Preview Centers: The Invisible Sell

How do you sell something that does not exist yet? Can you really tease the excitement of what's to come when you can’t touch, feel, see or fully understand the final product?

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Kevi Louis-Johnson
Hero image
Kevi Louis-Johnson

When we began to design and build a preview center for the new Seattle Arena, the design for the arena was still evolving, the groundbreaking and construction had yet to begin, and the new NHL expansion team had not been secured or named. We started the design process by facilitating a work session with all of the key stakeholders and partners at the table working as one collective team. Through a few hours and many post-it notes we were able to collectively set the vision for this project through a series of questions like visual mapping exercises. The new Seattle arena will be a world-class destination for entertainers, artists and athletes — the new home the WNBA Seattle Storm deserve, and the future home of a new NHL expansion team.

First, Define the Objectives

This is the unique struggle of venues around the globe preparing for a large-scale renovation or new construction project. There is a huge investment upfront, coordination with investors, the city, and the community. Each step in the process involves incredible risk, driving the immediate need to secure funding. The sales of premium products and sponsorships must be converted well before the project is complete and sometimes before the project begins. It's at this point where we come into the sales picture. We design hardworking Preview Centers where the sales pitches and presentations occur.

A preview center is a fundamental step in the success of a new arena or stadium project, a key sales tool to secure the funding necessary to make the project real. It is the first tangible touch point in the sales process, a destination for potential season ticket holders, premium seat, suite and club purchasers, along with naming rights partners and sponsors to claim their stake in the project. It celebrates the future state, while cementing a reason to believe. A promise that your time in this new venue will add to the tapestry of great life experiences, stories you will share with friends and family for years to come. A venue is just that, a place where something happens, when time slows down and it’s just you and 50,000 of your closest friends celebrating a win.

Typically when we begin these projects, there are four key steps to make sure this "invisible sell" becomes something tangible and real.

  1. Define the objectives.
  2. Understand the 3Cs - city, club, and community.
  3. Tell a singular, own-able, visionary narrative.
  4. Build for inclusive multi-sensory interactivity.

Next comes city, club and community.

With the vision in place it was important to ensure our work could elicit an emotional resonance with a local audience while igniting the imagination of these future fans. Our design was grounded in a strategy that comprehensively reflected both the truth of the people and this great city. Seattle is a city that cares more deeply about what this arena means, than what’s in it for them. Through ethnographic and qualitative research we quickly realized that Seattleites were skeptical about this project and the changing landscape of Seattle. With overwhelming economic growth, we have felt firsthand the complex relationship of positive and negative change for Seattle and still roots run very deep in this community — so, we focused on building belief, rather than selling. The goal of the experience was to inspire local audiences by immersing them not only in the arena’s dramatic transformation, but also a compelling vision for the city of Seattle.

Great experiences are transcendental, they alter the way we feel and how we see the world around us and ourselves.

Then comes the visionary narrative.

We crafted a compelling narrative that wove together the iconic Seattle center campus, with its rich history and diverse community with the future vision of this new arena. Seattle is a place where possibility is real. This is the authentic true story of our city, when you look back to the 1962 World’s Fair, the technology booms, and the combination of art and commerce that make this city a unique hub for innovation and culture. The idea of “Possibility” became the ‘red thread’ story that we amplified through the sales experience. We were not just selling products in an arena we were creating an opportunity for fans to connect more deeply with their roots.

Finally, and importantly, the multi-sensory interactivity.

To spark curiosity and play with the idea of possibility we considered all of the senses. What should our fans see, hear, smell and feel? From an unexpected glowing red room that resets all of your expectations as you start the sales experience, to an immersive gallery and sound installation that you walk through connecting moments in Seattle’s rich history, The experience culminates in a projection mapped room that blends physical and digital storytelling, disrupting your sense of reality. Every design decision mapped back to the idea of possibility, blurring the edges of what is truly possible, allowing the preview center to be where it all connects. This sales center honors the legendary past, while laying a foundation for the future. By amplifying “a place where Possibility is real” we are forever bringing the city together—under one roof.

A successful preview center takes visitors on a multi-sensorial journey, bringing the arena or stadium project to life at a scale that feels both impressive and personal. Great experiences are transcendental, they alter the way we feel and how we see the world around us and ourselves. The work must trigger memory microclimates, the excitement you felt at your first concert or live sporting event, while teasing the possibility of how much greater those same moments will be in this new venue. There will be a tangible gravitational pull that can’t be ignored while educating, informing and engaging the guests through a fully designed sales experience.

A pivotal part of the design process is ensuring that we are designing the space, the story and the service to be inclusive and aware of diverse needs. A crucial moment in the storytelling journey is bringing our guests to an unexpected new heights, both emotionally and physically through a literal elevation change raising your vantage point for the climactic reveal of the arena model. Our original design intent included a theatrical lift that would raise the ground level to ensure everyone can access this unique POV. With the realities of both timeline and budget we revised our approach to create a ramp that flanked three walls of the room. Although the ramp takes up more literal space that stairs, we saw this as a unique design opportunity to sequence and chapter out moments in the story to create a deeper connection with music, sports and culture through an immersive ramp gallery that everyone can participate in regardless of their mobility. Great design should not leave anyone behind.

To amplify your story, you have to understand your audience and core purpose. This is not a simple renovation of what existed before, but a complete and utter transformation. The only piece of the original arena that will remain is the iconic land marked roof. Through an engineering feat it will be lifted, creating space to carve deeper and wider for the first world-class subterranean arena. NHL Seattle had a noble vision for this arena, with great respect for the original building and the historical Seattle Center. They now have an unforgettable story being told. A place where possibility is real, drawing people in, igniting their imagination and creating a space to believe in something that was not possible before. By extending the invitation to buy into and invest in this shared vision for the future, Seattelites are the active protagonist, co-creating what this next chapter looks like for our community and most importantly who they will share it with.

With defined objectives, a true understanding of the three C’s (city, club and community) and an ownable story brought to life through a multi sensorial experience, the invisible sell suddenly becomes quite clear.

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