Worlds of Opportunity

Two Venues, Great Diversity Have Global Spectrum Well-positioned
Worlds of Opportunity

Matt Hollander says a variety of facilities enables the MassMutual Center to book events ranging from small meetings to college commencements to ice racing.

It’s called X-treme International Ice Racing, or XiiR for short.

This is, as the name suggests, racing on ice — or, to be more precise, indoor ice arenas. Motorcycles and four-wheeled vehicles, both equipped with tires boasting 2,000 metal studs, go from zero to 60 mph in under three seconds.

They’re not going that fast for long, however, because turns come up quick on an ice rink 200 feet long and 98 feet wide.

Indeed, when asked if XiiR was like a NASCAR event on a tiny, quarter-mile track (like the one at the former Riverside Park), MassMutual Center General Manager Matt Hollander laughed and said, “more like an eighth-of-a-mile track.”

Hollander got to see for himself in February 2009 and again last Oct. 22, the start to the XiiR 2009-10 season. Subsequent stops were in Erie, Pa., Elmira, N.Y., Independence, Mo., and Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

“It was a fun night … the fans were really into it, and the action was fast and intense; the bikes have no brakes,” Hollander said of last fall’s races, adding that XiiR is just one of several dozen unique, often once-a-year shows with which the staff at the MassMutual Center fills in dates on the calendar, often with two events a day.

A look at the list of gatherings booked for the period between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010 reveals just how diverse the facility’s growing client list is. There’s the Miss Bella Hispanic Beauty Pageant, the Mass. Bar Assoc. House of Delegates Meeting, and the Central Mass. Pop Warner Cheerleading Competition. There’s also the Big Y Annual Services Award Dinner, the St. John’s Congregational Church Seasoned Saints Ministry Holiday Luncheon, the Northeast Canvas Products Assoc. and Conference, and the Commerce High School prom. Still to come, with just a month or so left in the fiscal year, is a meeting of the North American Grappling Assoc., the Kids of Character Awards, and a McDonald’s managers meeting.

All this comes on top of events most people already know about: Falcons and Armor games, the Affiliated Chambers’ annual trade show, the Bay Path College Women’s Leadership Conference, and a host of college commencements.

Hollander, who took over as GM in 2006, attributes both the volume and diversity of events to a broad mix of facilities — from small-meeting rooms to an arena that can seat more up to 8,000 people (6,700 for hockey); from a ballroom that can seat close to 1,000 to more than 40,000 square feet of exhibition space — but also to an aggressive sales team, an area that boasts several attractions, and the ability to build niches, such as a growing number of cheerleading and dance competitions that fill the downtown Springfield streets with young girls in sequined uniforms.

“These are events that people wouldn’t know about unless they were downtown those days, but they’re huge,” he said of the dance and cheerleading competitions, which draw hundreds of competitors, coaches, and family members to Springfield, usually for overnight stays. “They’re just one example of how we try to book events that will have a positive impact for us, but also for the community; a number of downtown businesses benefit when these events come to town.”

The same pattern is being followed at the Mullins Center on the campus of UMass Amherst, said Troy Flynn, general manager of that facility since last fall. He told BusinessWest that he has blended a number of university-related events — from sporting contests to the Taste of UMass — with a number of outside bookings, including a months-long series of meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and concerts like the one featuring Carrie Underwood in March.

“The Jehovah’s Witnesses move in in June, and they stay till August,” he said, adding that the organization has weekly worship services that draw as many as 7,000 people and help area hotels. “We have other religious events, such as Acquire the Fire (Christian rock worship) in October, that blend nicely with student activity-related events that keep us busy all year round.”

The two venues give Global Spectrum, the Philadelphia-based public-assembly-facility management company a strong presence in the Western Mass. market and a unique opportunity to grow its book of business here. Rather than compete with one another, the facilities work in a complementary manner and combine to bring a wide array of groups to Western Mass. Some come for a few hours, and some for several days. Most importantly, however, most come back year after year.

For this issue, BusinessWest looks at Global Spectrum’s twin facilities in the Pioneer Valley, how they work to fill their calendars, and why their success creates opportunities for many area businesses.

Being Frank

Flynn says there was just one “casualty.”

By that, he meant only one competitor couldn’t keep down his body of work in the hot-dog-eating contest staged this spring at the Mullins Center. Otherwise, the event was a quite a success, although a little hard to watch, by his own admission.

