Esports and F&B Insights with Todd Merry

Todd: Esports is a real thing and is really going fulfill a lot of the hype, but the live event is still a question mark. Jared: Hey there ALSD Jared Frank here with Todd Merry the Chief Marketing Officer for Delaware North. Full-time Marketer, part-time Esports fanatic. We just finished up a fabulous panel addressing the topic of Esports. Clearly there are some additional questions that we would like to continue to cover here.

Thanks for joining us Todd: Sure, great. Jared: You know I think one thing we’ve learned today, throughout the week, and even previous to this week is there’s a lot of hype around Esports. That hype doesn’t always match reality or what’s possible for a venue. I was wondering if you can speak to some of your experience with some of your clients, some of your venues who have come and asked you for some of your thoughts on the topic.

Maybe what they had in mind wasn’t necessarily realistic. Todd: Yeah I mean there’s a lot of hype around Esports in general. I think some of it is real, meaning that Esports in a handful of years will be just as big as everyone is saying it is. How that’s going translate to live events, and then to buildings I think is a different matter. I mean you talk about every building today wants to host a big event you know Barclays Center, Staples Center, TD Garden. Then you have the baseball teams and you have the football teams who want to see about getting Esports event to their venue.

You know frankly now that’s probably where the hype is. It’s probably not realistic for some of these larger venues. There’s never been an event the size of a baseball stadium or a football stadium ever held in the US. Yes in China. Yes in Korea, but not here. Does that mean there won’t happen in a few years?

It might, but not today. That’s where I get worried about the hype. We’ve had some of our baseball clients come to us and say ‘hey we’ve had organizers approach us and they’re going to do an event for us for two days’. I said wow that’s interesting.

You know what titles? Because not all titles are available the publishers control those events. There are a lot of people out there talking about this sort of stuff, and I think that’s where the hype comes in. Again we’ve talked some of our clients off the ledge when it comes to expectations around hosting events at a baseball stadium across two or three days. Five years from now, absolutely that could happen.

Today it’s not particularly likely. That’s where you worry a little it about Esports. There’s no doubt Esports is a real thing and is really going fulfill a lot of the hype, but the live event is still a question mark. Jared: Can you give us some context on what these events entail?

They are long days. They are multi days. How does that play into the calculus of operating these venues? Then could you segway that into the food and beverage component? Todd: Yeah that’s the incredibly important part of it, the hospitality.

You know it’s not unlike feeding an army, right? When you have people for two, three, four hours maybe, you can plan a meal or a day part. You have these long events which tend to be, but not all of them, a lot of them are nine, ten, twelve hours a day for two, three, four days in a row. That’s different. I mean now you’re talking about feeding people breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

By the way, as it happens now a lot of times is the same thing three or four days in a row. I can say my kids at home don’t eat same thing three, four days in a row, so I don’t know what you expect fans to do that. I think from an F&B standpoint there’s a real responsibility on folks like Delaware North and other F&B providers to really rethink how they serve fans in those sort of environments.

You talk about how it’s different. Again, think about seating. Is any stadium seat today that’s not a premium room or perhaps a club seat really comfortable for nine to ten hours a day? Probably not.

They weren’t built for that. For well baseball they were built for a two hour game not a two and a half hour game like we have today, but certainly not built for nine to ten hours. So even thinking about seating. Thinking about how we allow people congregate in social areas. And the social nature of these events is different than football, basketball, or hockey.

There’s a lot of things. I don’t think we need to erase our playbooks. I think there’s lots of stuff we can take from traditional sports that are relevant. I always use the example of cheerleaders.

You’re not going see cheerleaders at Esports events. What you will see in between those breaks or between matches is cosplay. As well as other events out in the concourse that are fun and a distraction and keep people engaged and busy outside of the actual action happening the matches.

So I don’t say throw out the playbook for traditional sports, lots we can learn. I think when it comes to F&B and to just the physical plant of how these events are where they’re being held I think we do need to sort of rethink what that means. Jared: You mentioned baseball. We’ve had, call it a hundred years to figure out you know the behaviors of a baseball fan and what they want and expect from the in venue experience. We’ve had call it a hundred months to do the same for Esports. So how do we expedite those learnings?

How do we with essentially know data now? There’s an absence of data today. How do we acquire that data quickly in order to make good decisions? Todd: I think there’s lots of things. It’s interesting this is also not a demographic we’ve had in our buildings either.

It’s not like these are basketball fans who are now also Esports fans, and kind of know what to expect when they come. A lot of these fans have no preconceived notions. They’re not going to just come and have the hot dog or hamburger they always have when they come to your building.

