Podcast Alert: Earl Santee – Populous
WP_User Object ( [data] => stdClass Object ( [ID] => 12 [user_login] => Navigate [user_pass] => $P$BpPAtnWWup46VpMPm.BNZjg5NitVph. [user_nicename] => navigate [user_email] => Info@nvgt.com [user_url] => [user_registered] => 2020-07-29 19:21:52 [user_activation_key] => [user_status] => 0 [display_name] => Navigate [type] => wpuser ) [ID] => 12 [caps] => Array ( [editor] => 1 ) [cap_key] => n2v1t_capabilities [roles] => Array (  => editor ) [allcaps] => Array ( [moderate_comments] => 1 [manage_categories] => 1 [manage_links] => 1 [upload_files] => 1 [unfiltered_html] => 1 [edit_posts] => 1 [edit_others_posts] => 1 [edit_published_posts] => 1 [publish_posts] => 1 [edit_pages] => 1 [read] => 1 [level_7] => 1 [level_6] => 1 [level_5] => 1 [level_4] => 1 [level_3] => 1 [level_2] => 1 [level_1] => 1 [level_0] => 1 [edit_others_pages] => 1 [edit_published_pages] => 1 [publish_pages] => 1 [delete_pages] => 1 [delete_others_pages] => 1 [delete_published_pages] => 1 [delete_posts] => 1 [delete_others_posts] => 1 [delete_published_posts] => 1 [delete_private_posts] => 1 [edit_private_posts] => 1 [read_private_posts] => 1 [delete_private_pages] => 1 [edit_private_pages] => 1 [read_private_pages] => 1 [wpseo_bulk_edit] => 1 [wpseo_manage_redirects] => 1 [manage_podcast] => 1 [editor] => 1 ) [filter] => [site_id:WP_User:private] => 1 )
[00:00:00] AJ Maestas: Hello and welcome to the Navigating Sports Business Podcast. I’m your host, AJ Maestas, Founder of Navigate a data-driven consulting firm, guiding major strategies and decisions in sports. We started this podcast, hoping to share the interesting stories and experiences of the amazing people we get to work with it.
And even though there are visionaries and famous in many instances, they’re true stories. Aren’t often heard since they’re not on the playing field. Our hope is you get to know them better and learn from them as we have.
[00:00:54] Earl Santee: These projects are like their journeys. You know, people think you started a big stadium project or sports [00:01:00] project, and you have the roadmap already in place in front of you. You don’t, you have a beginning and you have an end. And in between those two are 40 different journeys. And somehow they converge together to the final journey and the struggle it, honestly, the thrill I have with developing projects is finding the right path with the right partners.
[00:01:27] AJ Maestas: Today I’m happy to be joined by Earl Santee Senior Principle, Global Chair at Populous. How are you doing Earl? And thank you for joining us.
[00:01:35] Earl Santee: I’m doing very well. Good to see you AJ.
[00:01:37] AJ Maestas: Good to see you too. Well, start with a little baseball. I can’t separate you from Major League Baseball in my mind. I can’t remember the number of them, but it’s 80 plus percent of ballparks.
I feel like you’ve built. And I’m pretty confident you’ve built more ballparks than anyone in history, probably anyone to ever follow again. So if you don’t mind me starting here, which one’s your favorite? Do you have a favorite child?
[00:01:59] Earl Santee: [00:02:00] Oh, I believe that a Target Field is probably my favorite, because it was a project that most people didn’t believe it could happen.
Never thought it could be built on that site. Never thought it would work. So I had a lot of no votes going into it. And the beauty of why it’s probably would be my favorite is that we overcame all those challenges to make it happen. You know, the Twins are great partners. City of Minneapolis is a great partner.
The county, Hennepin County was a great partner. I think we just had, once we got everybody to buy in. It was like a dream. Yeah, I think that was why it’s my favorite because it, the challenge of it and for us to get to design it, design a great building, make it fit within a great city and make it serve the Twins and the city and county so well, is really impactful to us.
[00:02:44] AJ Maestas: Well, I was just, on the phone with Laura Day and her team just to a few days ago. I’m sure you know, she’s retiring. I assume your paths. Yeah.
[00:02:53] Earl Santee: I’ll need to throw her an email. I need to do that.
[00:02:55] AJ Maestas: I’m glad to hear that. And actually it’s pretty meaningful for that city too.
Right. And [00:03:00] downtown and all that. And by the way, for people who might not know you that well, the quick version of your resume is that you’re a founding partner of this firm, right? If you name an architecture or a sports business award, you’ve won it. So I won’t embarrass you by listing off all these accomplishments and awards, but maybe folks who’ve never gotten the chance to open a new building haven’t had that chance to interview and cross paths with Populous, but, I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m pandering to you. Cause I am super grateful for your work, but independent of us working together, Populous is the best. And when people think of Populous people think of you, right? So I hope I’m not putting too much pressure on you.
To ask this question, but you’ve done a lot more than the majority of ballparks in this country. There’s a lot of arenas, a lot of collegiate work. Outside of baseball what’s your favorite?
[00:03:41] Earl Santee: Oh, boy. If I focus on collegiate, I would say Baylor, mcLane stadium, because again, it was one of those projects where there were a lot of hurdles we had to jump over to make it happen. And people said no, a lot. We, we can’t do that. And you know, I think we did a really great job. Our team did a really great job [00:04:00] of not only bringing the university together, but the city of Waco together. We built a great stadium and to put it in a position on the Brazos river, that we gave the Brazos river an address it never had before.
