What to Expect at F&M Bank Arena
The 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 all the worrying really justified?
It's common for many non-DI schools, or even DI schools themselves, to face challenges in filling their larger arenas. Over the last 15 years, industry executives have adjusted their views to place increasing importance on the opportunities of filling smaller arenas. These smaller venues may have less prestige or national recognition, but they can create 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 present unique challenges, it is reasonable 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 require significant corporate investment. In contrast, multiple smaller donors can finance a respectable amount of the capital necessary to finance or invest in improvements to a smaller arena.
What should visitors expect?
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 exciting major event and "feel" the experience. A key aspect of this experience is found in the creativity of architectural firms. Developing modern designs and infrastructure for these smaller venues is critical to their sustainable success. A successfully designed facility can be similar to the difference between listening to a mono recording versus a 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, F&M's presentation appears more focused on pop-culture artwork rather than a guided tour - it differs by the firm. A similar proposal was provided for The University of Southern Indiana. The Evansville area proposal reflects many of the potential design themes discussed for F&M 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 notable 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.
A rumor from APSU was previously discussed as 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 the sightlines be from my seats?
It depends on the depth of your pockets, right? Smaller arenas maximize revenue opportunities by becoming multi-purpose facilities. Why is that important? Not only in terms of event diversification but also in terms of increased seating flexibility. 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 in the upper bowl, and temporary retractable seating will be 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 were among the first planned changes approved by the construction committee. If the changes are made to remove the center scoreboard, it’s not the end of the world. The hospitality industry has developed solutions to maintain quality experience in each area of the venue. The adjustments are typically implemented by placing larger video boards, running boards, and/or scoreboards on each side of the venue, complemented by maximizing technology through digital videos, photos, and ribbon boards.
The Dunn Center is not very interactive or technologically advanced. How will the public areas be different in 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 in the operation, video boards gain importance for rotating digital branding and other graphics based on the scheduled event. An industry-wide increase in investment in quality sound systems is a plus for the audio-visual experience. Those sounds of music, cheers, and commercials all combine to enhance the environment and build the desired high-energy atmosphere.
With Austin Peay sports 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 cultural leaders of the community, like 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 events are likely for the F&M Bank Arena in a post-covid world?
A fully loaded question intended to steer off in a variety of directions. To minimize the debates, we’ll stick with 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 list of possibilities below.
The primary tenants are the APSU basketball teams. Does anyone really believe APSU Men's Basketball would have successfully lured Nate James from Duke without the new arena? Besides the regular seasons, there could be opportunities for pre-season or regional tournaments as well. There have even been public discussions 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 by Evansville. In all honesty, it will likely not happen. When city leaders talk about this possibility, they understand it's a longshot for several reasons - at least for the next several years. Our current hotel inventory is nonexistent in the downtown Clarksville area at the present time.
There will be additional options for high-profile HS school tournaments and big game events. Each will play a key role in developing the brand and reputation of F&M Bank Arena. With some luck, arena management could organize an annual event with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizz are working feverishly to develop their fanbase throughout the region. And for a good reason ...
Hockey - To maximize revenue, the arena will need more operating dates. 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 may not be large enough to host a WWE/NXT event. Perhaps the McMahon family’s interests in marketing to military personnel may provide opportunities? 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 rapidly. 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 the 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 - Like 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 sticky for several reasons that were avoided by city leaders. There will be a more detailed breakdown in the future regarding those decisions.
The impact of the internet on "album" sales has hit the music industry in a major way. Modern entertainers need 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 from 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 because 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 will arrive at a smaller arena or at what frequency.
Business Meetings, Trade Shows and Convention Services
Most people with industry experience understand the significant risks 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 a 50% occupancy rate during weekdays, with a hotel consisting of 150 rooms. That leaves the city’s planned goal of only selling 75 rooms to vendors and visitors at all planned events. Travel Planners will not force their meeting groups to travel from Exit 4 to downtown simply because of a lack of hotels and room inventory. There is also the competition coming from Oak Grove Racing's convention business.
The arena project is moving forward as a substantial investment in the city. This project will have substantial cultural impact potential for quality-of-life changes along with fighting local "brain drain". Expected improvements to the area are rarely disputed by detractors. The concerns arise from the proactive openness, transparency, and debate by city leaders. Hopefully, Clarksville's arena project will become a successful learning opportunity for improving communication lines with both city leaders and local community residents.