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Adapting a Return of Investment Approach to Sports & Entertainment Venues in Asia

Q+A with Jim Renne for PanStadia + Arena Management Magazine 

Q: How did you initially get involved in the Sports Sector?

A: I joined ROSSETTI when the Palace of Auburn Hills was just built for the Detroit Pistons NBA team. It was a very exciting time for ROSSETTI because the firm had designed the first-ever lower and mid-level suites in an arena. The arena also featured many fan amenities that are common now but groundbreaking back then. Before long all arenas were copying the design. I instantly became fascinated with buildings that were engaging, lively and supported the kind of spirit that you experience in sports and athletics. Ten years later, I was able to work on the Palace’s first addition that also featured many fan amenities.

Q: Any interesting memories from some of the earliest sports projects that you were involved with?

A: I remember having to prove that I could design a more economical and more interesting mid-size arena in order to win a design competition in Bakersfield. It’s one thing to design for fan experience in a large arena, but another to do it in a smaller venue with a tighter budget. Our team was able to do it and went on to design the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, California.

Q: What would you say are some of the key changes in Sports Venue Design and Planning that have occurred during your two decades in the industry?

A: The psycho-social behaviour of fans has changed dramatically. As new generations of fans with disposable income enter the market, they bring a host of new ideas and expectations about how they want to be entertained and engaged while at sports events. These new social behaviours force us to relook at sports venue design. Today, experiencing an event is not so much about the event as it is about diverse experiences that offer options and a communal experience. This is also true for other types of entertainment events, such as concerts, family shows, etc. As designers, we not only have to design experiences for today but predict what fans will want tomorrow and into the future.

Q: During our Stadia & Arena Asia Pacific Conference you are going to give a presentation on ‘Adapting a Return of Investment Approach to Sports & Entertainment Venues in Asia’. This will explain how ROSSETTI’s Return on DesignTM approach for U.S. Sports facilities translates to a more sustainable sports design model for countries such as China. Can you explain a bit more about that?

A: ROSSETTI has been crafting its intelligence in understanding value driven design in the U.S. market for many years. Empirical data that we have been accumulating, especially of ROSSETTI-designed venues or venue renovations, gives our clients tremendous metrics for our Return on DesignTM approach. ROD basically translates market and feasibility data into smart design solutions. These outcomes are often revenue based, but they don’t have to be in order for our clients to perceive value in the design.

We realize that fan behaviour in the U.S isn’t necessarily the same in other parts of the world. Because the U.S. has a large professional sports industry, we’ve had a head start on other countries to grow in sophistication over the last several decades. Moreover, every culture is different and has its unique characteristics related to what perceived value is. We have to understand this in order to design culturally-relevant yet financially successful venues. Other countries are beginning to realize that without some realistic revenue components, they may be creating venues that are not sustainable over time.

Q: How long did it take to develop this model and can you give some examples of projects it is based on?

A: In its infancy, the renovations we did at the Palace of Auburn Hills Detroit Pistons NBA Arena was the first…25 years ago. We were schooled by one the most innovative arena executives, Tom Wilson, who was the President of the Palace at that time. We learned the value of design through analysis of the return on investment of that design. Tom wanted the renovations to have a pay back of two to four years and he pushed us to crunch the numbers so that the design solutions penciled out. We now call this Return on DesignTM. Since then, projects such as Ford Field NFL Stadium, TD Garden renovation, and the soon to be opened Daytona International Speedway stadium, have been designed through an ROD process.

Q: It has often been said that sports venues in countries such as China did not attach the same level of importance to legacy and financial returns as those in Europe and North America. Would you say that is now changing?

A: Yes, that’s true for a variety of reasons unique to each country. Until recently, there hasn’t been the pressure to do so in Europe, but this is changing rapidly. ROSSETTI worked closely with AEG in Stockholm, Sweden to create a variety of premium products at Tele2 Arena. These suites, lounges and clubs were carefully matched demographically and to the team’s supporter clubs, creating an entirely new way to view European football. The stadium has become a model for fan entertainment in Europe.

In each country, you have to look at the way sports are portrayed through the lens of politics, culture and maturity of the sports industry itself. In Asia, the culture and politics have very different impacts on sports industries. Looking from a strictly financial point of view, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for countries to build stadiums and arenas without consideration for legacy. As architects that practice in the U.S., we already think that way.

Q: In addition to China, are there other countries in Asia which ROSSETTI is currently either working or have identified as targets for potential future sports related activities?
A: ROSSETTI is also working in Korea. We designed the Incheon United Football Stadium and Sung Ui Arena Park with Moo Young Architects, and we are currently working on several more projects.

Q: Do you currently have any interesting sports projects ‘on the boards’ or that you hope to announce in the near future? Any unique aspects to these projects?

A: Two of our clients held press conferences last week announce some great projects. The Green Bay Packers unveiled ROSSETTI’s sports anchored development, called Titletown, which features a mixed use development and large public plaza adjacent to Lambeau Field. Calgary Sports and Entertainment also announced a new sports complex for a new NHL arena, Fieldhouse and CFL Stadium. In February, we will be celebrating with our client the dedication of DAYTONA Rising, the new USD$400m stadium that hosts the NASCAR Daytona 500. We are also in the process of installing a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center, doing renovations at CenturyLink Field for the Seattle Seahawks and designing the new training centre and headquarters for the LA Lakers.