There’s also been a chicken-wing-eating contest; that Taste of UMass, which featured a giant, 40-foot sushi roll; athletic events, including those for both UMass teams and other constituencies; concerts; and more, said Flynn, noting that, in this business, facility managers have to focus first on quality of events, which then creates quantity.

This is a corporate-wide philosophy, said Flynn, who cut his teeth at Philadelphia’s Spectrum (soon to be razed), where his father worked security for years, and where Troy started as change-over supervisor — transforming a basketball court into a hockey surface. He’s added lines to his résumé from work in locales ranging from Trenton, N.J. to Split, Croatia, where, while working for Global Spectrum Europe, he coordinated rounds of the world handball championships at the Spaladium Arena.

At UMass, he’s working to continue and expand efforts to add booking dates for university-related groups and programs, other area communities (several high-school commencements are slotted for June), and regional and national acts such as Carrie Underwood, Cirque du Soleil Saltimbanco, and Daughtry in concert with Lifehouse and Cavo.

Hollander also brings a diverse CV to his position at the MassMutual Center. Prior to arriving there as assistant GM and eventually moving into the top spot, he was director of Operations for the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.; executive director of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Conference Center and Tourism Authority in Valdosta, Ga.; and general manager of the University Center Auditorium at Florida Atlantic University, among other posts.

Through those experiences and his time in Springfield, he says he’s learned that there are several keys to success in this business. The first is to cast a wide net and not overlook any opportunities to fill in lines on calendar dates. This means taking prestigious events like college commencements and national ice shows, but also the giant liquidation sales (often booked last minute) that fill the exhibit hall and certainly help on the bottom line.

But while garnering new business is always a prerequisite for success in this sector, gaining repeat business is also a must, and this means providing quality customer service that brings a group back. Also key is developing a reputation for successfully staging certain kinds of events, he said, which has led to the MassMutual’s ability to book a number of dance and cheerleading competitions.

“If people are well taken care of, they’re far more likely to come back, and also talk about their experience with others,” he said. “That’s why, when teams and groups are here, we make sure that they are taken care of, and that every need and concern is addressed.”

This brings both Hollander and Flynn to the phrase ‘How You Doin?’ which doubles as Global Spectrum’s marketing slogan (it’s printed on posters in several places within both facilities) and its customer-service philosophy.

That question is asked early and often doing the course of a group’s event, said Flynn, adding that, by listening closely to the answers, the staffs at both venues can not only meet but exceed expectations, and thus drive repeat business.

Overall, the MassMutual Center has booked between 100 and 125 events in its arena in each of the past five years, which is a good number for this market and that size facility, he said, adding that he and his staff are helped by having two professional sports teams — the American Hockey League’s Falcons and the NBA Developmental League’s Armor — as well as several colleges and those aforementioned dance and cheerleader competitions.

Meanwhile, a similar number of events have been booked for the exhibition space, which can be subdivided in a number of ways, he explained, and thus can accommodate events of all sizes.

The goal with both the arena and the exhibition space is to take advantage of both the venue’s assets and the region’s strengths to not only stimulate bookings, but create long-term customers.

“The destination plays an important role with certain types of business, and the venue plays an important role with other kinds of business,” he explained. “With the cheer events, we find that the keys are accessibility — we’re easy to drive to, and the hotel rates are reasonable — and the services that we offer at the venue, as well as the fact that we have the exhibit hall to support the event in the case of the larger competitions.

“Those elements combine to make this attractive for those kinds of groups,” he continued. “When we get into convention marketing and that type of thing, the specific needs of the organizations and what they’re looking to achieve all play a part in where they go. And once they establish a relationship with a venue that’s been successful for them, they tend to be very loyal to the venue.”

Therefore, creating the experiences that trigger such loyalty is the unofficial job description for facility managers, said Flynn, who noted that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been coming back for several weeks of conventions for many years now, and are booked through 2016.

Gaining Traction

X-treme International Ice Racing isn’t the only motorsports event staged at the MassMutual Center. Indeed, the venue also plays host to an FMX, or freestyle motocross, competition, said Hollander, adding that the ice racing is the one that can get him and others to shake their heads.

There’s no word yet on whether the XiiR will be back for the next season, but the expectation is that it will. The races drew well, and, by most all accounts, the answers to the question ‘how you doing?’ were generally positive.

The formula for success in this highly competitive business is much more complicated than that, said Hollander and Flynn, but, in many ways, that’s what it boils down to.

George O’Brien can be reached

at[email protected]

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