Leadership / 06.23.20
Talking Ticketing, Venue Renovations and More With Talking Stick’s Daren Mitch
These pandemic times are strange times for live entertainment. If someone had predicted that all the courts, fields and stages around the world would become empty, and venues would go dark, I’m not sure there’s a ticketing professional among us who would have believed it.
In Phoenix, Arizona, however, the pandemic experience has been quite different for those who work in the Phoenix Suns and Talking Stick Resort Arena organization. Their venue — which normally hosts NBA and WNBA basketball, arena football, concerts, ice shows and more — is currently undergoing its second significant renovation since it opened in the early ’90s, so it was always going to be closed through the summer of 2020. When it reopens, shares Daren Mitch, Vice President of Ticket Operations for the Phoenix Suns and Talking Stick Resort Arena, and a member of the INTIX Board, the entire inside will have been reimagined and transformed.
“When you walk in, it will be completely open, so when you are in the pavilion, you will be able to actually see into the arena. There will be added clubs and bars that will allow fans to enjoy a cocktail and see what’s going on when they are ordering beverages or concessions,” Mitch says. “Our television set has moved from outside into the pavilion, so when you walk in, you will be part of the background and energy of the pregame and postgame shows. This unifies the fans with the team the moment they walk in the door. Everything from the pavilion and ticket office to the seats are being replaced, too. We are also making the building state of the art as far as technology and rigging goes.”
Click the image above to watch the Talking Stick Arena transformation flythrough video.
Open concept was the latest trend until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it is easy to see why. Yet in these changed times, some of the original plans for Talking Stick are being revisited to keep guests and staff safe, and newly hired experts are contributing valuable expertise.
“We’ve added a position that solely focuses on safety and hygiene within our venue,” Mitch says. “That person is working extremely closely with our executive team to point out any areas of concern and see what changes we need to make, so that’s the first step. From there, we are breaking off into each of the different departments and working together to come up with plans that are going to keep everyone safe and elevate the level of comfort for anyone who is visiting the arena, because that is so important.”
Also important is the added value that all the various boxes and suites will provide going forward. Mitch believes that there will be increased demand for these types of premium experiences because guests can more easily control who is around them.
“With a suite, you have that level of security and safety; you’re confined in that spot with your group of friends or family,” he says. “The new bunker suites are completely private, and you can go right to your seats from the suite, which is going to be huge. Because, again, you are confined to the group you are with and you are entering your seats from a separate entrance way. The new 1968 Club has a separate entrance, too. I think these types of things will play a vital role in the reopening of the industry and will be very desirable for a lot of the fans.”
When it comes to the Talking Stick seating bowl, there are no modifications planned for the placement or spacing of seats.
“We are moving forward with the seating arrangement and plan that we had in place prior to COVID-19, and we are moving forward with the seat replacements as sketched in the design,” Mitch says. “I think the changes will happen on the management side: How do we scale certain events? What does it look like for a concert compared to a basketball game? I think those are the changes we will see across the board at every venue. I do not see large arenas going in and completely reconstructing their seating manifest. I think what happens now is how you set that [manifest] when you’re going to put an event on sale; what it looks like day one; and what it looks like a year from now if we’re in a different situation. [It is certainly] everyone’s hope that [COVID-19] will be somewhat past us and there will be some protections in place with vaccines and medications. So many pieces are unanswered at this particular time, and what we do on day one will not look identical to what we do a year from now.”
Approximately two-thirds of the renovations will be completed by the fall, when the 2020-2021 season would have started, although NBA operations remain suspended and concert stops postponed or canceled at the time of writing. But once the venue does reopen and live events resume, Mitch believes the sensationally reimagined Talking Stick Resort Arena will help people leave their everyday stresses at the door.
“At the end of the day, people want to come back to concerts; people want to come back to games and theatre events. It’s a desire that everybody has; it’s an opportunity for the public to leave everyday stresses for a couple of hours and just have a good time. That’s what people come to do,” Mitch says. “With the renovation, [there is a lot of] excitement in the city, with staff as well as the general public. There are members of my team who have worked in our ticket office for over 20 years, which is amazing. With that said, we still do have the pandemic to think about. We have been placed at an advantage with the renovation, but at the end of the day, we still cannot close our eyes to the deck of cards we have all been dealt in the world right now, and those items need to be addressed. The excitement of the new building will take you so far, but it does not mean we can let our guard down with everything else that every other venue in the world is dealing with right now, so it’s kind of an added layer ― the renovation plus now the pandemic, and the steps we are going to take to ensure everyone’s safety.”
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Tags: Venues , Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus