ODU course studies Oceanfront arena, advises developer in class project

Sport management professor Stephen Shapiro had a big-time case study for his class this semester at Old Dominion University: What would they do with an 18,000-seat, $210 million arena at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront?

The 24 students in Shapiro’s graduate course crunched the numbers and weighed the possibilities. They considered possible events, competition from other venues, strengths and weaknesses of the location, and revenue-generating ideas beyond ticket sales.

The assignment came with a little extra pressure, too. It wasn’t just for a grade. The developers of the arena wanted to see what the students came up with.

Shapiro’s class has been working with United States Management since September to develop initiatives for the arena. On Wednesday, a day after the City Council approved the arena deal, the students presented their final report to USM officials at a meeting room in a building at Town Center.

“You want to open it up with a bang,” Trey Freeman, one of the graduate students, told the development team.

One of the diagrams on display at the ODU student presentations.
One of the diagrams on display at the ODU student presentations. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

Six teams of four students discussed their ideas for events, including a football combine for high schoolers, a video game tournament, a battle of the bands competition, college basketball, Disney on Ice and events for the military community.

Freeman suggested developers try to bring in “757 acts,” or artists who are from the area, such as Pharrell Williams and Missy Elliot, for a big opening night event.

Students mentioned the arena’s location, near the Convention Center off 19th Street, and its scheduling flexibility as strengths. They raised concerns over parking and competition  with other venues, such as Norfolk’s Scope or Farm Bureau Live amphitheater in summer.

Student Drew Conner said the current lack of a tenant for the arena, which could open as early as 2018, means the private owners will need to schedule some sort of event on about 300 days a year to maintain profitability.

A student group composed of Dave Riley, Zach Twitchell, Bob Stevens and Brad Williams offered suggestions to the developers on who to target for sponsors, such as food, beer and merchandise companies, that could help bring in additional revenue.

Other suggestions for generating revenue included building a parking garage near the arena and selling retail or office space on the top floors of the garage.

All of the presentations highlighted the need for developers to promote the arena and “create a buzz” for it to get locals and tourists excited about it.

USM’s team, including president Andrea Kilmer, thanked the students for their work. They left with copies of the students’ report.

Joe Gelardi, a USM vice president and the arena program director, said Friday he was looking forward to reading all the details that the students didn’t have time to cover in their presentation.

“It was very energizing,” he said about the partnership with ODU. “I love working with students.”

Gelardi said his company challenged them to come up with non-conventional events, such as the video gaming tournament. He said he thinks his team can incorporate some of their ideas.

USM’s work with students isn’t over. Gelardi said the developer is in early discussions with Tidewater Community College about a partnership with its hospitality program.

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