Flip the Switch

135: Driving Change through AR, VR and Human-Centered Design w/ Steven King

Augmented reality and virtual reality are transforming both the in-venue and at-home viewing experience. To understand how to incorporate these emerging technologies, we sat down with Steven King, director of University of North Carolina’s Blue Sky Innovation lab.  King’s work is rooted in human-centered design and this episode hits on some of the latest projects coming out of the lab and how to effectively use human-centered design for brainstorming and change management. 


2:42    “Time Space” Storytelling at The Washington Post

4:32     Human-Centered Design Methodology

10:54   Testing Before Investing 

12:25   Change Has to Be Exponentially Better

17:40   Bridging In-Venue and At-Home Viewing

21:36   HoloLens Headsets

25:35   The NBA is Missing the Mark on VR Viewing

30:37   Change Management and Defining Success

35:53   Leadership’s Impact on Creativity

42:14   Key Organizational Players in Driving Change

46:53   Misconceptions 

48:13   Learning About New Trends


For more information on topics covered in this episode, check out: 

UNC’s Blue Sky Innovation lab: Website | LinkedIn 

Connect with Steven on LinkedIn

Steven’s Go To Sources

Fortune Brainstorm Tech

Tech Crunch

On Steven’s bookshelf

The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt

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Lessons from Leaders – Eric Nichols

We’re already done with two weeks of football. We’ve crossed the starting line, now it’s time to start thinking about how we can get better.

“Be better” happens to be the parting advice Eric Nichols gives in our latest conversation. Eric is the Senior Associate Athletics Director for Marketing and Branding/Chief Marketing Officer at the University of South Carolina. At South Carolina, Nichols oversees Marketing, Digital and Social Media, and the University band and spirit programs as well as serving as the primary liaison for Licensing, merchandise sales, and outsourced entities including Learfield for multimedia rights and Learfield Ticket Solutions for outbound sales.

Here are three key takeaways from the conversation:

Make choices based on story, not budget
In SC’s new Cockaboose Club, Eric describes the space as if “a train station and a brewery had a baby.” Each new club has their own story, and their own target market, with the Cockaboose Club built for the Average Joe. Our former Disney colleague, Joe Rhode, the Disney Imagineer largely responsible for creating Disney’s Animal Kingdom, was famous for saying “make design choices based on story, not budget”. Keep that in mind as you map out your fan experience and you’ll win in the long run.

Position underutilized assets creatively to drive engagement and revenue
This is the first year SC will have 100% capacity and beer sales. But adding a high-demand product means you need more points of sale, and there’s only so much room in a concourse. So Eric and his team got creative with an underutilized space between concession stands. They made the area walkthrough convenience store-style for fans to grab drinks, then they branded it a “beer cave.” What you’ve got it’s your job to get creative and spin it to turn into an experience.

Scaling empathy
“We want to make the relationship with the Gamecocks almost like a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship where it’s really difficult to break up with us… you’re gonna feel bad about leaving.” Eric highlights the importance of human relationships here. It’s a lot easier to leave a logo and a physical building than it is to leave another human. Fans (and employees) who are emotionally connected to your organization are more loyal through tough times and are less likely to churn.

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Flip the Switch

College Leaders | Using Data and Tech to Amplify the ’12th Man’ Tradition w/ Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson joins David for this week’s College Leaders podcast. After nine years at Ole Miss, Michael reunited with Ross Bjork at Texas A&M in October of 2019 as the Deputy Athletics Director for External Relations and Business Development. His innovative leadership has led to appointments as the 2020-21 NACMA President and membership in the SEC’s fan experience working group. His team also won the 2019 NACDA Technology Innovation Award.

Counting down the days to football at Kyle Field, Michael shares his framework for keeping the 12th Man traditions sacred while employing data and new technology to evolve and innovate game day and carrying that through to other sports.

Show Notes

6:06 What’s new for 2021 Texas A&M Football?

8:57 Creative Planning for Staffing Challenges

13:54 Celebrating The 100th Season of the 12th Man

19:18 Balancing Traditions with New Innovations

23:55 If Money Was No Object…Investments to Enhance Customer Experience

27:03 Defined Social Spaces in Stadiums

30:27 Diving into NFTs and the Blockchain 

33:43 Cracking the Code on Season Ticket Usage

38:43 The Flexible ‘Gig ‘Em Pass’

39:33 Understanding Your Different Customers

43:30 The “FOMO” Factor

46:48 On Michael’s Bookshelf

50:56 When “No” Presents a Better Opportunity

56:36 Best Investment Under $100

57:59 Practicing Intermittent Fasting

1:01:53 Michael’s Billboard


For more information on topics discussed in today’s episode:

Flexible Gig ‘em Pass

On Michael’s Bookshelf

Pappy Land by Wright Thompson

Endurance | Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition by Dennis Perkins

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn or Twitter


Today’s episode was sponsored by CheckdIn.  Delivering training digitally to better equip your staff for game day.

