Manufacturing and Sports Business

Irwin Seating scores big with professional sports venues

June 19, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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A variety of factors earned Irwin Seating Co. the right to replace the seating in the Palace of Auburn Hills as part of a $40 million renovation project.

Palace Sports & Entertainment put out an RFP and then selected Irwin Seating because of its previous work: Irwin had installed the Palace’s original seats when it was built in 1988.

It’s a Michigan company and it offers a quality product, said Kevin Grigg, vice president of public relations with Palace Sports & Entertainment.

The Palace is home to the National Basketball League’s Detroit Pistons. When Tom Gores bought the team in 2011, he began a massive overhaul of the facility. Now, a three-year, $6 million replacement plan will freshen up the arena’s seating.

The first step began last month, Grigg said, and is expected to be completed in August while working around the venue’s concert schedule.

“The first stage will add new seating around the lower level bowl from the bottom of our lower-level suites to the floor — roughly 6,000 seats,” he said. “The remainder of the lower bowl and upper bowl will follow.”

The project involves replacing the old chairs with new ones consistent with the current look, said Bruce Cohen, Irwin’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Other updating of the Palace involves new technology.

Grigg said the option to include near-field communication technology, or NFC, is being explored. The technology would allow fans to perform such tasks as ordering concessions from their seats.

“It provides us another communication channel to engage and thrill our fans,” Grigg said.

The NFC capabilities are in line with other technological upgrades that have been made at the arena.

An upgraded Distributed Antenna System, or DAS, and WiFi infrastructure offers a gateway for increased fan engagement, Grigg said. The Palace WiFi is free to fans and offers connections to ticketing, concessions, restaurants, retail, member loyalty programs and management tools.

Swedish telecommunication company Ericsson installed 300 access points to handle wireless connections from fans, mobile vending carts, ticket scanners and in-seat concession ordering.

Verizon Wireless implemented the DAS along with Dearborn’s KLA Laboratories to support cellular and data services.

“By developing a mobile strategy along these guidelines, PS&E is able to deliver inside-access programming, fan interaction and entertainment directly to the consumer while delivering unprecedented customer service and sustained avenues for advertising and ticket revenue growth,” Grigg said. “The strength of the system is proven in the amount of data and traffic that has been recorded at Palace events.”

With the DAS and WiFi upgraded, Grigg said fans will gain faster access to the arena with the extension of mobile ticket scanners to the parking areas and increasing its paperless capabilities.

The upgrades also allow for faster service with in-seat concession ordering and digital menu boards. The systems also offer full mobile-device payment methods and Pistons Rewards Loyalty Program tracking.

The Pistons Mobile App offers a variety of engagements such as direct contact to Palace operations, in-game seat upgrades and add-ons, maps, inside-access player videos and real-time trivia.

The technology upgrades have cost approximately $15 million over the past four years.

“Mobile connectivity and leveraging technology are two key drivers in PS&E’s quest to meet the needs of today’s connected fan while sustaining new avenues for increased customer engagement and corporate partner activation,” Grigg said.

For more than 100 years, Irwin Seating has provided seating for theaters, sports venues and educational facilities, Cohen said. He said Irwin has a variety of long-term clients that keep coming back for new seating.

Irwin’s stadium seating can be found in 22 of 30 National Basketball Association buildings and 22 of 30 National Hockey League arenas. Several National Football League venues also use Irwin’s stadium seating.

The company’s chairs also can be found in three of the last four Major League Baseball stadiums that have been built: Yankee Stadium, the New York Mets’ Citi Field and the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field.

“We build a great product and have great follow-up service,” Cohen said. “It enables us to be a dominant force in seating.”

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