With 4 weeks till TheStadiumBusiness Design & Development Summit kicks off in London (20-21 October), I had the chance to chat with Henk Markerink, CEO of Amsterdam ArenA, [home to Ajax and the Dutch national team] about speaking at the event:

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Henk has been the CEO of Amsterdam ArenA since it opened in 1996.

Hi Henk. What made you want to attend the The StadiumBusiness Design & Development this year?

The main reason I want to attend The StadiumBusiness Design & Development Summit is because I want to network and share my knowledge with other people who are passionate about pushing the industry forward. It’s just not possible to invent everything ourselves, we need to work together. This is exactly what the Summit is designed for, two way traffic of discussion and learning, it’s the perfect opportunity.

What are you going to be talking about?

The Amsterdam ArenA is set to undergo a €50 million renovation project and is going to change the look of the stadium from the outside quite abit. Back when the stadium was constructed almost two decades ago, the stadium was one of the most advanced stadiums in the world. However, fast forward to 2015 it is the perfect time to improve the Amsterdam ArenA ahead of hosting four matches at the UEFA European Finals in 2020. By attending the Summit in London and meeting everyone, it will allow me to discuss the project and learn, this can only benefit us moving forward.

How do you aim to improve and develop the fan engagement?

The customer is central to us at the Amsterdam ArenA and therefore we want to improve the overall customer experience – this is absolutely vital. To achieve this we are investing a substantial amount of money into improving the customer experience at every stage; before, during and after the event.

Without going into too much detail, one of the things we’re currently developing is a mobility portal. This portal allows visitors to choose the most suitable way of travelling to the venue and their travel plan will be updated in realtime. Effectively this will stop customers getting stuck in in traffic and allows the customer to plan alternative routes.

Many people enjoy going to events, but naturally they don’t enjoy being stuck in traffic for hours. Consequently, many may just prefer to stay at home and watch the event from the comfort of their living room. We want to take our customers by the hand in order to ease the entire trip from their homes to the stadium and back after the event. Therefore, we have to go further than just the customer’s experience inside the stadium, it’s so much more than that.

But this is just one of our initiatives and we’re really looking forward to creating insightful discussion about several more during the Summit.

screenshotHow important is Wi-Fi at the Amsterdam ArenA?

The simple answer, is absolutely fundamental. Wi-Fi is no longer a question of whether you have it or not, it’s like a toilet or water from a tap – it’s a necessity, your customers require it.

It’s a facility we have to offer and we offer it for free. Customers must be able to call, tell stories and connect at any given time during the event, it’s paramount. This does not come cheap, it’s expensive, but without connectivity the customer experience would not be impacted and effectively customers would complain and stay away, it’s as simple as that.

Ensuring everyone is connected has other benefits as well, it allows us to exploit a number of opportunities through ticketing, merchandising, data collection and so on. It really is so important these days. But in addition to this, the usage of Wi-Fi will only get greater and greater as technological advancements are made and without a fast Wi-Fi network to access customers will simply stay away.

Will the project be completed to schedule?

Well, it has to be completed to schedule to be honest; there is no margin for error here because of the UEFA European Finals 2020. It is a tough schedule, we don’t know what will happen in the economy in the coming years, but, if we continue to make progress as we have done so far, it will be finished for the Tournament.

However, that’s not to say it has been easy. There has been plenty of challenges along the way and attending events such as TheStadiumBusiness Design & Development Summit really helps as it enables discussions with other stadium projects taking place (to prepare yourself) in how to overcome these obstacles.

Thankfully 2020 is a good landmark to be working towards and we are making extremely good progress. We will be ready for the Tournament, don’t worry about that.

In an older stadium, how are you going to ensure it facilitates today’s audience and future customers?

When the stadium was constructed almost two decades ago we were one of the most innovative and advanced stadiums in the world; but time has caught up with us. Since we were selected to host matches at the UEFA European Finals in 2020 we felt this was the perfect opportunity for us to lay down a real benchmark in the industry.

We’ve invested a lot of money into our research and design department, in fact we have established our Amsterdam ArenA Innovation Centre, helping us test groundbreaking ideas to understand how they’ll benefit our customers. A lot of elements will be old fashioned within several years so we cannot stop innovating and thinking ahead about the future consumer.

We’ve realised that the technological side of the stadium is extremely important and this is an area we are going to really push the boundaries in. Our 2020 upgrade programme unique is that the common project management processes is supported and challenged by an innovation process which aligns with the ambitions of the Amsterdam ArenA Innovation Centre.

I don’t want to go into too much depth here before coming to London, but rest assured the developments we have planned will ensure the Amsterdam ArenA changes the industry landscape once again.

What are people saying?

Thank you for a great conference, which gave us several potential suppliers for our new stadium

Janus Khyl Director, FC Helsingor

Everyone is so generous with their insights and knowledge.

Kirsten Lees Partner, Grimshaw

You get people from all over the world; architects from Brazil or the states, owners from clubs in Europe and design experts and project teams... and it’s absolutely fantastic

Daniel Gidney Chief Executive, Lancashire County Cricket Club, UK

My colleague and I agreed it was one of the slickest, most professional events we have ever attended, well done to you and your team.

Jason Maher Director, Condy Lofthouse Architects

A fantastic couple of days. wonderfully organised. Slick and professional. A week later, people are still saying how good it was.

Patrick Donoghue Sales Director, Ferco Seating

We’d heard good things about this conference so we thought we would just give it a go... we’re very pleased we did and we're definitely going to attend the show next year

Gordon Bolton Managing Director, Bleep, UK