The Miami Heat is a young team on the rise in the NBA with a loyal fan base that sells out most of their games at AmericanAirlines Arena, so fan engagement is strong.
But team officials noticed a long-standing problem and needed a solution: they were blessed with 30,000 square feet of usable space outside AmericanAirlines Arena but weather in south Florida ranges from too hot to too wet, thanks to the “daily dump of rain,” as Heat EVP and chief revenue officer John Vidalin describes it.
Vidalin became renowned for several projects he oversaw at Levi’s Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, perhaps most prominent a solar array at the facility. The Heat hired him to solve their problem and he came up with a doozy of a solution: the solar canopy-covered Xfinity East Plaza, which now is hopping from well before Heat games and concerts at AAA to well after they end. And that’s just the way Vidalin envisioned it.
The plaza includes custom-built NanoLumens cylindrical displays that wrap around the columns to ramp up the energy before, during and after events even more. The plaza has gone from a smoking deck to one of the most popular spots at the arena since it opened in 2016, says Vidalin. Arena owners also rent it out for group events and private parties.
“We made it an extension of the concourses,” says Vidalin, who will be joined by NanoLumens CEO Rick Cope at InfoComm 2017 Center Stage on Friday, June 16 at 1:30 p.m. for a session called “Fan Engagement in the Digital Age.”
“You can arrive early and not worry about having nothing to do and you don’t have to rush right to your car to try to beat the traffic after the game or the concert. It extends the time you’re willing to spend at the stadium,” says Vidalin.
Miami Heat, NanoLumens Create Engagement
The plaza is filled with music, DJs, bands and other entertainment, including notable post-game concerts by Flo Rida and DJ Khaled, among other superstars with roots in the Miami area. Networked lighting turns the plaza into a show that features player images mixed with advertisements and game or concert information.
“John and his group had a vision to do something different than just hang up some LCDs and hope people showed up,” says Cope.
The plaza gives visitors a view of Biscayne Bay without the worry they’ll get too hot or drenched. And the Nano Lumens displays are ruggedized to withstand salt water and hurricane-force winds, both of which are common in the area.
“It’s become a place people know to go,” says Vidalin. “It has to be a place people are drawn to and want to come to. Every building, every team in every market has its own unique challenge and is limited only by the creativity of the people who work there. It’s all about amplifying an experience they’re already having.”
With the Xfinity East Plaza as the model, NanoLumens is talking to other teams, both in the NBA and NFL, about “changing the space around their stadiums,” says Cope. That includes the Super Bowl LI champion New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It’s part of a whole new experience,” says Vidalin. “You’re giving them another reason to come to the game early and stick around after it’s over.”
Cope says these sorts of initiatives are necessary in a day when it’s easy to get a stadium-style experience from the comfort of your living room couch. In the Xfinity East Plaza, cameras capture fans enjoying themselves and share them inside the arena, while a hashtag and other coupons and discounts keep Heat fans engaged the entire game.
“It’s the same challenge every team has,” he says. “You have to create a more engaging and immersive environment.” That’s true in retail stores and even at airports, says Cope. And with sponsorships by NRG, Bacardi and of course Xfinity, “it’s not a paper cup and a hot dog. The food, service and drinks is equally important to the experience.”
Vidalin knows sports fans are evolving and changing.
“Regardless of what happens on the court, you have to provide fans with a world-class experience,” he says. “I can’t control what happens on the court but I can control what happens in this space.”