So, I think that one is impactful to me. And that standpoint it’s because these projects are like they’re journeys. You know, people think you start a big stadium project or sports project and you have the roadmap already. In front of you, you don’t, you have a beginning and you have an end.
And in between those two or 40 different journeys, and somehow they converge together to the final journey. And honestly, the, thrill I have with developing projects is finding the right path with the right partners and finding a way for them to all of us together to make it happen. So it’s been a, I would say Baylor from a non-baseball side.
We have a great project team here at Populous, but we also have great people working with us at the university and the city, state level. Everybody came together. That’s another really cool thing. I think about our business because I mean, we design places for people to love to be together, but it starts at actually design processes where [00:05:00] people love to be together to solve problems.
And I think that’s a very impactful thing. It honestly gives you the most lasting relationships. When you work together to solve problems, people love that. And you have a history and a relationship that goes well beyond just designing a building and constructing a building and playing in the building.
[00:05:16] AJ Maestas: You know, it really reminds me of a book we’ve read as a company here recently called The Motivation Code by Todd Henry.
The idea of it is that when things are hard, you know, when you think back to the things you’re most proud of, they were things that were not easily attained. And you just said that twice in a row, right there on those projects. Right, so there’s something to that. Get in that foxhole with those people.
That’s cool. I’m glad to hear you say that. I think you’ve been a part of 40 site selections. I believe in you’re on probably more. I’m
probably understating it.
I love that
[00:05:43] Earl Santee: part of it because it’s a little bit like going on an Easter egg hunt, I’m working on with a place for that little special egg and it might have the candy that I like.
But yeah, I think that it’s a little bit like that. And I think that it’s an interesting project, more than anything else that part of the project is that you get to learn about places and [00:06:00] cities and people and how they relate to each other and what they care about and really what they love about, you know, what they love about their cities and about their, their places about their homes.
And I think that’s a, that’s a great story for us. And it’s what I remember the most about the projects, the little stories.
[00:06:14] AJ Maestas: We’ve had the good fortune to work on a couple of team relocations or expansions, you know, NHL and NFL. I’m thinking of a handful of times here in the last few years, and it is really exciting.
It’s not always what meets the eye it’s going to make for a great location or even a new city for a franchise. You know, some of these things defy, basic demographics and stuff. You mentioned tough and working with tough folks again, I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but you know, most owners make their money in a different industry in different fields.
And I know you’re dealing directly with owners on site selection, the design of these buildings, you know what I mean? Managing these giant, nowadays billion plus construction projects. Does anybody stand out to you when you think back through all those clients?
[00:06:52] Earl Santee: Yeah, my style is never to go in and be a flash in the pan.
When I go in and talk to folks, I want them to feel like I’m their most valuable asset. [00:07:00] You really need to understand where they’re coming from, how they think about. What they care about. I mean, some of our clients love design with great passion. Some just want to be innovative. It’s not necessarily about design it’s, it’s how they think their brand should be perceived in their market or in a broader market.
Some care about revenue. You know, they care about how much money are they going to make and can that money sustain me for 20 or 30 years and some just care about relationships, how they deal with you, how they deal with everyone in a project. And and all of those ways are some parts of them going to be tough.
You know, some parts is going to be tough. We talk about design. Some parts can be tough about revenue because you have to spend money to make money. Some parts can be tough about innovation because what is real innovation? That no one’s ever done before. Or someone attempted it didn’t accomplish it, innovations taken an idea and making it happen in a way that no one else has done, but you have to, it’s an idea, starts as an idea.
So those elements are what make these now billionaire clients different than they were in the past. And, you know, they do [00:08:00] have other motivations, some love the sport. Sincerely, some love the action. The action could be the revenue could be engaged as a community, could be how they broaden the brand.
Globally. Those things are great things for us to find out about clients. And some clients are eager to share what they love. Some are. So I’m not giving you a direct answer because all of them have their own toughness to them. They wouldn’t be buying major league franchises. They found their path and it is their path.
A lot of them are, you know, lately a lot of them are investment bankers, developers. We’ve seen a lot where they, they own the company. Technology is now big play in major league sports, where they had technology companies sold a tech company so they could buy a professional club and they all share I think one thing in common.
They’re buying it, not because they’re going to make a bunch of money, they’re buying it because they are passionate about the sport and about the team they purchased. And our job is to enable them to sustain that passion as long as they can.
[00:08:56] AJ Maestas: Well, do any of those people stand out in particular as far as being a good [00:09:00] client to work with?
[00:09:00] Earl Santee: I know what you’re asking.
[00:09:03] AJ Maestas: You don’t have to answer.
[00:09:04] Earl Santee: I mean, I think part of it and I believe that it’s just my job. My job is to find a path that we can work well together. I haven’t quit a job yet because of a bad client. Or too tough a client. I told you about the journey. That journey goes in 40 different directions and the map we have, I mean, it’s not clear, but part of this business is to find, find the way. To say that I love every client would be not completely true, but I do care about every one of my clients and what we did for them and what we did together with them.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be in this business that long AJ, if I thought otherwise, you know, if I had a client that just killed me, I would’ve left this business a long time ago.
[00:09:39] AJ Maestas: You’re building fun things, right? One of the discussions we have at Navigate about this, this is the modern cathedral, you know, it’s this center point of attention in a city.
It is, you know, these are palaces. And so I would assume that you would be pretty motivated, right? I mean, each one of these is a, would be a signature assignment for a normal architect over their entire [00:10:00] life. You talked about innovation. If you don’t mind me digging into that. You were a part of founding, this business you’ve been doing this for 40 years.
I’d love to know what you think, looking back what you think were some of the most impactful innovations. And when we’re done with that, I do want to look forward too.
