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  • Dave McGuire

What to Expect at F&M Bank Arena

Updated: 2 days ago

The Clarksvillian

The newly named F&M bank Arena has experienced several changes along its path to approval. A significant project change has been the reduction of seating capacity to 5,000 – 6,000. That change worries some residents. Is worrying justified?


It's not uncommon for many non-DI schools, or even DI schools themselves, to face challenges when it comes to filling their larger arenas. Over the last 15 years, industry executives have adjusted their views to begin placing an increased importance on the opportunities of filling smaller arenas. These smaller venues may have less prestige or national recognition, but they are quite capable of creating the same energetic atmosphere found in larger venues. These executives have discovered the value of bringing excitement to regional communities by using flexible operations and sustainable revenue streams. While these projects do present unique challenges, it is not unreasonable to expect smaller multi-use arenas to continually increase in popularity throughout the country.


How does a mid-sized community benefit in terms of donors or investors?

Smaller arenas are more accessible and “donor-friendly” to communities. Large arenas tend to require a significance corporate investment. In contrast, multiple smaller donors can finance a respectable amount of the capital necessary to finance or investment in improvements of a smaller arena.


What should visitors expect?

At the end of the day, it's all about the experience for the customers. Although an arena may be smaller and more intimate, it's important for the customer to have an excitement and major event "feel" to the experience. A key aspect to this experience is found in the creativity of architectural firms. Developing modern designs and infrastructure for these smaller venues is critical to their sustainability success. A successfully designed facility can be similar to the difference between listening to a mono recording versus stereo recording.


Modern design firms are well prepared with several options to replicate the “wow factor” of larger venues. A design video for Clarksville’s F&M Bank Arena is available here. Unfortunately, Clarksville's presentation appears more focused on a pop cultured art perspective rather a than a guided tour. A similar proposal was provided for The University of Southern Indiana. The Evansville area proposal reflects many of the potential design themes discussed for the Clarksville's arena. The USI arena proposal can be viewed below.


Will the main entry look more like Bridgestone Arena or The Dunn Center?

The access points are great examples of the differences between large arenas, with multiple entries, and smaller arenas often focusing on a single main entry. A potential solution may be found with an oversized main entry, strategically placed video boards and televisions, high visibility signage and customer friendly sign mapping. As expected, video displays will be critical to the flexibility of a multi-purpose arena.


Previously discussed was the possibility of adding a brick laden path to the arena as a fundraiser to engage fans. That project appears to be a non-starter.


How good will sightlines be for my seats?

Depends on the depth of your pockets, right? Smaller arenas maximize revenue opportunities by becoming multi-purpose facilities. Why is that important? Not only for the event diversification standpoint, but also for an increase in flexibility with seating options. A common way to develop a large arena feel is to build a circular seating layout around the floor perimeter. In most cases the floor plan would follow a 60/40% mix of permanent seating vs. temporary retractable seating. In those instances, the permanent seats will be located at the upper bowl and temporary retractable seating located closer to the event floor. This layout allows the event floor size to increase by opening space for differing event needs and spacing demands.


What type of technology can we expect?

The traditional hanging scoreboards may be viewed as too large and expensive for smaller multi-purpose arenas when facing cost overruns. Unfortunately, these items are one of the first planning changes approved by construction committees. If the changes are made to remove a center scoreboard, it’s not the end of the world. The hospitality industry has developed solutions to maintain a quality experience to each area of the venue. The adjustments are typically implemented by placing larger video boards, running boards and/or scoreboards onto each side of the venue complimented by maximizing technology through digital videos, photos and ribbon boards.


The Dunn Center is not very interactive or technologically advanced. How will the common areas be different at a building like F&M Arena?

In a smaller arena, a substantial amount of local advertising and branding will be seen in walkways and outlet venues. Incorporating both still and digital graphics effectively is crucial to visitor engagement. If smaller arenas apply flexibility into the operation, videoboards gain importance for rotating digital branding and other graphics based on the scheduled event. A plus to the audio-visual component is an industry accepted increase of investment into quality sound systems. Those sounds of music, cheers and commercials all combine to enhance the environment to build the desired high energy atmosphere.


With Austin Peay set to be the primary tenant a university theme should be visible throughout the building. Photographs, memorials, awards and video boards will line hallways and gathering spots. Will they include sports figures or include cultural leaders of the community along the lines of a Clarksville Hall-of-Fame? Time will tell, but greater inclusion of the community has potential when considering the facility is not a basketball specific venue.


What type of events are likely for the F&M Bank Arena in a post-covid world?

