While the effects of COVID will likely linger for the foreseeable future, VenueConnect 23 was another indicator of business getting back to normal, or at least a new normal, with a pointed focus on current topics like DEI, sustainability and the business at hand.

Connect & Conquer: IAVM’s VenueConnect conference ended with a closing reception taking place on the rooftop terrace at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Thursday. (Ryan Borba / Staff)

Not one of the dozens of panel discussions, workshops and sessions taking place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, last week were COVID-specific by topic, leaving delegates and the International Association of Venue Managers itself to focus on the present and build for the future.

The Steel City made an appropriate backdrop, literally from the rooftop terrace at the convention center, from which could be seen both PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Acrisure Stadium, home of the NFL’s storied Steelers. VenueConnect guests were treated to venue tours of multiple historic theaters within walking distance of the convention center, including the Benedum Center, an ornate, 1927 performing arts theater that has undergone major renovation while keeping its classy touches, including a original-crystal chandeliers and boasting the fourth-largest stage in the United States.

A less-than-mile-away bus ride brought conference delegates to PPG Paints Arena, which is undergoing $30 million worth of upgrades to hockey-game tech and building two new bunker suites and a VIP space.

Heavy hitters took part in VenueConnect conference programming as well, with panelists representing venues of all size and scale. The talent side had a strong presence as well, with top brass from Venue Coalition taking part in multiple panels, and AEG Presents vice president of global touring Rich Schaefer sharing insight, which impressed many venue staffers in attendance.

One discussion, “When the Fan Takes the Field – An Overview On Global Fan Intrusion,” gave a candid look at a real problem, featuring input from the NFL, stadium managers and security experts. They shared how the NFL has implemented a new policy specifically aimed at stopping “runners” from entering the field to disrupt play, with specific staff on field sharing the sole task of preventing such occasions.

A Day At The Theatre: VenueConnect included venue tours such as at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, a focal point of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. (Ryan Borba / Staff)

An NFL representative confirmed the policy, which was enacted for the 2022-23 season, has been successful at preventing on-field intrusions, but declined to provide further details.

AS for IAVM itself, the changing of the guard took place with IAVM Chair Adina Erwin, executive vice president of business operations at BSE Global, handing over the reigns to Kerry Painter, director and general manager of the Raleigh Convention and Performing Arts Complex.

Individual award winners included Beth Wade of Berry Center in Houston, who received the prestigious Charles A McElravy Award, Richard Andersen of Venue Solutions Group Advantage Training, who received the Joseph J. Anzivino Distinguished Allied Award, and Tom Cornwall, who received the IAVM Foundation Legacy Award.

The 2023 Venue Excellence Award Winners are Baltimore Convention Center, BC Place Stadium, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, INTRUST Bank Arena, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and Schottenstein Center/Nationwide Arena.

IAVM President and CEO Brad Mayne told VenuesNow that VenueConnect attendance was its among its largest since he took the reins in 2016, with members getting back to full strength following COVID.

“Hopefully in 2024, which all the economists are suggesting, is going to get us back to pre-pandemic in all of the industries collectively, which is exciting for us,” Mayne said, adding that IAVM membership is at al all-time high at more than 7,200.