[00:10:14] Earl Santee: Yeah, I’m a history buff in lot of ways and really my career here in 1985, when I started, I worked on the suites at Mile High Stadium.
Now Mile High Stadium is gone, and I worked in football for probably four or five years. I worked on Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Back in ’87, I worked on a lot of minor league baseball projects. I think in a lot of ways, because I’m almost like the college, the draftee, I started at the bottom in class A baseball. And as time went on, I kind of built up a passion and love for ballparks.
And I think that that started back in the late eighties and you know, as time went on and I, I kept elevating into AA and then AAA then on to the major leagues. My love for the buildings in how those [00:11:00] buildings fit the communities. I mean, it became more. I mean, every project was more, what more can we do?
How much more impact can we make? That’s what motivated me through all these years. As I think about our business here at Populous, obviously we created the club seat notion. We created a lot of unique. I mean, that’s part of innovation.
[00:11:19] AJ Maestas: A lot of people people don’t know that right? You invented the club seat concept.
[00:11:23] Earl Santee: Yeah. And we graded, really graded besides the suite projects back then 1985, we called them Skybox. Right they tend to be at the top of the buildings. And then that changed. We started integrating suites and premium product in the middle of the buildings. Really the biggest impact our company’s made on a broader generation of sports projects is how we kind of redefined the single purpose building. Now, mind you, there were single purpose buildings. You got Dodger Stadium, mid sixties, Wrigley Field from 14, Fenway Park. You’ve had some in baseball. You had single-purpose buildings and in football, you had some, then we had the [00:12:00] old second or third generation of buildings where they were multipurpose.
I think that redefining, it means that we were, I think we identified that the buildings could be more than just about the team. It could be about the community, its connection to community and how important that is to giving that place. A spirit that is normally found in most buildings. For me, I believe we had a huge impact on that.
Now lately. I think that the big shift for us in the last five years is really how we were not designing one building at a time we’re designing whole communities and how they relate to each other. And so, well, you can look at whether it’s the Patriots projects or the Rockies or Pittsburgh, or lastly in Atlanta.
I mean, most of our new buildings right now, we’re, we’re definitely trying to design more than a ballpark or a stadium or an arena. That we’re doing more than that.
[00:12:47] AJ Maestas: So you’re talking about the mixed use?
[00:12:49] Earl Santee: Mixed use development projects. That’s right. Yeah. If I go from the beginning it was small little bits that kind of change the dynamics of fan viewership at the buildings to a much [00:13:00] broader solution when it’s more community-based and less specific to one client base, it’s been a big shift now.
Next year, we’ll be celebrating 40 years. So look, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love the challenge every day coming in here and thinking about what’s next.
[00:13:13] AJ Maestas: Yeah. Well, I would love for you to share some of that because I think they kind of folks that’ll be listening to us, this conversation, you know, they’re asking themselves whether it’s through a renovation or a new building, how do I build the future into this building?
And for those listening, there’s a group dedicated on futurism and innovation at Populous they call it Next. It’s an internal group of partners and a mixture of different people in different seats, you know, in the company. But I find that really impressive. You know, there’s a friend of mine is one of those futurists, this John Sanei.
And, you know, he talks about businesses having to dedicate time, energy, and effort into that because people have their day job, it will fall to the wayside. So I love that you do that. I don’t know how much of that. We don’t want to give it away to the competition, but I’d love for you to share where you think the future of the stadium experiences is going.
Because no question, right. Gen Z behaves radically different than Millennials [00:14:00] and Gen X and Baby Boomers before them. So if you could give us a sneak into that crystal ball, where do you think it is going?
[00:14:06] Earl Santee: Yeah, I guess I’d say I pride myself to be able to look around corners. You know, it’s not a clear picture ahead.
And so lately I’ve been thinking about. We see so many people talk about technology driving all of these things, but everybody talks about technology. I mean, it’s everything we do, and it will change no matter what we do and from a design perspective, it’s almost like it’s the base part of the building that technology is going to change.
Base part of the innovation, the technology is going to change. You know, there’s a whole discussion about AI. If you look at speaker bureaus around the country and they have probably a list of 40 speakers and 35 are going to speak about AI and the future of technology. I think, and I know the work you all do, which I think is really valuable is that why I value it.
It’s really about the human side. It’s the motivation about what, why people do what they do. And I think that that’s a really valuable part of the process. It isn’t so tactical as much as [00:15:00] strategic, every little step it’s saying, okay, from here to there, you know, a Gen Z is going to do this. Or that a Millennial’s going to do this and how they gather together, how they experience stuff together, how they experience stuff singularly is very important to understanding. I think, as we go forward if I think a little bit about the future is how do we find a way to seamlessly integrate all these different demographics, user types, personas together in one place because we still have to build, no matter what we do, we still have to build a community, the community of sport, the community of fandom, community to experience.
So we still have to build that and it needs to be as diverse and fun and energetic and engaging as it can be. And we know technology is there, it’s everything we will do, and it will be in more than that. And the fact is right now, we have to use devices for that. But in the future we won’t be. The technology will be coming through us.
So that’s all I see.
[00:15:55] AJ Maestas: I’m really glad to hear you talk about community. That’s one of our, you know, consistent rallying cries. You know, the [00:16:00] membership model, as far as what teams are doing with fans has not had wild success here in the United States. And it happens naturally and organically around the world in rugby and football clubs all over the world, and it is about, you know, sense of belonging, sense of community ownership in that this is my town, right?
This is “we” all that kind of stuff. So, really glad to hear you mention that because I worry about, you know, social, digital, mobile are real threats to traditional sense of community and they’re threats to having a geographic bias and a preference for your hometown. You’re following things all over the world.