A lot of the times they haven’t been to your building. I think it’s incumbent upon buildings and tournament organizers to really accelerate their fan learning. So it’s surveying customers after an event. It’s using social listening, which is social media tools that allow you to eavesdrop on all the channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, anything out there. So we can learn as much as possible in a shorter possible amount of time to understand what fans liked, what they didn’t like when they came to our buildings. I also think it’s a classic Steve Jobs thing.

No one was asking for the iPod. No was asking for the iPhone. Some of it is getting out ahead of fans too.

These fans aren’t necessary going to tell you what they want, but it’s incumbent upon the building. I’ll use the TD Garden that’s our building, to take what they know about events, take what they know about these fans and create those experiences whether it’s premium experience or it’s F&B. Again, you’re not going to nail it right out of the gate. It’s the test and learn. Iterate quickly the stuff that didn’t work.

You know try something new from the verified list of online casinos the next time. It’s that flexibility, which I’ll put my hand up, is not traditionally something that F&B providers are very good at. We’re very good at you know mass consistent good quality but regular feeding. We don’t change the menu at the garden every game or even between the Celtics and the Bruins. But for these fans you do need to be flexible and a little bit more willing to iterate and change.

Jared: Again, not being specific but let’s call it 50% of these events are general mission and a growing number of them are providing in-and-out privileges. Those are unique components as well. How do they impact the fan behaviors? Todd: Well so that’s interesting. You mentioned two things that are almost at odds with each other. “In and out”, no one loves it from a venue per cap perspective.

Particularly for those venues that are in the midst of a city or midst of an area where you can go have lots of different F&B options. But again, I think it’s a reality. When we host events at Columbus or the Blue Jackets arena there is in and out.

That’s in an area where there’s lots of options and I think it’s best for the fans. I’ll use an example place where we don’t work but I think it’s a good example, Foxborough, or someplace like that with the Patriots. While there’s Patriots place right there, it’s not as many options around the middle of the city.

You mentioned general admission, which I think is really interesting. What you find is when you have general admission, which is a number large number of events, you have people simply not wanting to leave their seat. They’ve worked hard they’ve stood in line to get that seat. They don’t want to leave for one or two hours because they’ll lose those seats. I think it’s incumbent upon on the venue and the F&B partner to come up with ways to deliver food and drink to the seat.

Logistically this is a nightmare. It’s hard. It costs money to staff, but again it’s for us to figure it out. The fans don’t care. I’m a fan and if you told me someone’s going deliver me a beer and whatever is on the menu to my seat in the middle of a big DOTA tournament I’d love it. Ordering on my phone, they’d walk it down to us.

It’s I don’t think we’re getting to the old world of hockers roaming the arena. I think it’s too distracting for these sorts of events, but again that mobile ordering and that logistical delivering to seat, even if it’s a premium price. Again go back to these fans there they’re not poor they’re affluent, More affluent than your average fan.

They’ll pay for them so I think it can it coming upon us to figure it out. Jared: Last question I’ll get you out of here on this. How are sweets being used or perhaps not being used for these events? Todd: Yeah, I do think that’s a missed opportunity. Again, go back to the data that we know, long days, multiple-day events. I think suites and club spaces are a perfect example of space that today is being unused, mostly unused, or used in a non-monetized way.

Meaning being provided to teams or to people associated with a venue or the publisher. Again long days long hours, to have that comfortable space, to have where there’s a bathroom, where there’s a food menu you can choose from that people will bring to you. By the way sightlines are really interesting. Because again, I’m talking about traditional suites, they vary place to place. The perfect sightline for some of these events is not right down by the stage, because the fact is you’re not really watching the stage you’re watching the screen. So it’s actually farther up in the bowl and where a lot of the suites are in place so it’s brilliant viewing.

I think what buildings and organizers need to figure out is what that price point is. I’ve talked about the affluence of these fans, and they are absolutely affluent but they’re not corporations. So you’re not going sell JPMorgan a suite.

You’re selling to individuals or small groups of individuals. I think again, incumbent upon the building to figure out what is that right price point or what is the right service point. You asked a short question I’m going to try and keep it to a short answer. I think there’s lots of different things you could do around technology. Different ways you could activate between suites, between matches. You can compete in whatever the title you’re watching is, in informal tournaments around the arena.

Lots of different things. At the very basic level space being unused I think can be used and monetized if priced correctly and serviced at the right level. Jared: Well Todd we certainly appreciate your time.

This is a topic with much interest and it is very quickly moving. I’m sure if and when we have this conversation a year from now it’s going be completely different. We look forward to being in touch right we appreciate your time. Todd: Thanks Jared!