Jason Gonella, Chris Chopey and John Searby at ALSD where they spoke on Preview Centers, Sales Centers and Closing Rooms. (VT Photo)

REPORTING FROM SAN FRANCISCO — The 8,500-sq.-ft. Golden 1 Center preview center in Sacramento was probably the biggest until Olympia Entertainment opened its 14,000-sq- ft. center in Detroit. And still, Chris Chopey, with the Sacramento Kings, wishes his center was bigger.

Not only does size matter for preview centers to be effective, repurposing should be on the agenda. The days of renovating an office or warehouse space for temporary use are long gone and preview centers for today’s new venues are elaborate and useful beyond marketing and beyond the grand opening.

Chopey was joined by Jason Gonella, Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment, and John Searby, downstream, in a discussion of the state of preview centers today during the Association of Luxury Suite Directors meeting here July 6-9.

One great aspect of the Sacramento preview center is that it overlooks the construction site. “Seeing is believing,” Chopey said. “The building opens in 16 months.”

Besides being a sales tool, the center is offered to season-ticketholders and sponsors as a conference center free of charge. The hope is corporate Sacramento will hold meetings there, further familiarizing them with the new arena.

“Everything there is for a purpose,” Chopey said. “It’s for sales appointments, but it is also a sales event center.”

The Minnesota Vikings' preview center in Minneapolis weighs in at 8,000 sq. ft., a big jump from the San Francisco 49ers' 3,500-sq.-ft. center of two years ago, Gonella said. In that 8,000 sq. ft., they have 22 locations from which they can sell, so concurrent meetings are constant. “We had 130 appointments the first day as well as a Major League Soccer bid pitch,” he said. “Some days we’re challenged for extra space.”

But no two days are really similar, he added. “The team may want to do something and you’re having a sales meeting. And now we have public sales.”

Gonella agreed that the “direct connection to the stadium is very powerful” when preview centers are adjacent to the construction site. However, one can lose the connection to the team which is occupied at its current site, “so we added a locker room,” via a 15-foot-long tunnel that immerses visitors in all things Vikings, particularly the players.

All of the preview centers are equipped with full-size sample suites and touchscreen technology, so visitors can “drive around the stadium” and see the view from various vantage points.

The Atlanta Braves, who will move fans to SunTrust Park in a new area of Atlanta, have added wayfinding, a digital library that shows fans exactly how they will get from home to the stadium and what they will find in the stadium.

As to what's next, “the place needs a job when you’re done,” Searby said.

“Don’t live in a vacuum about premium sales; what else can preview centers be used for,” Searby said. That kind of thinking might help increase the budget for building them out in the first place.

Using the preview center and its interactive 80-foot screens for conferences outside team business is one way to utilize the space and engage fans and businesses, Searby said. Note that food and beverage service is a must for preview centers today, he continued. “It is all about the future and design flexibility.”

The Kings are using their center for nighttime events, Chopey said. They have to bring in catering from outside now but are looking at building out a full service kitchen with their concessions partner, Legends.

“Food is a big deal in selling,” Gonella added. The Vikings preview center currently has warming stations and prep kitchens, but he wishes they had a kitchen. It could be used in the future for pregame events.

He also noted that teams and venues should prepare for the postpremium sales phase. “When we get to public facing and not licensing, the suites become less of a must visit,” he said.

A big cost driver in today’s preview centers is 3-D printing. Digital models of stadiums and arenas showing all aspects are not only less expensive than a traditional architectural model, but they can be changed as the plan changes. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s probably the future. “Virtual reality is becoming less clunky all the time,” Searby said.

The other variable in today’s preview centers is mixed-use districts. “I can’t imagine a project in the future that isn’t mixed use,” Searby said. To that end, the preview centers are designed to feature retail and residential as well as sports and entertainment, thus the increased size and use.

Interviewed for this story: Chris Chopey, (916) 928-0000; Jason Gonella, (212) 699-8400, ext. 5055