Taking in a back-to-back of events at Amway Center recently, Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins looked around at the tens of thousands of fans enjoying the basketball game and the country concert and a big smile stretched across his face.
Orlando’s Amway Center — a state-of-the-art venue almost universally considered the best multi-purpose facility in North America — was fulfilling the very wishes that the Magic and City of Orlando hoped for years earlier, Martins thought to himself.
“The gratifying thing is that the building is doing what we envisioned and projected that it would do. That’s to bring events to our community that we were missing out on and bring a diverse group of events that targets every segment of our community — young, old, Hispanic, black, white and everybody, really,” said Martins of the Amway Center, which was SportsBusiness Journal’s 2012 Sports Facility of the Year.
“I look in the crowd virtually every night that I’m here. I enjoy watching people’s enjoyment of what they are experiencing in the arena,” Martins continued. “It’s gratifying and it makes me feel good that we had something to do with the Amway Center being here. And more than anything, we have brought the big-city level of entertainment to our community. There are a lot of cities that can’t sell out two Luke Bryan concerts. There are a lot of cities who can’t sell out comedian Kevin Hart, who just had a second show added because the first one sold out so quickly. So clearly there’s a demand and there’s a high level of usage here at the Amway Center. And it’s just so great to see the community enjoying it all.”
People from all over Central Florida — and tourists from all over the world as well — have been enjoying the Amway Center in record numbers of late. The 875,000-square-foot facility recently wrapped up a 12-day stretch where it attracted 102,000 fans and generated more than $1.9 million in total concession sales. And the Amway Center’s ability to attract wide-ranging audiences was never more apparent than during the recent stretch from Feb. 11-22. To wit:
— During that time, the Magic hosted games against the Knicks, Pelicans and 76ers — all victories for Orlando — and played before crowds of 15,473, 18,259 and 16,108.
— The Orlando Solar Bears, members of the East Coast Hockey League, had three- and two-day homestands and hosted five games.
— On Feb. 15, Juan Gabriel, one of Latin music’s best-selling artists, performed at the Amway Center while on his Gira Volver Tour. A night later, WWE held its Monday Night Raw event at the Amway Center and set new building records for attendance and highest-grossing wrestling event at the arena.
— The demand was so great from country music fans in Central Florida to see 2014 CMA Entertainer of the Year, Luke Bryan, that the chart-topping artist sold out two shows in a three-night period at the Amway Center. Just for good measure, Bryan used his night off in Orlando to attend the Magic’s defeat of the New Orleans Pelicans and sit courtside.
Without a state-of-the-art facility such as the Amway Center, most of those events — and quite possibly all of them, including the Magic — would have taken place in a city other than Orlando. The Amway Center not only saved the NBA in Orlando, but it has also served as a magnet for big-time entertainers who previously passed over Orlando because of the dilapidated state of the since-demolished Amway Arena — the city-operated venue from 1989-2010.
“Our professional home teams, the Orlando Magic and the Orlando Solar Bears and the world-class programming continue to showcase the arena’s attractiveness to artists and promoters as well as bringing our community the best that entertainment has to offer,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
The Amway Center’s functionality and its important place in the Central Florida community became quite apparent to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver during a trip to Orlando last week to meet with the Magic’s corporate sponsors. Silver first became familiar with the facility in 2012 when Orlando hosted the NBA All-Star Game and he returned last Wednesday to see the facility being put to good use as 18,309 fans packed the place for the overtime thriller between the Magic and Heat.
Silver, who recently passed the one-year mark into his reign as NBA Commissioner, said the Amway Center serves as an indicator throughout the country for what a facility can bring to a city’s downtown. By hosting a diverse mix of events throughout the calendar year, the Amway Center has become a meeting place for hundreds of thousands of Central Floridians a year.
“The Amway Center is a model building,” Silver stressed. “As I often say, in this day and age, these arenas are modern town halls in a way. At the end of the day, the (NBA) accounts for 50 nights a year, give or take a few, but a place like the Amway Center is a cultural center for great art, it’s a venue for NCAA games as this one is and it holds important events for the community with graduations and concerts.”
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, a standout who has played in arenas all over the country and around the world, said that the Amway Center is one of his favorites anywhere because of the beauty of the facility out on the court and behind the scenes in the locker room area.
“I’ve played in all of the arenas and I can honestly say that this is a very nice one,” Wade said. “I really got a chance to experience the arena more during All-Star Weekend in 2012 and I was very impressed. They did such a great job with this place and it ranks right up there at the top of the league, no doubt about it.”
