Q&A With Honda Center President/CEO Tim Ryan - Part 1 (1)
Oct. 20, 2016In the span of nearly 40 years in the arena management business, Tim Ryan has pretty much seen it all. He started in 1992 at what was then known as Anaheim Arena – later renamed the Arrowhead Pond and known for the past 10 years as Honda Center – as part of a team of just four people. Now he oversees more than 250 full-time and more than 2,000 part-time staff and has helped guide the arena into one of the world’s top entertainment venues, one that remains on the cutting edge in an age when new arenas are seemingly sprouting up every week.
Ryan has served nearly a quarter of a century at Honda Center, where he serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Anaheim Arena Management, and he is in his 12th season as Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer of the Anaheim Ducks. Over the last 10 years, he has successfully led the Ducks business efforts to record growth, while initiating numerous community, fan-friendly and youth hockey programs that have increased the popularity of the sport in the Southern California market.
Ryan has also led major efforts to upgrade Honda Center, assuring it remains one of the world’s top-of-the-line sports and entertainment venues. In September 2015, a new state-of-the-art scoreboard debuted, marking the largest and most impactful upgrade to the spectator experience in the history of a venue that has seen countless upgrades and fan enhancements over the last decade.
In the first of a two-part feature, Ryan talks about what it means to drive the growth of Honda Center, his thoughts on the fan experience and what has changed with his arena and in the sports and entertainment business.
What is your approach to running an arena like Honda Center?
Not a day goes by around here without us talking about how we can deliver a greater experience for the fan. Fans want to park close to the facility, they want to arrive early and they want to have a myriad of opportunities for food and beverage. With the opening of our restaurant here, the Standing ‘O’, the sold-out Shock Top Terrace, the private Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Club, everything we do on the Premium Level and everything we do at the concession stands is geared toward having something for everybody. It has gotten to the point where no longer is it an amenity to have easy ingress and egress, superb food and beverage, outstanding merchandise in a fully staffed team store. Fans expect a safe environment with a knowledgeable and friendly staff. They certainly expect to be entertained at a very high level once they arrive at the venue. I guess if you asked me the overall approach that we take to running the arena it is one that always looks at things from the fan perspective. If you put yourself in their shoes, it provides the proper perspective.
How have fan expectations affected the arena management business?
Fan expectations are so much higher than they were even five years ago, much greater than they were certainly 20 years ago. Before, you bought a ticket, you came to an event, you parked, grabbed your favorite food and beverage, sat down and watched the event and you went home. It is so different nowadays, that the fans’ expectations from the ticket buying process through the entire arena experience are so much higher, and they should be. Fans want and expect a robust ticketing platform, a fair and fast resale environment on the team side and a clear idea online of where their seat is going to be located. Everything that comes about, whether it’s food and beverage, merchandise, Wi-Fi and other technology, transportation, it seems to be finding its way into our business. It’s a built-in expectation for things like Wi-Fi and great food. We need to have an easy environment and provide a great experience for these people. Otherwise, they may stop looking at live entertainment as one of their options. I haven’t said it before but I have always felt that fans sincerely appreciate a clean environment. When I walk down the street and see how spotless Disneyland is even when they have tens of thousands in attendance, I believe they are a model we should all try and emulate.
A few years ago, Honda Center brought all of the food and beverage operations in-house and then did the same with merchandise. Has that gone like you expected?
It’s hard to believe that we’re into our fourth year of bringing both of these operations in-house. From every aspect – the HR side of it, the constant hiring and training, everything – it is a tremendous amount of work. It’s probably more work than I thought it was going to be, but we really wanted it to be a seamless operation from top to bottom. The teams that oversee both of these operations would be the first to agree that it is much more work than having a third party handle this part of our business. I also believe they like the level of control they have over an in-house environment. There are so many positive benefits when you run an arena and a team under one ownership that aren’t seen by the general public. One of them is that we’re all on the same page when we start talking about sponsorships that are food and beverage related.On the merchandise side of things, it has been so rewarding to see how our CMO has woven the marketing in to the merchandise operation. It has allowed him to have total control over the brand from every aspect. All of us will admit, there have been growing pains. Both Food and Beverage and Retail Merchandise are very hard business units that people work very hard in behind the scenes, but it’s been rewarding. We will always follow the sentiment of the fans, and from what I hear from them in emails or when I see them at events, they seem to be very pleased with the changes we’ve made in both of these areas. I think the one thing that is consistent with both of these areas of our business is that you can never, ever take your eye off the ball.
"The fans’ expectations from the ticket buying process through the entire arena experience are so much higher, and they should be. Everything that comes about, whether it’s food and beverage, merchandise, Wi-Fi and other technology, transportation, it seems to be finding its way into our business. It’s a built-in expectation for things like Wi-Fi and great food. We need to have an easy environment and provide a great experience."
How has the construction of the Shock Top Terrace, which included a significantly improved Team Store, impacted the arena?
It’s almost like you wonder how we got by without them before. We went from a 1,500-square-foot Team Store to one that’s north of 6,000 square feet. To see it so busy and to go from near the bottom of the league in merchandise sales into the top 10, a lot of it has to do with quality merchandise, available space and a number of points of sale. Our Merchandise Manager has to anticipate demand and styles. Like I said before, retail is a hard business. I have gained a tremendous amount of respect for the folks that run it from top to bottom. The fans have really embraced the fact that we have branched out significantly in terms of variety and styles.
I think the Shock Top Terrace and Standing ‘O’ restaurant were certainly ideas whose time had come. People were looking for an indoor-outdoor Southern California environment like the one we created. So the fact that it’s sold out and the people I talk to enjoy it, is very gratifying, though we’re constantly looking at what we can do to make it better. What’s catching on now is the Standing ‘O’, and for key events, it works out really well to give fans a great dining experience when they’re at a game or a show. As fans look for a seamless experience at an arena, this is another amenity that allows our patrons to arrive a bit early, sit down and have a great meal. They get up, attend their favorite game or event and head home. It is just another step in making the attendance at a live event as easy as possible.
Is there something in your Honda Center career you look back on and say, “That’s the thing I’m most proud of”?
I think it would be unfair to pick one thing, because our business has layers. There were probably 100 moments, and they all deserve, in the right context, to be No. 1. I hope it goes without saying that when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup, it was a top moment for all of us. I think the one I’m personally very proud of was the ability to help bring the operators of the arena and the operators of the team and create one organization. They are different cultures with different expectations, so to be able to pull that off in a very short period of time was very rewarding. Maybe as I move along in my career, it is very rewarding to see young people come in to our business and move up. If I have been part of a team that has provided an environment that allows individuals to move up in their careers, I would say that is pretty satisfying.
Part 2 of this Q&A will be posted in the coming days