You, mentioned AR, VR and some of the AI stuff that’s going on. There was no question. What we’re seeing is people, you know, attend virtually. I don’t think it’s being overstated, what the threat and opportunity is, right. Cameras courtside, whatever it might be, you know, people attending all over the world and what their motivation is to do so, but yeah, well, I would love to know in the spirit of the person who leads a innovation at Navigate, you know, sort of the rallying cry is first, best only.
And so is there anything out there you can [00:17:00] point to that you think will be in buildings in five or ten years that we pretty much don’t see today.
[00:17:06] Earl Santee: Well, you know, I think that we can almost follow a little bit of the the trend recently. We’ve seen it with some of what we call performance venues. We are clearly transitioning from a seated experience to something else.
And the question will be, how do we build community when you get people out of chairs? In fact, if anything, I’ll say this, I think we build communities better without them being in their chairs, the people mulling around mixing together and stuff. I actually think we build better communities when people get up and socialize, because we do ultimately go to these buildings because we love, we may love the team.
We may have. The place, the building, you may love our city. We may love the people we’re with. I mean, you feel that together. And I think that that’s an important part of how we go forward. Now I do firmly believe that allowing people, the flexibility of their personal choice of experiences is going to [00:18:00] also mean that we have to be much more flexible in how we give them experiences.
And that means that they choose their own journey. They choose their path, they choose what they want to experience. They pay for that. Or not. And thinking now, I mean, you see all the national press about the supply chain, but we have a people chain problem right now. I mean, there’s just not enough that, you know, the buildings are not staffed very well because folks have different things that they want to do.
And not necessarily working in sporting venues is one of those. So we, we have a supply chain and materials. We also have a people chain miss right now. And I think that no matter what happens, if we combine this kind of journey, the freedom of a journey, experience journey with the lack of folks to help that we have to learn to choose our own path.
And it’s, it’s personal it’s we choose what we want to do and how much we spend and where we go. If it’s concessions or it’s seated experience or it’s something else we have to find a way to make that seem [00:19:00] seamless within the building and not necessarily just fragmented. It’s not, I can only do that here.
We have to do it everywhere. I think. It’s mandatory now, as we go forward, it’s almost like we’ve put two or three of our toes in the water, but we need to put the whole foot in the water. You know, we need to be all in next five years. We’re not all in, folks will stop coming.
[00:19:19] AJ Maestas: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s downward pressure on attendance globally as it was well before.
COVID right. This was a downward trend and there’s a number of reasons for that. But, but I do think one of the key reasons is we’re not keeping up with the total entertainment experience. I know we’re always comparing against what is a pretty close to a frictionless mobile experience that people expect the next generation absolutely demands it.
And you think about all the points of friction in, you know, in, in attending in-person. By the way, I really appreciate you’re talking about people moving around. I can affirm this with you at statistics, 75% of current MLB attendees say that when they attend entertainment events, et cetera, that they tend to have more fun when they can move around, have multiple experiences of one event.
That number is by the way, about 60% for non [00:20:00] MLB attendees. This is a really powerful with memory making journeys, right? There’s no question, you know, you change the venue, you change the. And, you know, the example we always use with other folks is tailgating with American football. Someone has a quality picnic and a full day family and friendship experience, and they start to become independent of that win or loss as opposed to, you know, highly reliant on the success of the team on the field.
But I appreciate you saying that, right. We have to make room for folks to move around and do as they wish.. Because that’s what they get right in the digital world. And we’re not giving it to them in sports.
[00:20:32] Earl Santee: No, not right now we’re getting there, but just slowly, slowly happening. And I don’t think that honestly, most of our professional clients are, they’re just not going to have a choice.
It manifests itself in everything we do. The design side to the construction side, to the events side, you know, we’re missing the kind of chain of people that would make that happen. And so we have to become much more efficient with what we do and the freedom of choice for people to do what they want to do.
We just have to find a way to do [00:21:00] that better than we have been doing it.
[00:21:02] AJ Maestas: Yeah. Yeah. I agree with that. I agree with that. Well, just to throw one more out, hoping it’s helpful, you know, to our listeners, we did a pretty cool study that did quantum qual and the qual was these biometric vests people wore that tracked heart rate, sweat, accelerometer or a GPS locator and, and one of the top points of friction. You know, in the whole driveway to driveway experience was traffic, transit parking, and you know, a lot of owners and folks will say, well, I can’t control that, but you know, there’s this little trick we do to tease out what is correlated with fan satisfaction versus what people state. So people will say like the ticket price is an issue, but the truth is, is that, you know, it’s the opportunity cost of their time and exchange the entertainment they’re getting like usually prices aren’t really the biggest issue. It is that, you know, let’s take sticking with baseball since you’ve built so many of those buildings, 81 times a year, I got to deal with that parking garage. You know, that’s tough. It’s a long game, right? I don’t know if you have any thoughts or experiences on that, but speaking of frictionless experiences, that’s tough, it’s tough to ask people post COVID to go there in [00:22:00] person.
[00:22:00] Earl Santee: And maybe it’s just how I look at it. I look at when you’re journey mapping, the journey mapping starts with everyone’s house. And so it is really important that you understand, if it’s a, a Millennial I’ll pick an age, 30 year old and maybe driving by themselves. Which they shouldn’t be, but they are, or they maybe take an Uber. How hard or easy it is or how expensive it is to get from point A to point B.
If you make it more convenient or you find better rideshare opportunities or you find better mass transit opportunities, it makes an important, in fact, if you go back to the comment you made earlier about my site selection skills or projects. We always do a traffic study, and now we do more than just traffic study.
