If you Build it, Will They Come?

Developing Strategic Marketing Initiatives for a New Arena in Virginia Beach

By Stephen Shapiro, Old Dominion University

In the Summer of 2015, the Old Dominion University Sport Management program partnered with developer United States Management (USM) in Virginia Beach on a once in a generation experiential learning opportunity. The city of Virginia Beach was proposing an 18,000 seat, $210 million arena located at the Oceanfront. So the developers posed the question to ODU graduate Sport Management students: what would you do with this new arena?

ODU Sport Marketing Dec 2015When this opportunity presented itself, I was extremely excited and worried at the same time. I believe experiential learning is a powerful tool. Many times we present cases to students in class that are focused on situations that occurred in the past or fictional scenarios. This situation provided us a unique opportunity to tell students this initiative is actually happening. The work you do will not just be for a grade…if it’s good enough, it will be implemented. At the same time, how do you go about marketing an arena that does not exist? This was the opportunity and challenge presented to students in the graduate sport marketing course during the Fall of 2015.

The city of Virginia Beach was going through the lengthy process of approving and financing a state of the art sport and entertainment venue that would fill a void in the inventory of facilities within the Hampton Roads region. We sat down with USM, facility designer Clark-Nexsen, representatives from SMG Venue Management, and the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to discuss marketing a new arena. Six strategic initiatives were highlighted: local sponsorships, marketing premium seating, arena/convention center collaboration, marketing non-traditional events, bidding for sporting events, and strategic analysis of comparable facilities without a major sports tenant.

Students were divided into groups to cover each initiative. Over the course of the semester, we had regular meetings with various arena constituents discussing facility design, economic impact, social issues related to arena development, financing, and general management. This was an excellent opportunity for students to see how a project this extensive consists of a multitude of individuals with differing goals and perspectives. Students had to use this information along with conducting an environmental scan, SWOT analysis, and investigation of comparable facilities across the United States to develop strategic plans.

Group 1Students presented their initiatives to all the individuals involved, including representatives from Virginian Beach City Council and the local media on December 9.  Amazingly, this was one day after the city council approved the development of the arena. Student groups focused on assessing bid requirements for potential events like the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Championships, X-Games, and US Figure Skating, which could be hosted at the arena and other facilities in the region. Collaborative and complimentary events between the arena and convention center were suggested, such as a skateboard competitions or a youth wrestling tournament at the convention center paired with a UFC event at the arena. One group focused on the popularity of e-gaming and the connection between these events and our regional demographics.

This was a tremendous experience for our students that has real-world implications.  Although the opportunity to help market a new arena does not happen often, this experience motivated me to search for more opportunities in the local community that allow our students to tackle real-world complex issues in the sport industry. There are so many opportunities for partnerships between sport management programs and sport organizations, which allow students to gain the skills necessary to be competitive in the job market upon graduation.

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