In November, UBS Arena at Belmont Park, home of NHL franchise New York Islanders, unveiled the first part of a $2 billion makeover that includes an Islanders team store merchandised by Paul Price, formerly of Burberry, which carries products priced upward of $1,500.
Days later, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, owner of the NBA franchise Washington Wizards, named designer Brett Johnson as artistic director, a role that will entail designing a wardrobe for the Wizards team, merchandise for fans and building an experience that goes beyond watching games and concerts.
UBS and Monumental are two examples of large-scale venues stepping into the luxury sector to elevate their overall experiences.
Scott Malkin, the founder of Value Retail and the owner of the New York Islanders, said the company will begin construction on Belmont Park Village, a network of luxury brand outlets, in the first quarter of 2022, with plans to open in early 2024. Belmont Park, upon completion, will be home to an arena, outlet mall and a four-star boutique hotel.
Johnson said he cannot reveal in-depth what he is developing for Monumental, but said he wants the experience to be “achievable, desirable and accessible to everyone.”
“I think the problem, especially with the NBA, is it’s an 82-game season with 41 games at home,” Johnson explained. “Mid- to smaller-market teams are thinking how can we engage a different audience to get fans off of their couches and into the stadium and offer them an experience they wouldn’t get anywhere else?”
Johnson said he proposed chandeliers be installed throughout the arena concourse to create a new setting, and shared an idea about opening a lounge where guests can host events and parties.
“Speaking with a good friend who is a sponsor at the stadium, I shared the bar/lounge we have planned and he said that makes him want to go — and he’s a season ticket holder that doesn’t go to a single game,” Johnson said. “To change his perspective I think speaks volumes.”
Arenas struggled during lockdowns because they couldn’t host sporting events or concerts — although a few were converted temporarily into voting centers and COVID-19 testing or vaccination sites. “The Atlanta Falcons are the champions of that,” Johnson said.
Still, arenas are beginning to look for ways to step up their game and luxury fashion looks to be an answer — at least for UBS and Monumental.
Value Retail hired Price and a number of veterans from brands including Gucci, Zegna and La Rinascente. Johnson produces luxury men’s wear that is priced as high as $5,600 for a cashmere fur-trimmed down coat. He said in November he’s seeking a watch partner for the Wizards. His goal is to help players accrue assets for after their professional careers end, including jewelry and watches, and wants guests at the arena to learn what goes into the craftsmanship of these products as well.
“Not everyone gets to see or be exposed to these things on a daily basis,” Johnson added. “If you take a new generation and they see these things and are educated on them, you get a different perspective. I want people to feel a different emotion when they walk into an arena.”