The Facility Brand Experience
By Mark Schmitz
The "art" of creating special human places has been around a few thousand years, but the practice has never been more important than now in the quest for the ultimate guest experience. Believe it or not, your facility is being judged by every ticket-holder, vendor, maintenance worker and employee in the building. The "facility experience" has become such an important part of our culture that future consumer and financial success depends on it.
A strong interior graphic design program uses brand identity, exhibits, public signage, banners, ad panels, themed concessions, landscape architecture and more to surround your guests in the revenue streams and culture you want.
Your facility can be an all-in-one visually integrated space with the infusion of brand identity, signing and a theme program.
Likewise, you don't have to be "brand new" to create a new and integrated visual experience. The integration between architecture and interior design works to bring your facility up to full utilization without spending a fortune on new construction.
You constantly must develop ways to "plus" your brand image. Consumers are smart, and their expectations are high. You must exceed their expectations at all times.
A prime example of building the facility brand experience is the University of Wisconsin. To be at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on a football Saturday is to truly experience the spectacle, pageantry and magic found in the best of college athletics. It's the smell of the brats cooking on the tailgate grills. It's the sound of the UW band's drum corps pounding in the distance. It's seeing the stadium ablaze in red as you're swept up in a wave of 80,000 fans rooting for a Badger victory. It's living the memories that shape your life.
Camp Randall feels like it's been there forever—and in some ways it has.
Built in 1861 as a Civil War training and prisoner-of-war camp, Camp Randall has a rich history. Madison is the northern-most burial grounds for any confederate soldiers, and there is documentation of confederate prisoners commenting on how well they were treated at Camp Randall while incarcerated. This in stark contrast to the reception given to Wolverines, Hawkeyes and Gophers who visited 50 years later when the University built the historic football venue.
Through the years, there have been many renovations to the stadium first built in 1917. There have been increases in capacity, the addition of a second deck, a new press box and the removal of the running track—all of which brought the structure to the state it was in when a much-needed renovation began in December 2001.
In the late 1990s, after a string of three Rose Bowl victories in less than 10 years, the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department found itself in a place it had never been: out of the red and into the black. At the same time that on-the-field success and increased revenues were creating new opportunities, the stadium was beginning to show its age.
While many additions had taken place over the years, at no time was a comprehensive renovation undertaken. With clogged aisles and gates, sub-par restroom facilities and outmoded amenities and administrative offices, the time was right to bring the stadium into the 21st century.
Over the years, college game day has been transformed from a quaint, local gathering into a full-scale national event influencing millions of dollars. At UW, it's a six-times-a-year experience that helps to shape not only the face of the university but the entire state's community and economy.
With this in mind, Camp Randall had to become a facility that could compete with any stadium in the country in terms of amenities and facilities offered. But more importantly, it had to become a place that would continue to create memories for every fan, employee and recruit that stepped inside its walls.
One of the largest hurdles to the project would prove to be the financing package. As part of the project, debt was tackled through the creation of new private suites and club seats. If all were sold, more than $8 million of revenue per year could be generated.
Behind the leadership of Associate Athletic Director Vince Sweeney began a quiet campaign to sell the premium seating to a small group of faithful alumni and business executives. This effort moved about 25 percent of the inventory. Without a lead donor and a long way to go toward reaching its premium-seating sales goals, the renovation project was put on hold for 12 months. Then, a $6 million gift from the Kellner Family put the project back on track, and a new plan to sell the remaining inventory of premium seats was hatched.
After the nuances of a targeted sales campaign were pinpointed, branding tactics were used to visualize and verbalize the magic of Badger game day. This was done through a marketing package consisting of space advertising, brochures and other print collateral that sold more than just a seat to the game. A promotional video also was produced to tell the story of game day. These pieces sold an opportunity to relive and be part of cherished memories for a lifetime. Badger alumni and all Wisconsinites could join in experiencing this magic blend of sport and culture. It was billed as an opportunity to shape the very culture around them.
The advertising campaign, combined with the diligent sales efforts by the UW Athletic Department's Badger Fund team, proved to be an undeniable winner—all 72 suites and all 900 premium club seats were sold out six months ahead of the first game in 2004.
After the success of the premium-seat sales, planners began in earnest to comprehensively brand the entire facility. Beginning with the stadium logo, a product that had its own unique brand was created, one that was tied to the history of the university while at the same time focusing on its signature athletic product—football.
Next, the football offices needed to be tackled. Specifically designed as a room to "wow" recruits, an immersive walk-through Badger history was created featuring signature displays, exhibits and art panels honoring the Big Ten and Rose Bowl Champions and multiple Heisman trophy winners. Immediately a success, today it's a stop on the tour for nearly every athletic recruit in the 23-sport program, and it's no longer known as the football offices. It's been dubbed simply, "The Wow Room."
The visual brand program developed for Camp Randall is truly unique. It is the "life" of the stadium. From themed concessions, retail identity, dynamic public signing and gate-entry features to historic banner programs and displays, planners hit the mark on visualizing the "core" of Badger tradition.
When the Badgers christened their "new" stadium, the week leading up was filled with special events centered around the opening theme of "Celebrate the Legacy." The theme and logo harkened back to the foundation on which the great stadium was built. The football team donned throwback uniforms from the 1965 season, which were auctioned off after the game. In fitting symmetry, all proceeds were invested back into the athletic department, just as the 84 years of history were kept alive and poured back into the entire stadium redevelopment.