A fully loaded question intended to steer off into a variety of directions. To minimize the debates, we’ll stick with the topic of a post-covid world being identical to a pre-covid world. The focal point of the arena will be entertainment events. After having searched the web for similar sized arenas and their event history – we’ve created the below list of functions.


Basketball

The primary tenants are APSU basketball teams. Does anyone really believe APSU Men's Basketball would have successfully lured Nate James from Duke without the new arena being under construction? In addition to the regular seasons there could be opportunities for pre-season or regional tournaments as well. There has even been public discussion about Clarksville submitting a bid to become the OVC Basketball Tournament host city in 2023 or 2024 – depending on the 2024 option being picked up for Evansville. In all honesty, it’s not going to happen. When city leaders talk about this possibility, understand they fully know it is not possible. Our hotel inventory is essentially non-existent in the downtown Clarksville area and the arena capacity would also be restrictive.


There will be additional options for high profile HS school tournaments and big game events. Each will play important roles in developing the brand and reputation of F&M Bank Arena. With some luck, maybe arena management could organize an annual event with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizz are working feverously to develop their fanbase throughout the region. And for good cause..


Hockey

To maximize revenue the arena will need more dates of operation. The best way to accomplish this is by adding a minor league hockey team. The influence of the Nashville Predators should make this wish-list item an achievable goal. Why else would they build the smaller rink inside the arena?


Misc. Sports

Wrestling – The arena will most likely not be large enough to host a WWE/NXT event. Perhaps the McMahon family’s close relationship with marketing to military personnel may provide leverage? In any event there are several other wrestling companies that would love a venue this size with all the technological trappings.


MMA – The UFC audience is growing by leaps and bounds. Their media image is intentionally associated with clean, modern and shiny facilities. When coupled with the target demographics based at Fort Campbell, our potential for events improves. The issue then becomes the type of fight programs and gaining final approval of our sports authority for each company.


Boxing – There is extraordinarily little boxing history in Middle TN and, contrary to Nashville marketing, the demand does not seem high. And that comment comes from a boxing fan. I would expect an occasional boxing card to present itself on a blue moon or two with little frequency.


APSU & Local HS Events – Similar to the Birmingham CrossPlex facility, F&M Bank Arena can provide larger stages for wrestling, volleyball and gymnastics events. These events provide a great showcase for the city to recruit future college students to APSU or sell current college students on settling in the area.


Concerts

This topic is a sticky one for several reasons that were avoided by city leaders. There will be a more detailed breakdown in the near future regarding those decisions.


The impact of the internet on “album” sales has hit the music industry in a major way. Modern entertainers need to road dates to compensate for lost revenue due to file sharing, streaming and pirated downloads. Concerts at F&M Bank Arena will push for an audience capacity of approximately 6k per event, which provides a decent wheelhouse of potential acts. This capacity number presents a pathway to cherry pick acts missing Nashville due to scheduling conflicts. Don’t look for the biggest acts in the world, but you may see a few entertainers that were the biggest acts at one point.


Revival groups, political events, prominent comedians and distinguished speakers will make appearances without regularity due to the nature of their niche. When these groups visit Clarksville, it may be wise to purchase tickets for the events. There will be no guarantees how often these types of events arrive at a smaller arena or with what frequency.


Business Meetings, Trade Shows and Convention Services

Most people with industry experience understand the significant risk Clarksville has taken by choosing not to focus on a convention center. Local leaders have attempted to phrase the “meeting room options” of the F&M Bank Arena as being comparable to a functioning convention center. It’s simply an apples to oranges discussion that hinders growth for the Clarksville-Montgomery County area. If there were a sincere belief in the arena being a competitive small market convention operation, then where is the push for downtown hotel space? Example - The Riverview Inn operates at 50% occupancy rate during weekdays with a hotel consisting of 150 rooms. That leaves the city’s planned goal at only selling 75 rooms for vendors and visitors at all planned events? Travel Planners will not force their meeting groups to travel from Exit 4 to downtown simply due to a lack of hotel room inventory. Did anyone consider Oak Grove Racing's convention goals lining up with the same targeted meeting groups for convention events?


The arena project is moving forward as a substantial investment into the city. This project will hold substantial cultural impact potential for quality-of-life changes along with fighting local "brain drain". Those expected improvements to the area are rarely disputed by detractors. The concerns arise from proactive openness, transparency and debate from city leaders. Hopefully - Clarksville's MPEC project becomes a successful learning opportunity for improving communication lines with both city leadership as well as local community residents.



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