A rendering of a Topgolf Swing Suite at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Courtesy Atlanta Hawks)
Topgolf officials expect their simulators to become part of about a dozen big league venues or accompanying mixed-use developments over the coming months, said Ron Powers, president of the company’s Swing Suite group.
The simulators revolve around interactive displays where patrons use real clubs to hit golf balls into a big screen. The system tracks each shot’s accuracy and distance, and awards points for hitting various targets. Topgolf made an investment last year in Full Swing, a leader in golf simulation technology, which resulted in Topgolf developing the Swing Suite product.
As it stands, State Farm Arena in Atlanta and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara are the first two facilities to integrate Swing Suites in their buildings. In Foxborough, Mass., Topgolf has installed a Swing Suite that will open soon at Howl! Splitsville, a high-end bowling venue at Patriot Place, the retail and entertainment development next to Gillette Stadium. Topgolf charges the venues a licensing fee to use its products, and in some cases, there's a revenue share agreement, company officials said.
The next batch of simulators will be distributed inside arenas and stadiums as well as the entertainment districts tied to those buildings, Powers said. The potential clients represent MLB, NFL, NBA and MLS teams, but to date no deals have been signed. Topgolf pays for the roughly $100,000 expense for the installation, which covers the technology, equipment and shipping costs. The teams pay for finishing the space “in a manner consistent with their facility,” he said.
“We’re probably in at least 11 pro sports conversations right now … four are in discussions with capitalizing on space within the venue and the balance are discussions [next to] the venue,” he said. “These districts are looking to establish a relationship with Topgolf so that it becomes part of the branding of the overall facility. It could be a stand-alone restaurant or lounge that includes Topgolf in the name.”
In Atlanta, the Swing Suite concept has created a lot of buzz around the $193 million in renovations at State Farm Arena, formerly Philips Arena. The Atlanta Hawks have two Swing Suites, situated on two corners of a premium level along the arena’s west side. Each suite has one simulator that can accommodate one group of 60 people or, using collapsible doors, two groups of 30 patrons. There are views to the event floor at the front of the suites.
The Hawks are marketing the Swing Suites as a single-game buy for NBA games and concerts, and most of the sales to date have been for groups of 30, said Michael Drake, the Hawks’ senior vice president of corporate sponsorships. Ticket prices run from $100 a person for a comedy show to $400 for events such as Elton John and the Lakers-Hawks game, Drake said. Food and drink and simulator time, including play before and after events, is included in the ticket price.
“It’s been a headline for us since we first did the deal with Topgolf, and we make sure to continue to keep it front and center, just because it’s a differentiator for us,” Drake said. “We’ve done some target social [media] advertising to that companywide and group outing demographic. From the wait list perspective, we generated enough ($1,000) deposits that we’re now starting to slot almost up to half our basketball season and all of our concert business that we’ve presold already.”
In addition to the big leagues, Topgolf is in talks with colleges and their marketing partners to install Swing Suites on campus, Powers said. No deals have been signed. For Topgolf, food and drink is a key piece of the experience and part of the negotiations revolves around the schools’ alcohol restrictions, he said.
“We’re working with hospitality and housing facilities where the food and beverage offering can be more consistent with what we do in our Topgolf venues and (where) we don’t leave that opportunity on the table,” Powers said.
Overall, there are about 20 Swing Suites operating right now across the country, many at casino resorts where the average spend per visitor runs 30 percent higher than in other spaces at those facilities, Powers said. For special events drawing groups of 10 or more people, the number increases to 35 percent, he said.
The technology enables Topgolf to expand its line of simulators to include other sports. The company has already introduced software for a baseball simulator that adds to the experience, and it’s working on a music element as well, Powers said. Topgolf expects to have hundreds of locations over the next five years.
“We’re seeing the evolution of this entertainment space going from that of golf courses to other sports and to more frivolous environments,” he said. “Think of killing zombies with a soft baseball that are attacking you on the screen. We’re continuing to refresh and invest in the experience. We’re in the early stages of growth and the opportunity is significant. We learn as each installation happens.”
In Santa Clara, installation of the swing suite begins this week inside Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak & Pub restaurant attached to Levi’s Stadium. At that venue, the attraction does not have views to the field and the focus is on a year-round hospitality options Game-day use is not the primary market, 49ers spokesman Roger Hacker said. Reservations start in early October.