Want more from EngageMint? Subscribe to our newsletter

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Flip the Switch

Capitalizing on New Tech to Transform Fan Engagement w/ John Kosner

In our latest podcast, David sits down with John Kosner.  After 20 years at ESPN, where he transformed its digital media strategy, John co-founded Micromanagement Ventures with former NBA Commissioner David Stern and also leads Kosner Media, where he invests in and advises sports tech companies focused on sports media, sports betting and gambling and player development.  

This episode covers all things sports tech, truth speaking and leadership and the future of sports broadcasting.

Show Notes

(4:00)  Forming Micromanagement Ventures with David Stern

(15:04)  Importance of Humor in the Workplace

(18:11)  Assembling the Right Team Around the Right Purpose

(21:51)  Trust is the Essence of Every Human Relationship

(25:35)  The NBA Trade Machine and Taking ESPN Digital

(32:35)  Learn from TikTok, Instagram and Twitch

(34:53)  Static Personalization vs. Modern Personalization

(36:55)  John’s Advisory Work

(43:34)  The Adrenaline Factor in Viewing Sports

(50:32)  Overcoming Complacency

For more information on the topics covered this episode:

Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christianson

The Adrenaline Factor by John Kosner

Check out more from Kosner Media

Connect with John on Twitter or LinkedIn

Today’s episode was sponsored by CheckdIn.  Delivering training digitally to better equip your staff for game day.

Want more from EngageMint? Subscribe to our newsletters at https://engagemintpartners.com/newsletters

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Lessons from Leaders – Nick Sautner

Our guest this week was Nick Sautner, CEO of Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.  A worldwide leader in sports and entertainment, Eden Park was the first venue to host a sporting event at full capacity and a concert since the pandemic.  More than 46,000 fans packed the stands for the All Blacks rugby match 6 days after lockdown ended in October of 2020.  Eden Park also hosted its first concert on April 24, drawing 50K+ for New Zealand native Six60.

Initially, we reached out to Nick for more insights on the award-winning fan experiences at Eden Park, but we walked away from the conversation inspired by this mindset: 

“People describe stadiums as cathedrals of the 21st century, but I think of them more like town halls.  They should be somewhere that local residents can use and engage with all year round, not huge spaces that are locked down after a match day.”

Here are three key takeaways to transforming your culture and operation to monetize your venue.

Make Your Next Door Neighbors Your Biggest Supporters

Converting the stadium into a “town hall” started with walking out the stadium gates and appealing to its neighbors.

One asset of Eden Park is its location within a residential neighborhood.  There are plenty of arguments against this being an ideal setup – noise and light ordinances and challenging traffic patterns.  However, the leadership at Eden Park saw it as an opportunity to foster relationships with those that would advocate for Eden Park.  They formed a support group of neighbors called “The Hood.”  Just as passionate as a soccer supporter group, 1,400 locals signed up within a 24-hour period.  

“It demonstrated that people living in the community directly around the stadium were actually advocates of the park. They wanted to engage. They wanted their children to experience the park.  Their kids ride their bikes on weekends in the car park. They learn how to do various life-changing moments in our state. So ‘The Hood’ was central to that strategy.”

Providing The Hood a platform to share how they wanted to use the park resulted in food truck nights, dog-walking groups, a garden run by refugees that provides produce for local businesses and cafes and the kitchen space for “The Cookie Project” to operate.  

Taking those partnerships a step further: Could those same food trucks be incorporated to your pregame tailgate / street festival on game days?  Is there a group rate you could offer the dog-walking groups or those tending the garden to attend a game together?  Would community groups like “The Cookie Project” volunteer to staff concession stands on game day? 

The benefits of The Hood are two-fold: 

  1. Rather than marketing and sales teams sitting in a room and guessing what events would appeal to the community, The Hood gave them the framework for new events that Eden Park could build upon.
  2. Hosting new events like concerts, which are financial drivers, require consent from the local community.  Eden Park received a 97% consent from the local neighborhoods, schools and businesses for its concert application in January.

Bringing a $2 Billion Blank Canvas to Life

Moving from an event operations mindset to business operations mindset challenged the Eden Park staff to re-evaluate their stadium as a blank canvas – a $2 billion blank canvas that was drastically under-utilized. They set out to fill it with experiences that were “instagram” worthy.  

Guests can spend the night in Staydium Glamping domes or see the sights of Auckland from the Sky Sport Roof Top Tours and Ziplining.  

Creating that entrepreneurial spirit in the organization resonates from the “Idea Factory,” an area of the stadium carved out for bringing all key stakeholders together to discuss concept, design, execution and partnership involvement.  As a result, you get events like the G9 9-hole golf experience.  

