The President of the San Francisco 49ers and CEO of Elevate Sports Ventures sat down with the ALSD in London to discuss the future of premium seating and the venue marketplace.
Al Guido is a man of many parts. His day job as President of the San Francisco 49ers has him managing a pillar of professional sports in North America, all while moonlighting as Chief Executive Officer of Elevate Sports Ventures, an upstart agency with global ambitions and a fresh take on sports marketing consulting. In the iconic Langham Hotel in Central London, Guido recently sat down with the ALSD ahead of a busy week in the UK, first recognized as part of the Leaders Under 40 Class of 2018, and then celebrated as the opening keynote of the inaugural ALSD International Conference & Exhibition. It was a conversation of many parts, including a look into the future through the Langham’s mighty marble pillars of a nostalgic era.
Editor’s Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and abbreviated for space.
Al Guido is forever in search of the next mountain to climb. And if no mountain exists, then he’ll dig up the earth to create one, happy in labor as long he can share the challenges and successes on the way to the top with a company of fellow climbers.
At this point, almost everyone in sports and entertainment knows Elevate Sports Ventures. Which is pretty remarkable when considering that the sports and entertainment consulting firm launched only nine months ago. But in less than a year, Elevate – a joint venture of the San Francisco 49ers, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, Oak View Group, and LiveNation/Ticketmaster – has converged to give rise to a new agency backed by some clear name recognition.
For any sports executives around the globe who still might not be familiar with Elevate Sports Ventures, would you mind sharing that brand story with us?
In simple terms, Elevate Sports Ventures is a sports marketing consulting firm that is a partnership between four entities. It includes my parent company the San Francisco 49ers, Oak View Group run by Tim Leiweke who most people in the sports world know as the architect and leader who built AEG before running Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment run by Scott O’Neil which is the parent company of the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils, Prudential Center, and more, and then Jared Smith, Michael Rapino, and the folks at Ticketmaster and LiveNation.
“For all of us, it was about bringing together diversity of thought within our leadership group.”
– Al Guido, Elevate Sports Ventures
For all of us, it was about bringing together diversity of thought within our leadership group. We felt like we were bringing something different to the table than some of the other agencies relative to our backgrounds and our experiences.
For example, if you look at Tim, he’s finance and facilities. He’s spent a lot of time within the arena management space. Scott has spent time inside the NBA. His understanding and vantage point on how leagues and teams operate is unmatched. What Jared has accomplished at Ticketmaster is extraordinary. It is certainly the leading operator inside the ticketing and technology space. With my background, I’m best known for the last two record-breaking revenue projects in sports – Levi’s Stadium with the San Francisco 49ers and AT&T Stadium with the Dallas Cowboys.
At Elevate, we’re bringing all of that expertise to the table along with several different professional services products that we believe can really change and help people, teams, properties, and more grow and monetize their brands.
How should the industry view Elevate? Are you akin to an outsourced sales force? Are you a holistic consultancy? Give us a sense for all the service offerings on the menu.
We’re much more of a holistic agency. We do have a vertical inside of our company that is a fee-based sales and marketing consultancy specializing in sponsorships and premium hospitality. And we’re doing that for clubs today.
We also have a professional services arm. We analyze quantitative data that we collect from Season Ticket Member surveys and assessments, and from inside of ticketing and pricing. Then we can apply Ticketmaster’s data treasure with all of its historical and comparative pricing inside of a market.
So if you’re running a team, you come to Elevate for insights on how to price your products, what to do within single games, what to do within premium inventory, what the comparative marketplace looks like, what the last six- to eight-month trends look like. Frankly, every single team struggles with these issues, and we believe we’ve created a product that’s scalable and that we can take to all teams.
Guido’s résumé bullets display coast-to-coast, top-to-bottom experience. The Washington Township, New Jersey native cut his teeth with Comcast-Spectacor before segueing into a business development leadership role with the Lakewood BlueClaws, Class A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Prior to joining the C-suite with the 49ers, Guido worked on behalf of the team and the Santa Clara Stadium Authority as the Senior Vice President of Global Sales for Legends beginning in 2010. Under his leadership, the sales effort for the 49ers and the Stadium Authority during Levi’s Stadium construction achieved record-setting results for the franchise.
Before joining Legends, Guido served in various sales leadership roles for a number of notable teams and properties, including the Dallas Cowboys and Phoenix Coyotes, achieving industry and organizational sales records at both stops.
You have documented success with selling tried-and-true suite products, as well as emerging premium products at the time at AT&T Stadium and Levi’s Stadium. But I imagine teams are looking to you for an innovative viewpoint as well. So how do you view the future of the premium product?
It’s changing overnight. What we’re finding is these communal spaces inside of premium areas are starting to stick. People are going smaller inside their premium. We’re no longer seeing large quantities of luxury suite boxes being built in the 16- to 20-seat range. The club seat product and loge seat product have become more in demand.
The fascinating thing for me though, inside of these designs, is we aren’t just seeing this shift in premium areas. The whole social gathering experience inside of non-premium areas is interesting. There are so many different ways to engage with the entire fanbase.
A common mistake is to focus on the one- or the five-percent of those fans who are going to enjoy a premium club space or a suite. And yet, we should really think about how we design the other areas to be dynamic and unique, so people want to keep coming back.
The term I heard coined in Atlanta this year is the “premiumization” of the venue marketplace, meaning a democratization of amenities across all fan levels, not just premium levels. But the issue that idea triggers for me is how do you differentiate between all of those tiers. If you’re providing premium for everyone, then you’re providing premium for no one. So how do you guard against that threat and continue to specialize within premium tiers to incentivize patrons to increase their investments?
“How to monetize the venue 365 is probably the question we get asked the most at Elevate.”
– Al Guido, Elevate Sports Ventures
It’s hard to do. You have to do it through an amenities and benefits package. And then the question becomes how do you scale that? An example in the NFL is field passes. You can’t have 70,000 field passes, so only a certain portion of people get access to those. You’ll also use some food and beverage opportunities.
We’re all trying to do something different. In Seattle, we have this cool Space Needle Club. We’re working on an MLS project now where we can potentially roll the pitch out and create an amphitheater which provides better opportunities to monetize the venue 365 [days a year]. So there’s not a one-size-fits-all marketplace or design or build.
Moving forward, how much emphasis do you expect will continue to be put on the 365-model for venue development?
How to monetize the venue 365 is probably the question we get asked the most at Elevate. We take a look at the design to ensure it fits gameday or matchday needs. And then within that design, we tweak it in ways that adds revenue. Then we look at it on non-matchday and tweak it to generate a 365 venue. We try to get the maximum usage out of that square footage. That is what everyone’s looking for.
Does the current Elevate team as constructed today have the horsepower to do that, or are you working with the architects, the real estate developers to do that type of work?
There are architects out there that do a tremendous job. We’re not trying to be architects.
We work with partners on the architectural side. We also have a partnership with Tim Romani on the ICON front, where we lend a project management hand to make sure these buildings get built on time and on budget. And then from there, once the design is done and the building is budgeted, that’s when we really go to work.
Read Part 2 of our Q+A with Al Guido to learn more of his governing principles, global ambitions, and ALSD International outlook.