Situated at the heart of the NEC campus just outside Birmingham, the Genting Arena is the UK’s first purpose-built arena complete with roof towers to accommodate large scale concerts. It’s a multipurpose venue that focuses on music as well as comedy shows, sports events, dance acts and performances of every kind over almost four decades. The arena bowl can be dressed for intimate events for around 4,500 or hold a total capacity of over 15,700 and the venue attracts in excess of 700,000 visitors to over 100 shows per year.
A unique feature of the venue is the pre and post-show entertainment area, Forum Live, which provides the opportunity for local and unsigned talent to perform and for guests to eat and drink before the main acts take to the stage. It’s also the shopfloor for one of the UK’s most profitable arena merchandising initiatives. But, until recently, the arena’s capability to maximise their income from the Forum Live area has been hindered by traditional static signage that was neither flexible, nor innovative.
Anna Valley began working on a £4 million digitisation project across the NEC Group in January this year to improve wayfinding, facilitate the delivery of advertising and information and help create an end-to-end experience for visitors to the Group campus. Replacing the printed advertising displays and the menu boards for the 28 food and beverage concepts at the Genting Arena was part of the broader commission but was managed as a separate project, with NEC Group catering company, Amadeus, as the client.
“Previously the arena was very boring, it was very bland,” explains Amadeus general manager for Genting Arena, Annie Monnox. “The printed signs said ‘perfect pizza’ or ‘brilliant burgers’ but didn’t really tell you much about the food or reflect the outlet’s look and feel.” The project goals were to modernise the arena’s appearance while cutting down on printing costs and increasing the venue’s profits by providing dynamic advertising and promotion capability.
Monnox explains how the installation was planned over two phases to fit around the busy event schedule at the arena. “We scheduled the installation around our dark days – when we don’t have any events on. We also looked at the events that we had booked – some events only have a small attendance and not every area is open – so we made sure we focussed on the areas that were going to open first and then worked on the other areas later in the month. We did focus on the Forum Live space first because we wanted this to look great from the start.”
The first phase of the installation took place over nine days between 5-20 February 2018. Three Anna Valley teams worked across 18 locations to install 76 large format Samsung displays, with screen sizes varying from 49 to 75in.
“This phase of the project provided digital menu boards for each of the individual food and beverage outlets in the Forum Live space,” says Anna Valley’s director of integration, Nick Shaw. “We worked with the catering team to identify the most effective positioning for the new displays and with the NEC digital team to integrate the displays with the NEC Group’s Tripleplay IPTV system for content management.”
Overhead static menus were replaced with digital displays positioned at eye level behind the food counters, providing Monnox’s team with the ability to run animated advertising and dynamic pricing and promotions for different events. “We have 15,700 people coming into this area – queues are inevitable – but with digital signage people can read what’s on the menu and the special promotions while they’re in the queue, so they can order what they want as soon as they reach the till – digital signage really helps with the speed of service,” comments Monnox. “Another great thing is that we can change screen content individually. If we have an event and the client wants something specific, we can change that – and you don’t have to be on site, you can change it remotely.”
The second phase of the project focussed on updating general signage and advertising in the arena bowl and took place over eight days between 6-15 May 2018.
Nick Shaw explains that while this installation covered 55 locations, only 19 new displays were deployed. “We conducted an asset review of the current screens and overhauled their whole estate, moving screens around, replacing broken ones and repairing and upgrading faulty displays to achieve the best result for the available budget.”
“We did quite a lot of walk-arounds with Anna Valley just to make sure we had the screens in the right place. What we wanted to do was get the best screens for the best price, to provide the best customer experience,” continues Monnox. “But we soon realised that some of what we wanted may be cost prohibitive, so we decided to overhaul and repair some of the screens rather than replace them – which meant we were able to afford larger screens in other areas.”
Displays in the arena bowl needed to be multipurpose and available for use as menu boards, for public service announcements and even to feed live event coverage from the main stage for audience members that step out to get food or use the facilities. To achieve this, Anna Valley upgraded 36 existing screens by adding set top boxes and storage capability to the devices so that they could be connected to the same content management system as the new displays.
Monnox is excited about the opportunities these multipurpose displays will provide. “The future is really exciting and the scope of what we can do with these digital screens is absolutely amazing. If we’ve got a queue at one bar, what we want to be able to do is just pop up messages saying there’s no queue at another bar or there’s something exciting happening in a different area so that we can drive people to different areas during an event.”
Replacing static displays with digital screens has provided Amadeus and the Genting Arena with the ability to be dynamic and responsive in their approach to advertising and promotion, supporting the venue’s flexible approach to hosting events and performances.
The team have already started seeing the benefit of using digital displays in this way, running a special Trooper beer promotion at an Iron Maiden concert, which generated thousands in additional earnings, and prompted customers to drink more water, which saw water replace Amstel on the venue’s best-selling beverage list.
“We used to have to go to marketing and they had to produce the boards which was actually a really long process, you had to have a good idea three weeks before to make sure it worked,” says Monnox. “Now, even on the day we can have a great idea for a promotion and bang it’s on the screen. When the digital screens first went live on the first event we had, the difference was phenomenal.”