ASM Global, which just celebrated its second birthday, has barely existed in a COVID-free world. But the company, born out of the merger of facilities business titans AEG and SMG in October 2019, is positioning itself for a less coronavirus-influenced future under the direction of President and CEO Ron Bension. The former Live Nation and Tickets.com executive took over ASM Global in March and recently spoke with Sports Business Journal about several hot topics facing his company and the sports venue world.
Ron Bension is ready to lead ASM Global out of the pandemic but still faces staffing shortages.Courtesy of ASM Global
Almost eight months into your job overseeing ASM Global, where does the company stand from your perch?
Bension: ASM Global is the largest venue operator and facility management company content provider in the world, and we’ve been, in the last eight or nine months, really looking at what our value proposition is for our clients, or customers, municipalities, our fan base and doubling down on what’s important to them. … We just put together a revenue generating team to drive more revenue at the venues which we operate.
Sponsorship and global partnerships is a major part of what we offer our clients. We’ve recently hired somebody that came out of Learfield (Jason Oberlander) to head up that operation and work with AEG and their global partnership groups.
We’ve doubled down on our content acquisition and the people we have there. We’ve recently hired somebody from Insomniac (John Boyle) to head that up. … And we’ve got a technology arm that we’re looking hard at as well. We’ve signed up Mobilitie and Honeywell. We’ve launched Venue Shield, which is the industry leading protocol for reopening up, and we’re developing a proprietary customer relations management tool that will track the customer journey from the before, during and after the event to better monitor what their point of view is about the business and how we can better serve them and serve our clients from a revenue perspective. … And Savor, which is our food and beverage group.
What’s your view on what’s going on with the labor shortage? Are you starting to get a handle on what is happening?
Bension: Everybody thought it was the $300 federal stipend. Well, 20-something states pulled that stipend months and months ago, and they’re still in the same situation. A lot of this affects our business. You’ve got a senior population, let’s call it 55 to 70, that had been working, millions of people, and I think during the pandemic said, “Gosh darn it, it’s time for me just to retire,” and those people have pulled out of the workforce. And then lastly, I think you’ve seen a lot of mothers who have said “I’m gonna stay home with my kid,” even though schools are starting to get back. You pull out 2 million seniors, a million mothers, it’s a hard bit of business.
Headquarters: Los Angeles
CEO: Ron Bension (previous jobs: Live Nation, Tickets.com, Universal Studios)
Verticals:Venue management, content and booking, culinary services, global solutions, sponsorship, training, and safety and security
Global divisions: 5
I wonder if it’s driving the venue industry quicker to automation and more adoption of technology or to change what it offers employees as far as pay and perks.
Bension: We pay very well here (with wages that vary by region and city), so that’s one thing I know, this is not for lack of hourly wage. Cashless will move things up; you’re seeing that evolution happening already in the big arenas. However, then that’s offset by maybe some of the COVID protocols, or safety things that were required or need to do or want to do. So, you know you have this yin and yang of technology replacing and then other things adding, so I don’t see a big dropoff in the need for manpower, at least in our in our venues.
What area of the live sports experience are you seeing change the most rapidly?
Bension: Where the opportunity is, I think is in CRM, in providing customers data that help them manage their business better, whether that’s manage their costs, manage their revenue, identify new opportunities, but manage their customer. That’s why I mentioned earlier this proprietary CRM system we’re putting in place. We have global scale with 325 venues around the world. We have more information about convention centers, arenas, stadiums, the customers, the clientele, the exhibitors, the content that go into them than anybody in the world. And so, what’s great about ASM Global is you get this scale … whether it’s procurements data, purchasing, content ticketing, but you also get laser-focused operational management at the unit level.
There’s a lot of fragmentation in the mobile fan experience realm. Do you see that changing or continuing in the coming months?
Bension: How many single-purpose apps do I need to go see a show or a game? You know that kind of bothers me as a user. We’re working very closely on fan-facing apps that are more generic that we’ll white label and put our own little secret sauce in. But ultimately, I think in certain cases you’re better off having a more generic app, as opposed to these very, very IP-specific apps.
In dealing with the mobile fan experience tech companies or other vendors, do you prefer to remain agnostic and work with everyone, or is ASM Global steering toward preferred partners?
Bension: Preferred partners is always a good thing because I think once you get them and if it’s a real marriage, if it’s a real partnership, we get the best out of that. We just signed up with Honeywell, one of the great technology companies. These guys do nothing but building systems right? And they’re on the cutting edge of it, they’re one of the top one or two companies in the world that that do this. Does ASM Global need to have a building systems division, or do I make an arrangement to be proprietary partner with Honeywell and then I can bring Honeywell to my venues or our client venues, and say “Hey, here’s Honeywell. They are as good as they get in this business. Do you want them to check out your systems, your 20-year-old systems?” My preference is to partner with best-in-class technology partners. I don’t think I need to be a competitor to Honeywell. I don’t think I have that credibility. And so why not partner with the best?
What’s on ASM Global’s horizon? What are some developments that the industry should keep an eye on when it comes to the company you’re running right now?
Bension: We signed up 27 new deals during the pandemic. That’s an amazing number. … what you’re going to see is a much more aggressive approach to investment. We will continue to provide services from a consulting and advisory perspective. The technology things that I’ve been talking about … whether it’s this new CRM tool or Honeywell or Mobilitie, or some of the others, Venue Shield, those types of things are pretty much cutting edge, and we want our clients to know we’re out there shopping for products and services for your benefit.
The full interview with Ron Bension is available at sbjtv.com.