The Death of the Fixed Seat
To See the Future of Stadium Design, Grab Your Golf Clubs
A university athletic department preparing to remodel their arena recently asked us to develop a study on the future of sports seating. So we did what everyone should do when they what the future has in store for sports stadia: we grabbed our golf clubs and headed out to a driving range.
Not just any driving range, mind you. A Top Golf driving range.
If you’re not familiar with Top Golf, you probably will be soon. While the golf industry as a whole has largely muddled along in the post-Tiger period (fewer players, less rounds played, lower TV ratings, etc.), Top Golf has exploded. The company is projecting 18 million visitors this year, up from 4 million in 2014. Waiting times for a tee can eclipse 4 hours in some locations.
What gives? Top Golf’s singular genius has been transforming the driving range experience from something solitary and work-like into something social and entertaining. Couches and tables are at each tee position. Balls are microchipped to enable gamification (distance, accuracy, etc.) Food and drinks are delivered to you. Music is playing. TV monitors create a sports bar-like atmosphere.
Think of it this way: Top Golf is to a typical driving range as a Tesla is to a Model T.
This difference has attracted the notice of a very important audience: millennials. Top Golf has created an engaging social activity that operates in parallel to the sport. That particular insight has drawn young audiences in droves at a time when they’ve largely abandoned the ‘traditional’ game.
So here’s the key takeaway: the experience of attending a game is as important, if not more important, than the game itself.
What does this mean for sports teams? It’s conceivable that the seat row as we currently know it will disappear in the next 20 years. Rather than row after row of seats, fans will be able to select from a variety of zones and themed areas that encourage a variety of different viewing experiences. Fans will be able to move between any number of areas that cater to their tastes: sports bars, lounges, work out areas, dance clubs, fine dining, beer garden, family play areas, etc.
Rather than sitting and watching in solitary fashion, people will be able move freely through an arena or stadium with friends to socialize while the game is taking place. Ticketing tiers will be less about proximity to the court than expanding access. The more fans pay, the more zones and areas are available to them and their friends.
Teams have already begun tinkering with the format, both by plan and by chance. One of the most popular areas at the new Golden 1 Center in Sacramento is the Sierra Nevada Draught House. What was originally planned to be an upper level walkway is now one of the most popular gathering spots to watch the game.
Ask any team owner or executive about what keeps them up at night, and it will almost always be the difficulty in keeping their turnstiles turning. Tickets are expensive and billboard-sized TVs are in every living room.
Time to face facts: the ticketed seat has been around since fans first entered the Coliseum to see gladiators. Now it’s the latest “but-this-is-the-way-it’s-always-been” product to be disrupted by quickly changing consumer tastes. Top Golf has created a blueprint that facility operators would be wise to consider.