We do a traffic parking traffic management studies, zone parking study zone traffic study. It’s much more segmented and how we look at the experience of going from your home to a building. And even to the extent of understanding what it’s going to look like in five years, we know where like right now in baseball, typically across America, [00:23:00] rideshare constitutes somewhere between 2% to 5% of people coming to a Major League Baseball game.
I think on a location. And we know in five years that that numbers can be in excess of 10%. The challenge is because of the way our cities are designed. There’s not a really great place to meet the Uber driver or the staging area for them to meet you. And I think, I mean, I think airports are starting to adapt to that, but we definitely need to adapt to that on the sports stadium side.
I think it’s even the collegiate stadium side, the arena side it’s coming, but yeah. So we’ll see rideshare normally happen. Maybe more consistently across America, next five years. And that’ll have an impact a little bit on how many people are on the road, but when anything else will be, I’ll make it a safer experience going to and from the event.
Especially if folks have partake in a few, few, too many, you know, we’ll see that, but traffic management, traffic planning, parking, planning, all that stuff we talked about earlier, I think that’s really an important part of how you look at sites. And if you can’t solve that well, you know, most of [00:24:00] the cities are growing.
If you can’t solve that well, how are you going to solve it in five years or 10 years or 15 or 20 years?
[00:24:06] AJ Maestas: Yeah, no question with new clients, we have an insights presentation and clients and friends, you know, that we like to give. And there’s no question, autonomous vehicles, a big part of that. If you’re willing to sit through some of this to get some updates on that. Because, I agree. There’s these horror stories of new buildings opening. I always think of the 49ers or the stories I’ve heard most frequently were, you know, it took someone four hours to get out of there and you’re thinking, good God, you know, how, how was this not planned for in advance?
Especially in the west, you know where these are driving cities, public transit, isn’t, you know, a realistic and material percent of total attendees.
If we could stick with the home experience for just a couple of seconds, just two things that we’ve been putting a lot of time and attention into is food and beverage.
And it’s tough to compete with what you have at home on a price point perspective. And, you know, stadiums just don’t feel like they’re still there yet, in my opinion, the quality of food that you eat when you go to a ballpark, and this is a national and global movement, right toward health and a bunch of other things.
And the other be, even being just the viewing [00:25:00] experience. I mean, I know this has long been spoken about for generations, but you’re competing with some pretty incredible digital options, camera angles, views, et cetera. I don’t know if you’re willing to speak to, you know, how these stadiums are going to be able to compete, especially if on food and beverage and you know, views.
[00:25:16] Earl Santee: Well, I think that, you know, and I don’t know how it’s gonna play out. So I went to two baseball games last week and I’ll probably go to 20 or 30 more this year, different venues. I think the difficulty is, is that F and B is becoming so expensive in these buildings. I mean, when you pay 20 or 25 bucks for a hamburger for $10 for a combo, and the downside is the fact that you’re paying the $20 to $25, you expect the best hamburger you ever had, and you expect the best hot dog you’ve ever had.. I think the F and B side needs to, it needs to move into a generation where maybe if it’s more self-service, it’ll be easier. I’m not sure, but and I don’t have the answer for this, but the F and B and I know we’ve done surveys [00:26:00] together multiple times and we’ve done surveys on our own.
I mean, F and B is beyond traffic and parking. It tends to be the number two issue. And when it tends to cost too much, it’s hard to get, or it’s the food quality is poor. I would say, man, if somebody wants to kind of push us, there’s a lot of room for improvement on the food and beverage side. Now, mind you, the biggest issue I had, I will say it again.
The people chain, the lack of folks that could support our food and beverage programming that we put in these buildings is going to have an impact. And, you know, I think we’re going to have to figure out how to do that. I think there’s a, a change industry-wise it’s gotta be on the food and beverage side.
I think there’s on the metal. In the market and will I pay 20 bucks for a hamburger? Yeah. Well, I’d pay $15 for a beer. Yeah. I’m saying that slowly, like, okay, do I have a choice? But if I, if I’m paying $10 for a beer because I’m, self-serving it to myself. Absolutely. If I have to wait for it or [00:27:00] not wait for it. Absolutely. So I think that from a programming perspective, we have to expect more. We have to the other, I think the other complication part is that, you know, everyone wants to have more diversity in food beverage products, which means you have to be predictable. Now this is where your data part can come in, predictable where you know what people are buying, why they’re buying it the motivation behind whether buying it and how you manage that on a game in game out basis.
I think that’s a, that’s a data point that you know, somebody could figure it out. That part of it might be able to help with a better food and beverage experience, but it’s really interesting because we’ve done. So we’ve done both with you all and with others, external discussions and F and B is the number two issue, which it’s something we have to kind of focus on.
I do think that we need a game change. You know, we need someone to come in and say, even one building to do and they show they can do it successfully. It’s how you collected data. How do you find fulfillment with what you’ve providing? Am I making money doing this? You know, we, we know that F and B companies [00:28:00] have a percent profits aren’t the highest, I think a lot of it’s because of how they’re organized from a labor stand point.
[00:28:05] AJ Maestas: Oh, yeah. And it’s pretty tough to staff something where, you know, halftime is when all the sales take place, right. It’s brutal. And there is a labor shortage, but I’m glad you shared that with about food and beverage.
It is extremely important. 70%, 60% of fans, somewhere in that range, depending on the sport, you know, critical to their game day experience. We’re falling short of that. And there’s some real tricks to it, to what people say is important versus correlated with the fan experience. There’s some, there’s some interesting tricks or inconvenience.
