, from the Legends Track and other road courses to the plush 4,000-sf Tara Ballroom and luxury VIP suites, which can be used for training and seminars. In-house catering is provided by Levy Restaurants, offering everything from box lunches to five-star dining.
In March 2016, Chicago’s historic Soldier Field — home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears — hosted the OnRamp Insurance Conference, organized by gener8tor, a firm that invests in high-growth startups. The conference, which highlighted innovations in the insurance industry, brought together 400 participants representing 25 of the insurance industry’s leading corporations, investors and startups.
“This was a one-day conference; we blocked rooms at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place for the out-of-town participants, but the entire conference was conducted at Soldier Field, where we set up a stage for speakers, served breakfast, lunch and happy hour through the venue’s caterers, and used the box suites for one-on-one meetings and sponsor hospitality suites,” says Sara K. Woldt, director of business development for gener8tor and co-founder and chief organizer of the OnRamp Conference Series.
“Things went so well at Soldier Field last year that we will be holding the next OnRamp Insurance Conference at the same venue in April 6, 2017,” says Woldt. “I have used other sports venues in the Midwest as well, including Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, home of the Wisconsin Badgers, and the BMO Harris Bradley Center, where the Milwaukee Bucks play. I have found that insurance folks like stadium venues, especially when they know we will be utilizing the deluxe field-view suites for meetings and hospitality areas, even if it isn’t a game day.”
Soldier Field’s first floor United Club, which can accommodate large private events for up to 1,500, features 20-foot vaulted ceilings, historic columns and lakeside windows. Some of the other design features of the space include two large video walls, a built-in sound system and fixed televisions throughout. There also is onsite parking with valet service available. I&FMM