When was the last time you created an “instagrammable” experience for your staff?  What skill sets and background could your team bring to new events in your venue?  We’ve seen several venues partner with TopGolf for hitting experiences, but does your turf team have anyone with a background in golf course design that would be excited about creating sand pits and bunker holes?  

Often the challenge with adding new events is an increased workload on staff that already puts in a lot of hours.  However, if they are invested in the event, your staff might embrace it.

“It’s pretty much between 5 and 10 days of 12-hour days and I’ve never had a staff member complain working at G9 because it’s just such a unique event.”

Treat Customer Service Training Like a Coaching Game Plan

To bring the full event experience together, customer service has always been at the forefront.  Nick became CEO four years ago and within his first 100 days, the organization established a new mission, vision and game plan for Eden Park.  The game plan included seven values and behaviors that all full-time and part-time staff deliver to their customers and fans, from customer service, attention to detail, commercialization through innovation and surprise and delight.  

“As someone who played professional football in Australia, I equate it to the example of players running out on the field.  A coach isn’t going to give 15 or 50 messages.  They give a limited number of messages for a player to absorb and then implement the game.”

The seven-value game plan is a consistent part of the communication internally at Eden Park – relayed to all staff every pre-event meeting, posted in two languages throughout staff corridors and reinforced through Leader Walks that all senior leaders, including Nick, take on event days.  

How are you approaching your return to events training with staff?  Do you have concise safety and service standards that you want every staff member to know and execute?  Can someone working one game deliver the customer service you envision for your fans?  

For our full conversation with Nick Sautner, click here.

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Flip the Switch

Enhancing Stadium Experiences Beyond Game Day w/ Nick Sautner

Our guest this week is Nick Sautner, CEO of Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.  A worldwide leader in sports and entertainment, Eden Park was the first venue to host a sporting event and a concert at full capacity since the pandemic and has won a number of recent global awards, including the Product Innovation Award for  “Staydium Glamping”.  Sautner has also been recognized as EVANZ Supreme Person of the Year and TheStadiumBusiness Global Executive of the Year.   Throughout this episode, Sautner shares his framework for  Eden Park’s strategic plan, his “town hall vs. cathedral” mentality and monetizing the venue to create more participative events and experiences. 

Show Notes
(4:38) Escapism and importance of returning to operation

(5:38) Hosting the world’s first capacity sporting event and concert  

(8:42) Pre-COVID vs. Post-COVID Operational Changes

(14:50) Relay communication like a coaching game plan 

(17:25) Communicating the game plan throughout all organization levels 

(22:17) Driving Strategic Plans & Creating “Instagrammable” Experiences 

(29:23) Instilling an Entrepreneurial Culture

(31:16) “People Describe Stadiums As Cathedrals..Think of Them More Like Town Halls”

(35:29) Cultivating a Culture of Utilization and Collaboration

(39:31) The Idea Factory

(42:19) 3 Beneficiaries for Successful Events

(45:23) Hot Take: Design Flaws of Stadiums

(49:53) Nick’s Mantras

Additional Notes

Visit Eden Park |  Experiences |  Partnerships
Connect with Nick on LinkedIn or via email

Today’s episode was sponsored by CheckdIn.  Know exactly who’s working in your venue.

Want more from EngageMint? Subscribe to our newsletters at https://engagemintpartners.com/newsletters

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Flip the Switch

Utilizing Technology to Solve Business Problems w/ Adam Polansky

In today’s episode, KG and David chat with Adam Polansky, the Group Director of Innovation at Octagon, a one of the world’s biggest sports marketing agencies. 

They discuss how we can use technology to innovate and ultimately create better experiences for fans and employees.

Show Notes:

What is Octagon? How does the Innovation team fit within the organization structure?

(5:40) What is innovation? How does Octagon define it?

(7:20) The meaning of fandom and sharing that with Octagon’s clients

(10:25) Creating the spiritual home for fans 

(13:20) Capitalizing on the intersection of sports and technology

(16:20) Octagon in Action – Bringing the Home Depot’s College Game Day sponsorship to life during the 2020 football season

(18:40) Behind the scenes – Octagon’s brainstorming sessions

(23:45) Lifestyle Marketing – from inception to rollout

(28:28) The “non-sexy” side of problem solving

(32:45) How might we create something new with virtual capabilities? 

(39:50) If we repurpose something from the past, is that innovative?

(42:15) Zoe Scaman’s “The Rollout” – Capitalizing on an existing event for a virtual experience

(44:20) The innovation waiting to be brought to life

(46:25) Selling the pitch – getting companies to push the boundaries

(51:34) The art of interactive storytelling

(55:44) The top technologies driving innovation

Referenced During the Show:

Dallas Mavericks’“Rollup”

Ghostbusters Experience at Madame Tussauds



Where to Reach Adam:

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/aspolanskyTwitter:a_polansk

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Flip the Switch

43. Lessons from the Business of Hip-Hop w/ Dan Runcie

We’re stretching outside our world of sports business to learn from the business of hip-hop. Our guest, Dan Runcie, is the founder of Trapital, the home for the business of hip-hop.

