In Production demonstrates its Safe Suites at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Courtesy In Production)

Safe Suite builds in social distancing, along with plexiglass, drink counter

Seating vendor and entrepreneur Scott Suprina has developed the Safe Suite, a temporary solution for teams and venues as they work through the restrictions of smaller capacity without taking a big hit in ticket revenue.

Suprina, whose former company Seating Solutions supplied portable seating for the Super Bowl and Final Four and created a temporary tennis venue for the Miami Open inside Hard Rock Stadium, has now turned his attention to resolving issues during the COVID-19 era. 

(In Production, a competitor, acquired Seating Solutions in August. Suprina held on to his DreamSeat company, a luxury seating manufacturer across multiple industries, where his son Chandler serves as president. Scott now consults for In Production, where his other son, Dalton, is vice president of operations).

The pandemic has Scott Suprina brainstorming new seating protocols for teams to use after reopening their buildings. The result is Safe Suite, a seating module formed by installing a curved plexiglass panel that protects groups of people sitting in eight to 12 seats. The panel’s arched design eliminates movement of the structure and it helps form a small counter space to store food and drink. 

Safe Suite also offers table draping to display sponsors’ brands.

There are two options currently available, but the setup can be customized depending on need, Suprina said. 

The first module encompasses two rows of four seats. The second option covers three rows of four seats. The idea is to install Safe Suite at the end of rows next to the aisles to eliminate fans from walking past seated guests, risking contamination, he said. The model leaves seats toward the middle of the rows between Safe Suites empty for social distancing.

“This idea came from looking at what has happened to the business,” Suprina said. “A stadium is not any different than a restaurant if you follow the same rules. The product is ready to go. All it takes is 60 pounds of aluminum and a sheet of plexiglass. Our production time is fast and that’s the reason I designed it that way. If we get any level of traction, it’s something that would be readily available.”

There’s a sustainable aspect as well. Suprina said he can recycle the plexiglass for other portable seating systems. 

In late June, Safe Suite was demonstrated at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open. Officials allowed Suprina to test the product at the empty Grandstand court, but no deal has been signed with the USTA to install Safe Suite at the complex. The 2020 U.S. Open plans to go on as scheduled, Aug. 31-Sept. 13, but it will be played without spectators on site.

This week, Suprina is talking to a few big league teams about Safe Suite, including the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. He has relationships with both teams, most recently the Dolphins, whose owner Stephen Ross brought the Miami Open to Hard Rock Stadium.

For NFL teams, the cost to rent Safe Suites is roughly $750,000 to $1 million, depending on the stadium and capacity allowed under state restrictions. The cost would run about half that total for NBA and NHL arenas. Those numbers reflect the cost of production, installation, freight and pickup after venues are back at full capacity.

“It’s only a viable product for maybe the next 12 months (until a vaccine is available),” he said. “It’s designed to rekindle the business.”

Suprina consulted on Safe Suite with sports architect Matt Rossetti, with whom he worked on the Hard Rock Stadium retrofit, and Daren Libonati, owner of Libonati Entertainment Group and a veteran facility manager. In the past, Libonati rented portable suites on wheels made by Seating Solutions for music festivals in Las Vegas.

Rossetti believes Safe Suite is do-able, considering what he’s heard over the past four months from teams’ desire to fill as many seats as possible in the facility without compromising fan safety.

“One of the things we found when we had our forum discussions with everybody is that nobody was happy with 15% to 25% capacity,” Rossetti said. “The question was how can we come up with a 40% plus percent capacity? We add circulation and apply the plexiglass barriers used in grocery stores.”

He said, “It’s the way that they’re put in position that’s the genius part of it. You’ve got to put a curve to them so the acoustics aren’t negatively affected and find the right fastening system that connects to the seats. Scott has a great rail system already in place. The combination of those three things is what does it.”

By design, the Safe Suite creates safe zones for venues to push capacity to 40 percent in an efficient manner, Libonati said. The setup essentially creates “quads of experiences” which in the post-COVID age, could mean potentially separating seating bowls by demographics depending on which fans are most vulnerable to disease.

“You wear a mask into the venue and go through the proper protocol to get to your seat,” he said. Safe Suite “gives you some flexibility to breathe a little bit and pull down the mask if you wish to eat. You have your own in-game experience with the safety of six to 12 feet you need around yourselves to feel comfortable.” 

Safe Suite could be marketed as both a premium product and a general seating option. The plexiglass modules could be installed in the outdoor seats tied to a suite or among regular seats in the lower and upper seating bowls. For some teams, it could be a new twist on the loge box concept with the cost of food and drink folded into the Safe Suite package. In these uncertain times, pricing isn’t as important as providing safety through a little creativity.

“This model allows the NFL to go to their premium seat holders and tell them for the amount of money they pay for club seats, there’s now a safe quadrant,” Libonati said. “The ticket price as an individual seat is a moot point. The value is in the ‘pod,’ and it allows teams to generate a value and upsale for a party with six people to buy an eight-seat pod. In the end, you’re providing a safe, flexible option for the consumer, while giving the team owner an option for how they get to 50% capacity when you’re typically at 100%.”

Suprina has a separate Safe Suite product for outdoor use connected to a floor track system that sits on flat ground. He’s pitching it to Live Nation as temporary seating for a VIP experience at drive-in shows, plus their 46 amphitheaters sitting dark during the pandemic.

No deals have been signed, Suprina said.

“We need to breathe life back into our business,” he said. “Why not do something positive, err on the side of safety and grow it? This (virus) isn’t over and now is the time to invest. They may not make any money but at least the artists can perform and the fans will enjoy it.”