SVGE’s Sport Facility Integration Summit: Douglas, Wise discuss stadium consultant role

Consultants with Karen

(L-R) George Douglas, AVI-SPL senior VP; Sam Wise, Venue Strategies, design director; and moderator Karen Hogan, SVG associate editor

A key session at SVG Europe’s Sport Facility Integration Summit at ISE in Amsterdam looked at the role of the stadium consultant in the overall context of systems integration. The discussion was led by SVG Associate Editor Karen Hogan and featured integrator George Douglas, senior VP International sales Special Projects Group for AVI-SPL, and consultant Sam Wise, design director at Venue Strategies.

When stadiums are designed or refurbished consultants are often called upon to design, plan and budget stadium requirements. But what do they actually do? Where do their responsibilities start and stop? How do they relate to architects and integrators? And in the final reckoning, what value does a consultant add to stadium projects?

“I’m a musician and an engineer,” said consultant Sam Wise by way of introduction to the session. “I’ve always been interested in how you marry those things together, in a performance space. I call myself a venue consultant and work across all kinds of entertainment venues.

“My job rarely involved the details of the system design,” said Wise. “Mostly it’s ‘can you get into the car park?’ ‘Can you drive the truck to the back door?’ ‘Can you drive the truck straight onto the arena floor?’ ‘How do you move the truck, if it’s circular or U-shaped arena?’ ‘How much load can the roof carry, in order to support temporarily-flown installations?’

“It’s about the power in the building, and about the connections between front of house and back of house. We add functionality – it’s the heart of what we do.

“How do you, as punters, going to the venue, how do you feel about it? We try to put on the cloak of what you would experience, and see it from your perspective – and then we work very closely with the architect to make sure that architecture and things like that don’t become an obstacle to a really great venue, but hopefully we can work together to resolve things so that they work well,” said Wise. “That’s my best overview. So usually, I’m long gone by the time [systems integrator] George arrives!”

“Everything that Sam just said, are all the things I don’t worry about! By the time we get there, of course, the building is already built,” said Douglas. “90% of our work is consultant-driven. They are a third-party, and that’s great with us.

“Their job is to make sure the owner gets what they want to have or is required for that facility. But from my perspective, the bigger task from them is to control the owner’s expectations within the budgets allowed to do the systems. If they do a good job with that, then my end can work. If they don’t do a good job with that, then you can almost guarantee there will be cost overruns.”

Opening the door to innovation and creativity

Is there any overlap between the two roles, that of consultant and integrator, asked moderator Hogan. “Every project is different,” said Wise. “there are projects where our work is really front-end, and where the client doesn’t wish to pay us to continue on through. Is it going to come off a truck, or is it a five-year installation? There’s a difference: if it’s a five-year installation, I’ve got to think about where the cable lays are going to go, and where the rack rooms are going to be – and that they are within the length of the necessary cables.

“Then sometimes,” said Wise, “one gets the opportunity to work with the users more closely on a refurb. My favourite contractors are innovators like me; and I try to open the door for them to be creative and I treat them as partners in completing the process of excellence for that project. In that case we embrace, and move forward together.”

“That’s true,” agreed Douglas. “The biggest thing is, all the different hats you have to wear as a stadium consultant. There are so many different elements involved. If you [the consultant] haven’t worn all those hats or thought about the installation process, by the time we come in to hang a speaker, there’s nothing in the building to hang a speaker from.

“So the really good consultants are taking everything into account – and like most things in life, that generally comes from experience and from failures in the past. In the stadium market, there are only really two or three consulting firms in the US that primarily do pretty much every venue. And that’s because it has become such a specialised market and there are so many things to think about.”

The footprint of the consultant

Given that much of the work of the consultant is unseen and is really about troubleshooting, how is the work of consultant actually assessed?

“Well, many times the way we know if we did a good job or not is if the people following on from us never know we were there,” said Wise. “They don’t think, ‘oh what a load of rubbish’. When we do great work, nobody knows we were there. Nobody ever tells anybody who we were. And it’s one of the problems in marketing our business. If nobody says anything to me I think they’re happy. If they say something, generally it’s a complaint!”

“And from an integration standpoint,” said Douglas, “our assessment of the consultant is made basically at bid level, or when the documents first come out. That’s when we make our first assessment. It’s, ‘what do we have to work with at this point?’

“You’ll sometimes see cut and paste specifications … we’re realists, we understand that everyone in the chain has a budget that drives how much time you put out. How much time have you been given? We see things that are incredibly complete, and we see things that are incomplete. You see all levels.

“If the consultant can remain engaged with the contractors and the owners all the way through the integration process to the end, then we all benefit. Having a relationship with the consultant is incredibly important to the integrator,” said Douglas.

“Ultimately,” said Wise, “my thing is I’m part of this team that’s trying to create something that will have a long life. I would love it to be a successful building and project. I don’t want it to be a $1.2 billion building that nobody ever goes to! So when I’m working with a team and an architect it’s a case of trying to envisage the future. It means making sure there are roots within the building.

“It’s how we try to work with those who employ us. I’m trying to ensure that at the systems level and the integration level, the implementation of the building can change over time.”

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