Inspired by a case study that Harvard business school had done about Beyonce, Dan started writing his own case studies on other impressive business ventures in the hip-hop and music world. Today, Trapital explores the intersections of sports, music, hip-hop, culture and entertainment more broadly.

Today, Dan not only writes some of our favorites business case studies that exist, he also consults and advises some of the biggest players in the music industry.

Even if you’re not a fan of hip-hop, this episode is jam packed with business lessons that can be applied to your business.

Time Stamps:

 Dan’s background / What is Trapital?

(12:32) Sports and Hip-Hop: “We want to be them, they want to be us”

(13:12) How artists have engaged fans without live events

(17:55) Example of how music can scale into sports and entertainment

(24:37) Creative models to replace revenue  

(26:05) Key partnerships for at-home entertainment

(29:52) Name-Image-Likeness Parallels

(31:40) Disruptions in the music industry

(34:17) Framework for analyzing business models

(37:52) The role that music videos have had in revenue generation for the music industry 

(44:08) Modern-day lessons from music business leaders 

(47:19) Generating Passion vs. Influence

(50:46) If Dan were the Athletics Director for a day…

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Harvard Business School case study on Beyonce

Ben Thompson Business Model

Michael and Janet Jackson Scream Music Video

Where to Reach the Guest:

Trapital Newsletter

Email –  info [at] trapital.co

LinkedIn – Dan Runcie

Twitter – @RuncieDan

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Flip the Switch

36: Culture of a Challenger Brand w/ Scott Carr

Joining us today is Scott Carr, the Deputy Athletics Director of UCF, Scott Carr. In his daily responsibilities, Scott has oversight of all external units, including Brand Advancement, Strategic Communications and Video Services, as well as being heavily involved in revenue generation. And he does it for one of the innovative, creative, organizations in college athletics, University of Central Florida, or better known as just UCF. 

Scott’s one of the best guys in the business, and he’s been around college athletics all his life.  Prior to working at UCF, Scott served as Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs at Auburn University, overseeing everything from marketing and promotions, ticket sales, box office, event management, community relations, gameday experience and all the partner contracts that come along with that. 

Enough about Scott’s background, let’s talk about why you should be excited for today’s episode.

In a time right now where revenue is tight for all sports and live event organizations, we all need new ideas to engage our audience, our followers and our fans. And Scott’s been a key leader in an organization that has done a 180 in the last few years. 

On January 1, 2018, Danny White, UCF’s Athletic Director, declared UCF the National Champions after a 13-0 undefeated season, despite not getting a chance to compete for the official national championship. Even before that public declaration of rebellion against the status quo, UCF had created an internal culture of innovation, one that challenged traditions and focused on engaging their young fan base and employees. 

Look no further than their stats on social media engagement to show how much their fans love UCF. Despite not being one of the 65 Power 5 schools, UCF ranks in top 20-25 schools for virtually every engagement and interaction stat possible. 

From a football attendance perspective, UCF ranked 13th last year in terms of percent capacity at 99.05%. And the year before, their attendance was even higher. 

When you’re not a traditional superpower in your market, these kinds of numbers are hard to do.  One of the best ways to achieve this is by taking risks, encouraging a “move fast and break things” mentality, and ultimately creating a culture of innovation. 

Earlier this year, we had Duncan Wardle on our show, the former head of innovation and creativity at Walt Disney World. And we talked about concepts to kickstart innovation and creativity into your team. But sustaining a culture of innovation and creativity takes additional work, which is what we’re going to get into with Scott. 

All the headlines usually go to massive capital investments in experiences like tailgating in a lazy river, or putting a beach in the stadium. But those headlines are the result of a 100 little things that have been done to foster a culture of creativity and innovation. Things like changing department names and role titles, the experience and demographics of your staff members, the metrics people are held accountable too, and more. 

If you’re a smaller player in your market trying to make waves and topple the big guys, this episode is for you. And honestly, if you are the big guy thinking you can’t get any better cuz you’re already at the top? You’re gonna get toppled by the organizations that think like Scott and UCF. So you should listen in too because if you’re not innovating, you’re dying. 

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From The Bridge

Episode 41: All About Innovation with Mike Palisi

Todays show is all about innovation. Mike Palisi is the Executive Vice President at Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment and joins Rick to discuss how companies and brands are being innovative in the wake of Covid-19. Rick gets back up on The Soap Box and of course takes you to another delicious spot, On The Road With Rick.

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