Tim Leiweke, CEO and co-founder of Oak View Group, at last year’s VenuesNow Conference. (Black Coffee Productions for VenuesNow)

OVG CEO sees 5G, all-cashless concessions, sports betting and esports as topics for VenuesNow Conference

Tim Leiweke, co-founder and CEO of Oak View Group, addressed some trends affecting the development of arenas and stadiums. OVG, parent company of VenuesNow, is developing new NHL arenas in Seattle and New York, a college arena at the University of Texas in Austin and a minor league hockey arena in Palm Springs, Calif. Overseas, OVG has partnered with Live Nation to build an arena in Milan, Italy.

In terms of technology, what are the challenges for future-proofing new NHL arenas in Seattle and New York?
We catch ourselves in a transition to 5G, and what we have learned from Verizon and AT&T is they’re not there yet but they’re getting there. We must be able to build our campuses out so that we’re ultimately part of the 5G world. The connectivity 5G creates for us in our buildings and the amount of information, new content, new resources and new applications … is a revolution in the industry. The trick is how do we do it? How do we build and connect a 5G pipeline that connects 100 percent of our customers and convert it and acquire the infrastructure necessary for (increased) connectivity. It’s one of the most important things we face in our industry.

We’ve seen a little bit of traction with all-cashless concessions systems in Atlanta and Tampa. But in Philly, for example, the market remains largely a cash town. Same thing in Pittsburgh. Where do you see that movement headed?
Therein lies the debate. There are those that believe that cashless is going to be 100 percent of our business and others that don’t. To me, the folks that are the smartest people in the business on cashless reside in the food and beverage business and the credit card companies. They’re way ahead of the thinking on where this is all going. Everyone has an opinion. We’re going to talk about it, debate, study it and it’s going to be a big priority for us during the conference.

Two other emerging trends are the explosion in esports and sports betting. How do you see those two things taking shape in the industry?
Gambling and betting is a work in progress. We’re like everyone else; we’re trying to learn where this is going on a state-by-state basis and see what it is we can do as we develop these arenas to be able to take advantage of it. We are certainly not the ones that are going to give everyone the answers. We’re the ones that hopefully find the right people to discuss it with us so we can find the answers.

A lot of people have jumped into esports and a bunch of people didn’t. Those that did think it was the right decision and I bet those that didn’t jump into it are saying, “I told you so.” They’re all relevant topics as it relates to design, renovations, new construction and operations of facilities. 

What’s new with premium seat trends?
Premium is changing dramatically. We undervalue and undersell it. The age we live in now, there’s a huge portion of the marketplace that we talk to that has the resources and discretionary income to have those moments of brilliance, and they’re willing to pay for it and for a VIP experience. We as an industry are focused on annual types of VIP inventory. The world is changing to event-by-event VIP opportunities and there’s an unlimited amount of money out there where people are willing to buy up. We see it with resorts, festivals, spas. It’s in almost every aspect of our society today. The facility business hasn’t yet maximized that opportunity. 

Tim Leiweke, Oak View Group co-founder and CEO, will speak at the VenuesNow Conference on Sept. 10-11 in New York City.