Silver went on to say that Orlando should take great pride in the fact that other NBA cities are looking to emulate what was built in 2008-10 and opened on Oct. 10, 2010.
“I know, in fact, that the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks — who are in the process of seeking a new arena in their community — have spent a lot of time talking to Alex Martins to get a look at this arena as a model for them in Milwaukee,” Silver said.
Martins added that those interested in replicating some of the components inside the Amway Center isn’t limited to just NBA squads. Members of the management team from the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings toured the Amway Center in January to study Orlando’s use of art throughout the building. The Vikings were so impressed that they ultimately hired the same company that the Amway Center used in adding some dramatic artistic features to the teaming facility.
“It’s great that others recognize the Amway Center as a model. And it’s great, for me at least, that the facility has held up in such a way that five years later, it still seems brand new,” Martins said. “When I tell people (from out of town) that it is five years old, they can’t believe it. They think it is just a year or two into its existence. That’s a testament to the City and our other partners with the way that they have kept the facility, with the maintenance and the upkeep.”
“KEEPING IT FRESH”
The Magic served as the developers of the Amway Center, which is operated by the City of Orlando. The Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design (LEED) building features a sustainable and environmentally friendly design. And it also came with the most advanced technology in the industry with 1,100 digital monitors, the tallest high-definition video board in a NBA arena and multiple premium amenities available to all patrons in the building.
And the building is just part of the experience. The Magic have gone to great measures to make sure that once inside the Amway Center fans have the best experience possible. Their dedication to creating legendary fan experiences was recognized in 2013 with TheStadiumBusiness’ Customer Experience award.
“I get great feedback from our fans all the time. They will stop me on the concourse or in the hallways just to tell me how great their experience is,” Martins said. “We focused on a lot of things that are non-traditional in our industry. With the Disney customer service training, we were the first in the industry to initiate that and create a very high-level of customer experience with everybody that (arena workers) interact within the building. It makes a difference because people say to me all of the time, ‘I’m treated incredibly well in your building — more so than I ever have been in any sporting venue.’”
The goal now, Martins said, is to keep the Amway Center looking brand new and as up-to-date as possible. A big part of that chore is continuing to keep pace with the ever-changing face of technology.
One big aspect of the Amway Center keeping up with the times is making sure that fans have the proper bandwidth through wi-fi connections so that they can share their experiences through pictures and videos on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. In less than five years, the Magic have worked with the City of Orlando to improve the wi-fi in the arena twice already and a third improvement is planned for later in the summer.
As one example of how fast technology is evolving, Martins said the initial goal upon opening the building was to have touch-screen monitors for fans to see different views of the game and order food from their seats. Technology was installed to make that possible, but in the years since, tablets have become prevalent and advancements in mobile devices have made touch-screen service more readily available.
“One of our goals from the very beginning — and something that we address every year — is how do we keep it fresh?” asked Martins, who has also worked with partners at Levy Restaurants to keep food options inside the facility up-to-date and evolving. “Without major investments, how do we keep a new and fresh feel to it every time people walk in the building? Technology plays a huge part in that. When we opened the building we were at the forefront of technology, but technology moves so fast that five years later it is very different.”
In April of 2014, the Magic in partnership with Experience, launched iBeacons in Amway Center. The iBeacons provide fans the ability to receive instant communication and updates the moment they enter the arena. And in December, the Magic became the first NBA team to offer Apple Pay, a mobile payment technology that makes it easier for fans to access the food and beverage and merchandise services desired at events.
Martins said that the Magic pride themselves on innovation so much so that Silver recognized the organization recently for being “the early adopters with the things that are happening in the industry.”
Martins went on to say that the Magic, “want to lead the way” in regard to technological advancements at the Amway Center. The next step for the Amway Center, Martins said, is making the facility totally mobile-enabled in the very near future.
“The primary focus that we have is to make the building completely mobile-enabled, so that anything people want to do, should do or would do to interact with our building, they need to be able to do that on their mobile device,” Martins said. “Whether that’s entering the building with a ticket, upgrading your ticket while you are in the building, ordering food, ordering merchandise or reporting an incident such as a spill or someone falling — those are things that we’ve challenged our staff to do through smart phones. We have said that our goal is to be mobile-enabled by next season and we’re right on the cusp with that. We’re having conversations every day with some of the innovators so that we can be at the forefront in the industry of being one of the first mobile-enabled arenas.”
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