SVG Sit-Down: Venue Edge’s David Saphirstein on Driving In-Venue Content for Five Bowl Games, Other December Events

Latest additions to the schedule: San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl at Petco Park, SRS Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium

As a major player in the fan-experience space, especially for college football programs, Venue Edge is closing out 2021 with an expanded schedule of events in December. Leveraging relationships within the industry and the company’s seventh year working with Florida Citrus Sports, it will play a vital role in the in-venue fan experience for a number of college football bowl games this month: the Tailgreeter Cure Bowl (Coastal Carolina vs. Northern Illinois on Dec. 17 at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium), the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (UCLA vs. No. 18 North Carolina State on Dec. 28 at San Diego’s Petco Park), the Cheez-It Bowl (No. 19 Clemson vs. Iowa State on Dec. 29 at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium), the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl (Wisconsin vs. Arizona State on Dec. 30 at Allegiant Stadium), and the Vrbo Citrus Bowl (No. 15 Iowa vs. No. 22 Kentucky on Jan. 1 at Camping World Stadium).

This is an exciting bowl season for Venue Edge. Additionally, the company is impacting other major events: last week’s Mountain West football championship between Utah State and San Diego State at Carson, CA’s Dignity Health Sports Park, the Pop Warner Super Bowl Dec. 4-11 at Camping World Stadium, the Under Armour All-America Volleyball Match on Dec. 30 at UCF, and the Under Armour All-America Football Game on Jan. 2 at Camping World Stadium. It will also again support the Big West and Mountain West Basketball Championships.

SVG sat down with Venue Edge founder David Saphirstein to discuss working on two new bowl games this year, how the company develops ideas for fans in attendance, what it will be like to produce a football game in a baseball stadium, balancing an onslaught of games in a short period, and more.

Venue Edge will provide in-stadium elements for the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium.

How did Venue Edge’s partnership with the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl come about?
We’d been working with the Mountain West Conference on their basketball championships on the campus of UNLV. The SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl used to be played at UNLV before moving to Allegiant Stadium, so [Las Vegas Bowl] Executive Director, ESPN Events, John Saccenti asked the Mountain West for some recommendations on groups to help them with their fan experience in a bigger stadium. That’s how we ended up with Las Vegas Bowl. Then, San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl CEO Mark Neville called John for our help with [the Holiday Bowl’s] move from SDCCU Stadium to Petco Park. It has been great because we know that, if we can get work through word of mouth, we’re starting to build up our reputation by what we do and how we do it.

Are any new in-venue ideas planned for these bowl games? What is the creative process like?
It’s huge to have fans filling stadiums again. Even last year, the bowl games that we worked on did have smaller crowds, so it was about engaging those fans but also engaging those that weren’t in the stadium. That continues. This year, there’s an excitement of going to a bowl game in person since it hasn’t been done [at full capacity] in a couple of years. Both the Las Vegas Bowl and Holiday Bowl are looking to make a bigger splash than they normally would since they’ll be in new venues. They both have great history, but how do we use this opportunity to make these games feel more important?

Overall, the creative process is different with each partner. In the case of Las Vegas, we had started with the Good Sam Vegas Kickoff Classic in September [between BYU and the University of Arizona] and continued to develop our strategy. We asked what was important for these two fanbases to see inside the venue and what kind of atmosphere [the event producers] wanted us to create. With this feedback, we created a brand that would work in both the Kickoff Classic and the upcoming bowl game.

As for the Holiday Bowl, we worked with a creative marketing agency that had come up with a look that would be used for promotions on billboards all over San Diego as well as for other ads. We used that look and took it to the next level by tying it into the in-person environment.

Venue Edge was given a rehearsal at Allegiant Stadium during the Good Sam Vegas Kickoff Classic between BYU and Arizona on Sept. 4.

On the other end of the spectrum, after our lengthy history working with Florida Citrus Sports on the Cheez-It Bowl and Vrbo Citrus Bowl, we’ve become extremely integrated into their workflows. For the former, Cheez-It is a great partner because they really like to innovate, push their brand, and have some fun. Since that game was live with fans last year, they had cheese wheels in the end zones and stands. These two bowl games have been around for a long time; we want to keep things fresh through new entertainment and sponsor activations.

Lastly, all of these bowl games are at a neutral site, so we’re also trying to attract local football fans who don’t have an allegiance to either team. For that, we tap into the pageantry and passion that comes with college football and collegiate sports in general.

How are you and the team going to produce elements for a football game in a non-football stadium?
We are experienced in doing this. The Cure Bowl has been and will once again be played in a soccer stadium, but how are we going to make the Holiday Bowl feel like a football game while being played in a ballpark? It sounds simple since there will be goalposts and hash marks, but this venue wasn’t built for football and these videoboards don’t have normal sightlines for the sport. We asked ourselves, “If you’re watching in left field, what’s your view of the field? But, more important for us, what’s your view of the board? How do those messages read to those fans, and what elements should be on what board?”

It’s new and different, but we’re working with great partners at the Holiday Bowl as well as the in-venue team at Petco Park. We all ultimately want to create the biggest holiday party possible for those coming out to the game.

How does Venue Edge balance five bowl games in a two-week span?
We tried to get ahead by having the overall look and some generic elements done and approved before Selection Sunday. Once we learned the matchups, we updated the elements based on the teams participating, but we tried to set ourselves up by building what we can in advance so it’s plug-and-play to a certain extent.

Our Creative Director, Chris Pelczynski, who’s leading the production of the Holiday Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl, focused on getting things organized early to get ahead of the curve since we were also working on the Mountain West Football Championship at the same time. That conference championship is one of those games where we didn’t know who was going to be playing or where it would be held, since the standings were pretty tight until the end of the regular season. It comes down to planning, juggling, and not taking on more than we can handle because there’s a level of quality that these partners, sponsors, and fans expect from us.

54,541 fans flocked to Allegiant Stadium to make it the highest-attended college football game ever in the state of Nevada.

What is the company looking forward to in 2022?
We’re really busy right now, which is a great thing, and we’re also excited about next year. We’re working on some activations done with new technologies – like AR, VR and others — to create a more interactive and engaging experience. We’re always looking for ways to serve our partners and their sponsors in a better way and to help find them new revenue streams.

We’ll start with the Mountain West Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships (March 6-12) at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas as well as the Big West Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships (March 8-12) at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, NV, right out of the gate. Besides colleges, we’ll start up again with Orlando City Soccer and some other partners.

It has been a huge honor for our friends and colleagues to recommend us to others, and that could open up more opportunities next year. The industry has come up with new solutions and ideas over the last 18 months, and there’s a renewed sense of energy for 2022.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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