2 min read February 2023 — Invest: was joined by Mike Kenny, general manager of ASM Global, to discuss the rebound Jacksonville is experiencing in sports and entertainment since the pandemic. New construction and renovation has been key for growing sports teams, he noted. “It’s a bit ironic, but even since the time of the Gladiators at the Coliseum, there has always been a need for event management and coordination,” he said.
What has kept ASM Global busy over the past year?
2022 has been really strong, with 2021 being more of a rebound year from the pandemic. We’ve seen an uptick of postponed shows finally happening, along with a lot of great new ones for a total of over 70 this past year. I’d say we’ve been fortunate to rebound in such a successful way. I think what people underestimate is the variety of sports here. At the stadium we host Jaguars home games, the annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, the Florida vs. Georgia game, Monster Jam and large concerts. Our minor league ice hockey team, the Icemen, draws an average of 7,000 fans per game and is only getting bigger. Our local baseball team, the Jumbo Shrimp, are a Marlins affiliate and recently received AAA status.
How have event operations changed since the pandemic?
Consumers expect a higher level of cleanliness and health and safety of a building. There was a time when the term safety was synonymous with security like metal detectors and bag checks, but the pandemic changed that to include a higher level of focus on public health. To that end, we’ve implemented far more contactless and cashless operations and have seen some interesting strategic revenue growth in relation to that. Installing this technology obviously increases the cost to host events, and when you pair that with the high cost of labor, for guests to have better and safer access to concessions and merchandise, it really helps to offset costs. You’ll see a lot more self-serve kiosks at our events and venues, and in-seat delivery or mobile ordering will continue to be a growing trend in the near future.
What is your assessment of the current labor pool?
There are issues affecting our labor force. One is that the cost of living is going up, so labor costs in terms of hourly rates have also gone up. The other challenge is that not everybody seems to be as quick to sign up to work on seasonal and part time gigs. That may or may not have to do with being around crowds, but otherwise it’s possible that people didn’t work for a year or two and didn’t miss this type of work. We’re seeing less applications and have had to raise wages in return.
What is ASM Global’s role in the revitalization of Downtown Jacksonville?
We want to keep bringing great content and events that can enhance Jacksonville’s quality of life. A big part of that is paying wise attention to what consumer demands are and how they change and not just pigeonholing ourselves in one genre like country or classic rock. Family shows, hip hop and R&B, and alternative rock are all big platforms that we want to facilitate and grow for the community. Partnerships have been critical for us. We work closely with the City of Jacksonville, Downtown Investment Authority, and the Jaguars on a number of projects tied to the downtown area, and it’s leading the way to some great energy and improvements.
What are some of the important renovations happening at your venues?
The Jaguars have begun plans for a new stadium, and we are already constructing a new practice facility which is exciting for everyone here. The Jumbo Shrimp are also collaborating with us on renovations of 121 Financial Field which is directly related to their designation to AAA status. Some are front-facing changes for the fan experience, but a lot will be in the background and clubhouse enhancements will be a big part of it. For the fans, we’re revitalizing their experience at the arena with a particular focus on club box suites to provide a new, elite engagement at our events.
What do you see as the future of events in Jacksonville?
High tides raise all ships. I hope we keep growing because there’s room for everyone. In sports and entertainment, we have to keep up with the Joneses and the construction and renovation of stadiums will go a long way to ensure our success in the future. It’s a bit ironic, but even since the time of the Gladiators at the Coliseum, there has always been a need for event coordination, getting people in and in their seats, and that is something that will never change. But many things do change. The stadium or arena from 30 years ago isn’t feasible anymore. Fans want more engagement, more self-service, and state of the art facilities. Technology will be key. I see facial recognition ticketing and entry to be the norm in under ten years.
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