Together by Design: The Next Normal

Together by Design: The Next Normal

Read Time: 3 Minutes

Looking ahead to the future of professional sports, Dimensional Innovations surveyed fans to determine what it will take to bring them back to sporting venues to enjoy live games. This article previews Dimensional Innovations talk at this year’s 2020 SEGD Branded Environments event.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected attendance at all live events at all scales—from neighborhood theater to symphony concerts to professional football games. When do we return to a new normal of attending live events? And how can experiential designers help us get there?

Those are questions posed by Dimensional Innovations (DI). Collaborating with Persuasion Strategies (who provided survey consulting services to maintain the integrity of the process and data) DI conducted three surveys over five months in 2020 to determine what it will take to bring fans back to the stadiums and arenas to watch—and enjoy—live sports.

Drew Berst, Practice Director of Collegiate Sports at DI, compiled a report interpreting the surveys’ findings in Together by Design: The Next Normal. Looking Ahead to the Future of Professional Sports.

“Our focus is planning for the future in a way that addresses the now and lays the foundation for what is to come,” writes Berst in The Next Normal. “Live event solutions must consider one key factor: every sequence change or addition we make to an experience generates a physical and/or emotional change.”

To better gage fans’ emotions about returning to live events, the survey asked these three questions:
1.     Which is the strongest reason you would return to a live sporting event in the next six months?
2.     When would you attend a sporting event if attendance was limited to half capacity?
3.     When would you attend a sporting event if everyone was required to wear a mask?

In general, the survey-takers’ answers reflect that sports fans want a return to normalcy, but key to their return is the enforcement of proper safety precautions, such as the wearing of face masks and social distancing.

“Before we make any decisions, we must consider that fan fears come in a spectrum,” writes Berst. “Our data revealed that above all else, fans are afraid of other fans and their subsequent behaviors.”

To help alleviate these fears, the DI report suggests that simplifying the game day experience at venues is critical. It begins by ensuring that all the basics are met for ticket buyers. This includes cleanliness of the facility, safety regulations for all attendees, and limited physical touching between staff and sports fans.

“Fans need to know that the facility is clean, with clear and regular communication from the operator surrounding protocols and new initiatives,” writes Berst. “It requires a shift from an invisible service staff to making all cleaning and safety staff visually present and obvious.”

Berst contends that once basic needs are met, fans are more open to returning to venues where they can enjoy more “authentic” and “meaningful” experiences. To do this, firms such as DI are planning ahead and designing and renovating sports complexes to better prepare for the next normal. In terms of experiential design and brand design, Berst lays out five strategies:
– Design for inclusivity,
– Build an experience for your fans,
– Build super-fans through storytelling,
– Deepen connection to community through sponsorship,
– Offer more “theatrical” food service.

To illustrate some of these forward-looking strategies, Berst writes about concrete examples from Atlanta, including the State Farm Arena (Atlanta Hawks) and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC).

“We’re not back to normal yet, but we believe in the power of sport and the community it builds,” concludes Berst. “We know that over time, fans will return, and if you get these things right, they won’t have a choice but to come back from the couch.”

The complete report with survey results is available for download on the Dimensional Innovations website.