Like people will overstate, onboarding, healthy food is, you know what I mean? They’ll, over-report, you know, what they want for healthy food options. But I do think we have a long way to go with the foods service vendor partners and what we’re trying to do with the future of total satisfaction for fans, right?
It’s there’s the grab and go stuff too, by the way. Now here’s the problem. It’s like a million bucks. The Populous, obviously, you know, your team opened the Kraken arena in Seattle and there’s a bunch of grab and go, but it’s like a million bucks, you know, the implementation of the technology. And as you noted, low margin is not something that teams are doing for profit.
It is not. [00:29:00] One of those things where like, oh, the grab and go increases volume and it pays for itself. It doesn’t yet. The Suns have some pretty cool stuff too. I don’t know if you’ve seen what they do with their renovation, but there’s some real conveniences as far as, you know, skipping lines, but we’re not there.
[00:29:12] Earl Santee: I do think it’s one of the bigger issues for us. The challenge that the deal with, just from a design perspective, in a lot of ways, it’s an innovation issue. How do we innovate F and B in these buildings in a way that’s not been done before, you have to put all the math together, you know, the formula is what kind of food, the diversity of food, product.
What can the attendees afford to pay and will pay what’s popular, where they, you can build up density. You can, you could build up the kind of back of the house stuff to support it. At the end of the day, does the food and beverage company actually make money at your point, which I think was an interesting point.
It could be that it’s not me to say, but it could be that the stuff you’d mentioned before about the F and B is part of the branded experience that you want to give them. It’s the overall experience. It’s just not about one thing that could shift. But I think you’ve got to [00:30:00] have really great food for that to shift because for me it was, I mean, I’ve always felt that everything we do, should we be the best at, we should be great at everything.
And I would have to imagine that if I’m a owner of a sports franchise or sports building, that everything we do has to be the best because it reflects on my brand both internally and externally.
[00:30:18] AJ Maestas: Yeah. Well, and, and that’s true for these experiences, right? People are paying a lot of money when you look at the average American disposable income and what they paid to have season tickets, what they paid to attend a game to park, to buy food and beverage.
I mean, yeah, you’re asking a lot. I, to go back to the competition from just staying at home. That’s one heck of a high threshold. I mean, there better be some high fives. There better be some celebratory moments. There better be some, you can only have experienced it if you were here and felt the energy in the building, because otherwise what on earth are we asking people to do pay more for less quality food, pay more, you know, for a more friction filled, you know, day in their entertainment experience, then you could get almost anywhere else.
Right? Yeah, it’s, it’s really tough. Okay. Final, [00:31:00] big question. I promise here, but I’m really passionate collegiate athletics, and I know you’ve done a lot of really cool things there. You’d mentioned all this stuff at Baylor. Love that by the way, football stadium on the water. It’s very cool. What do you see as opportunities or challenges in the collegiate space?
Because this is just my personal bias, but I just feel like they’ve overbuilt, they’re short on premium areas, you know? I mean, there’s a couple of hundred universities out there, right. Trying to compete, you know, with the professional entertainment experience, any advice for our friends in collegiate athletics?
[00:31:30] Earl Santee: Well, I think that it’s a legacy issue with collegiate athletics, the legacy of existing season ticket holders and out seats, you pick whatever name you want to give it. And so generally they have all the best seat locations. And I also think that what’s happened over time and what we’ve defaulted in doing premium products in the endzone.
I mean, overall, there’s a lack of diversity. You know, in fact, I would say it’s a little bit, they’re probably five overall. I’ll say overall, this one. Five, 10 years behind the professional market in the amount of [00:32:00] diversity we’ve done suites forever. You know, we, I told you earlier, we were doing sky boxes in 1983, and now while the suites are still part of who they are, I can see a suite inventory becoming a, vacancy, becoming an issue, especially the scale of them.
But I do think you could find premium products and much more diversity, much more diverse experiences. They don’t have to be all the same. I have to build 5,000 Loge boxes or, you know, 300 4 tops and they could be 10 different fan experiences. And I think that that’s the part that, that you could probably in the collegiate side, they could probably work on is on a data side, is trying to understand the data that supports I’ll pay this much money, but here are the experiences I want.
I want to pick my. It could be an F and B experience could be a, I’ll say it my way, a liquor experience. It could be a seated kind of seat experience. It could be what I get to do before I go into the building or after I ended up building all that stuff. It’s taking the stuff we’ve learned over the last five years and applying it [00:33:00] to, I would say more personal premium experience.
Me and my friend, it’s my wife and my two kids. It’s my three college buddies. It’s my five other folks from work. Whatever it may be. That lack of diversity, I think is probably the biggest issue of the collegiate stadiums broadly. I think a lot of are certainly doing broadly could affect them. The other part is just understanding how they, how they make money.
Where they make money. It’s not about just seats. This is more generational demographic driven, but having places where people would just gather together, they share the same experience. They may not be seated that, and they may have multiple experiences. They may do what they want to do and they can roam around the building.
It doesn’t matter. I don’t believe it doesn’t matter what sport that is in collegiate sports. I think the generations, the demographic, the personas are going to drive that it’s not the other way around. We can’t dictate what people are going to buy or want to do. We have to provide them. The opportunity to promote the kind of experiences they want.
And so design more experience, driven, more diverse experience, [00:34:00] driven places in these buildings to support to go forward. And I think that’s probably the bigger draw. The biggest driver right now for collegiate sports. And we have some really, really big buildings, the number of hundred thousand plus seats stadiums in collegiate sports is incredible.
