Session 5 – Redefining Relationships with Fans 

On March 25th, 2021 IIFX hosted a one-day, virtual summit – Prepping for the Return of Fans!, tailored to share information and innovative solutions between sports and entertainment industry leaders as they prepare to welcome fans and spectators to live entertainment.

In the Mid-day keynote address, Mario Coutinho, Jeff Steele, Dr. Pranav Kothari, and Ryan McConnell discussed how the ongoing pandemic has re-defined the relationship between the fans and the business operations side of the industry. The session was sponsored by Moovit, an industry-leading app for accessible mobility. While personal vehicles may be the primary way for fans to reach venues, Moovit helps those who are taking other transit methods arrive at the stadium safely and on time. 

Giving a unique perspective than the rest of the panelists, Ryan McConnell of Sports MONITOR described how fans are becoming more risk-averse. Ryan provided context for the session by addressing the type of activity that people were least likely to attend during the pandemic have been sporting events. For the last year, fans have watched sports and entertainment events from the comfort of their home.  They were not inconvenienced by limited parking, long lines, and concerns about touchless data systems and sanitized public spaces.  So, bringing large sports and entertainment events back to life requires some heavy lifting.

Following with a birds-eye view of the sports industry as a whole, Jeff Steele, the Associate Athletic Director at Auburn University discussed how he and his team have worked to make the best possible experience for their guests. Jeff emphasized the importance of communication throughout the process while minimizing problems and keeping the fans’ expectations high. Among his takeaways from the past year, Jeff said that leaders must be comfortable with change and willing to try new out-of-the-box ideas.

Dr. Kothari, the Medical Director for the Rock Family of Companies in Cleveland, Ohio, provided his insights from the medical side of sports teams and entertainment venues. In today’s pandemic age, sports teams are trying to connect with people as more than just a sports community, but a more meaningful place where everyone can be brought together. With social justice issues being a large part of the sports world today, it can help bring fans together but also has the potential to cause uproar with fanbases. Dr. Kothari mentioned how vaccines will be playing a large part in the welcoming of fans back to stadiums. With there being so many opportunities today, Dr. Kothari thinks it is time to take advantage of these openings and create new ideas and products. 

Mario Coutinho, Vice President of Stadium Operations and Security for the Toronto Blue Jays described how health and safety matters are not the only changes that are going to come from the ongoing pandemic.  Social issues and the reaction towards them have varied across the league. Coutinho pointed out how this has taught everyone that actions have consequences. He noted that the Blue Jays had meetings with players to hear their experience and to understand what they wanted to happen and how to work together. Using the team brand to speak about issues with fans can help form a community that includes the fans, the team, and the players. 

Check back in tomorrow for the next blog recap in the “Prepping for The Return of Fans!” Summit series!

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