[00:34:15] AJ Maestas: Yeah. I think half of the top 10 in the world stadiums are American collegiate football stadiums in size that is. Isn’t that kind of funny to think about.
[00:34:24] Earl Santee: And I think that as time goes on and because we’re in this world of a secondary market, I mean, you have, you might have a season ticket customer, but you know, are they going to go to every game?
Are you going to, to two of the six games, are they reselling the others? Are they? Who knows? And I don’t know if that’s going to change. I mean, I think collegiate football is probably easier to deal with because it’s on the limited number of days, but talking about collegiate basketball, collegiate baseball. We have multiple, you know, quite a few more event days.
I think you could see where it’s a little more difficult, but it is something to think about how you kind of deal with it. But yeah, I think that way to circle back on the collegiate sports side of [00:35:00] it, you know, in five years, what’s collegiate sports look like it’s going to look like what professional sports is turning into right now.
You know, we’re going to be more focused on the stuff that you’ve helped us with on the data, collecting on the motivations behind the demographics. Behind the generational differences. We’re so focused on that right now that that, that will inform the next generation of arenas, stadiums, ballparks. And I think that ultimately, they also will inform how we look at collegiate sports.
[00:35:26] AJ Maestas: Yeah, I don’t disagree. You know, one of the things we were pretty high on is the membership model. And I, and you alluded to this earlier, that flexible use of being in a stadium and sort of, you know, today we are with five friends the next day. It’s just two of you. And, you know, it’s just more realistic about how someone uses that sort of bank of whatever you want to call it, that bank of money and their relationship with that team.
So I agree. Alright. I got a couple of rapid fire questions for you. If you’re willing, before we wrap things up, All right. Who would be your dinner guests out of anyone in the world? This could be a historical figure. It could be someone, you know, you personally know [00:36:00] today, but it would be your special dinner guest.
[00:36:02] Earl Santee: Well, not so interesting. I think it started out by saying I was interested in the history of ballparks, which I was, it was a lot of fun, but I think where I am now in my career, I’m more interested in the future. And there are two folks. And actually, if I could think of a third, I’d love to have a third, but I liked the idea of how it isn’t a brainstorming, but I like to hear the voices together and see if there’s, when they mesh together, what ideas come from it.
And so the first one I have is Alvin Toffler, who is he wrote a book in 1970 called future shock, which is, it’s really driven about technology. You know, it’s about how we look at how honestly, I think he predicted the idea that Amazon and others would be successful in our society, in our market. I think that someone like that on the technology side of that, how technology impacts what we do and how we think about stuff and what it will do will do to us.
The second one being a named Mike Walsh, which is [00:37:00] more interested in how we work. And so he’s written a few times about kind of the new rules of how we as companies and businesses work together and how employees work with us. And you know, that working from home’s not going to change things. You know, that we still have jobs.
I mean, we’re still going to have jobs to do. We still have to do that. No matter where it is. And I would say even in my career, I firmly believe that because I’ve traveled, you know, 7,000 days and I’ve still had a job. I’ve done it traveling 7,000 days.
And then when I really am trying to focus on, because I’ve only been thinking about this lately, because it’s years ago, I, I went to a conference.
Colorado Springs it was really good. And the guy talked about I think the name of the book is called Age Power. Yeah, it was really informative to me relative to how we’re all changing, how we’re living longer than how grandparents now have a different relationship with their grandkids. And they did back 40, 50 years.
God, I thought that was a really fascinating book, but I do think the part that I’m I’m really interested right now is how we live, how we live as humans. Yeah. Because if you look at the kind of, [00:38:00] while we talk about it and we, and we know we’re in this really incredible dynamic time of, I’ll say both positive, negative issues.
It’s how do we live going forward? You know, how do we all live together going forward? And I think I’m still very interested in that topic. So I haven’t found anybody. I looked I’ve been looking for it, but thinking about a lot lately, and I just have not found anybody that. If you’ve got something in mind in sharing should love to read something about it, but it’s a little bit after, like when you guys do motivational states about why people do what they do and stuff.
It’s a little bit about psychographics. It’s a little bit about that. A little bit of lifestyle analysis, but it’s all about how we live as people. And with the changing time, all the technology I mean, 95% of our world is about technology. It’s just crazy. I’m actually almost tired of listening to people talk about technology, you know, you live it and it’s limit, take advantage of everything I can get, but I’m really interested in how we live, how we live as people how we enjoy life, how we work together, how we [00:39:00] play together, all the other things.
I think I’m really interested in how that, how that might change. If we go look forward five years, have
[00:39:07] AJ Maestas: you read Sapiens or Homo Deus by any chance? I’ll send them your way. I think you’ll get a kick out of those. It’s kind of like a historian slash anthropology. The story from antiquity till today.
And he gets into some of those patterns of community, shared beliefs, lifestyle choices, things like that. You know, I read a bunch of behavioral economics stuff. I love that too. And I’m sure you’ve read things like Nudge and Influence or Talking to Strangers. Yup. Thinking Fast and Slow. Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But I love that. I appreciate that. We’ll put that in the notes so that people can see those authors, but, what is something you do to relax? How do you recharge? And let’s say other than fly fishing?
[00:39:51] Earl Santee: Well, you know, I’ve had multiple roles here in this company. I had a thing that I’ve shared it with some of the leaders here.
I have to take a break every [00:40:00] six weeks. It’s just me. I figured this is a timing thing. Every six weeks, then I have to take three days off or four days off, five days off and I could be playing golf. I could go to the mountains. I can go boating. I could go visit some city, go see my kids, whatever.
It’s purely just a disconnect technology, but you know, the emotions of, and the stress from life from work, whatever it may be. But that’s like a timing for me. That’s kind of, how do I relax? I have a thing it’s like, I could tell when I start getting grumpy. I needed to take some time off, you know, and some people may be longer.
I think this is time it’s accumulative to me. I mean, it’s as many years probably 20 years ago was once every six months, but it’s every six weeks now. I mean, look, I went fishing. I came back, I was, I had all the juice in the world to do whatever. I got six more weeks now I got, I got four more weeks before I need to do something else.
So I’ll figure it out. What is. Yeah.
[00:40:58] AJ Maestas: Well, if he got home last [00:41:00] night at one in the morning, you might be burning the candle on both ends here with your travel. Yeah. Yeah. Well, what advice could you offer to a young person that wants to follow in your footsteps? The next Earl Santee.
[00:41:13] Earl Santee: You know, I have a Wonderlust for our business.
Sports, adventure. I’m open. I don’t enjoy everything equally, but I’m open to everything. So just be open. I’m really purposeful about being aware of what’s going on around me, whether it’s in the media or it’s in just daily life with the people we work with or personal life, just being aware and being really being aware isn’t staring at somebody it’s like watching the emotion of a moment watching your reaction to a question or a comment.
It’s that part next, which is something that I’ve used quite often. Don’t be afraid. So often people are afraid to either ask questions or try a new thing, or to engage in something because they don’t know what the outcome is going to be. They want predictability. The only [00:42:00] predictability is if you apply yourself to something and you do it well, you should enjoy it.
And last, not least just don’t be in a rush. I mean, I, I think that so often our lives are long. Hopefully they’ll be long that you live in the moment you experience the moment and you don’t rush the moment. You appreciate it, you enjoy it. And then you wait for the next one to come and just don’t rush.
Whether it’s a business moment, a recreational moment, a personal moment, whatever it may be, just don’t rush through it. Just, allow yourself to enjoy it. Enjoy that moment in, you know, that’s way I’ve always been, I haven’t, that hasn’t changed. I mean, last year I got to the Masters and I was fortunate enough to go to a Masters where there’s only 20% people there and what an incredible, wonderful experience.
Now, when I saw the full crowd this year, I thought, oh, I’m so glad I went last year.
[00:42:50] AJ Maestas: Yeah. I can understand that. Yeah. Good for you. I can understand that. Is there a bucket list sporting event for you to attend or was that it?
[00:42:58] Earl Santee: I’ve always wanted to go to [00:43:00] Wimbledon with my daughter. I have gone to Wimbledon, but I just have not gone.
It’s a funny thing about sporting events. So I enjoy them the most when I’m with somebody. And I should say that very clearly and an Indy 500, I’ve always been, I know, growing up, I was really fascinated with it. I’m not sure if I am still, but it’s it’s, those are probably the only two major sporting events I have not gone to.
I think I can think of, because I’ve gone to every, I mean, over the years, I’m fortunate in our business. As you can imagine, I have access to everything, whether it’s a rugby game or Premier League soccer, hockey, basketball. Super Bowl, World Cups. I’ve had a fortunate, our business have had access to all that stuff.
And I love watching as a fan new cities, as they entertain these events, these big events, I love watching what they become, what they become when they have a big event in their city.
[00:43:52] AJ Maestas: Well, the cities are changed. You’re changing cities by these developments, you know, that you change downtowns, you know and that trend. Well, someone listening [00:44:00] if it’s not us, someone listening is gonna help you check off those bucket list items, I’m confident about that. Okay. Last question. What do you want your legacy to be?
[00:44:09] Earl Santee: Well, man, I didn’t know. You could ask that question AJ. That’s a tough one. You know I would say that over time, you change a bit. I mean, I was, and I still am, you know, I’m sure there perception of their just hard charging type A personality.
And I would say that when I was younger, because we had a lot of tough projects, tough clients and stuff. I was probably more that way. I know that folks here say I’ve grown softer and that’s honestly, it, it just happens. It’s not necessarily intentional, but you know, I would say that the final thing I would say is I care.
I care about every one of our staff. I care about our clients. I care about the people who are buildings. I care about the communities that these buildings sit in. And I honestly. With great empathy. And I think that’s probably, it.
[00:44:54] AJ Maestas: I believe that you do. And if I haven’t said it enough, I hope, you know, how grateful we are to be a part of such [00:45:00] a beautiful mission, you know, building the cathedrals, you know what I mean for sport for the world, imagine the world without sports world without these venues.
So I’m really grateful to play a small part in your mission. Cause I care too.
[00:45:15] Earl Santee: But I do want to tell you that for me straight up, I mean, well, I’ve known you over the years. I mean the last three years have been great together. So I think you’ve made a very big impact on our practice. We’ve learned a lot.
We have a lot more to learn and I think we just have to keep marching forward. Remember that journey I told you about. You know, the map, isn’t clear, isn’t always clear, but we know if we work together, we can get there in a way that will be meaningful for both of us.
[00:45:37] AJ Maestas: Well, yeah, this is the kind of hard work that’s worth it because the outcomes are so meaningful to our whole industry and they’re so visible and clear and the clients are pretty special.
So you guys are pretty special people to work with. So thank you so much. By the way anybody listening, do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to reach out to us. My email is AJ@NVGT.COM and I bet Earl would even answer some good questions. If you had any for him that we could [00:46:00] pass on, you can also connect with us on my personal LinkedIn page or the Navigate page.
And again, this is AJ Maestas joined by Earl Santee of Populous. Thank you for joining us on Navigating Sports Business and stay well, please.
[00:46:12] Earl Santee: I will. Thank you,AJ.