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OVG: “We’ve been on a different ride to our peers”

Co-chairperson, Jessica Koravos, and chief people & culture officer, Ann Jackson, explain how Oak View Group has been in a unique position to respond to the pandemic

By IQ on 05 Aug 2021

Jessica Koravos, Ann Jackson

Jessica Koravos, Ann Jackson

While many live entertainment businesses have spent the pandemic stopping and starting, Oak View Group continued to fire on all cylinders. The global sports and entertainment company has forged ahead with constructing its new arenas and making the most of its unique position to respond to the ‘new normal’ in real-time…

What has the pandemic looked like so far for Oak View Group (OVG)?
JK: OVG is the largest sports and entertainment venue company in the world but none of our venues are open yet. So, we’ve been on a really different ride to our peers in the industry. They’ve been in batten-down-the-hatches mode whereas we’ve been in full-on construction mode on six buildings throughout this whole thing, and those processes haven’t stopped at all.

Has that put OVG in a unique position to respond to the pandemic in the design and build phase?
JK: Yes. We have been able to do a lot of thinking about what we need to change as a result of the pandemic. For example, speeding up the road to paperless. We were looking at it much more from an environmental standpoint but then we saw it from a sort of sanitation standpoint – customer touchpoints are really necessary now. We also looked at all of the catering and how we could minimise touch – and make food more grab and go.

“We’ve had the luxury of being able to react in real-time to [the pandemic]”

Also, readjusting the airflow and ventilation and making sure that our metrics are all in line with the new research that is coming out on airborne transmission. Making sure the materials are anti-bacterial, that doors that might have opened and shut maybe just stay open. We’ve had the luxury of being able to react in real-time to these things.

How has OVG supported its employees during this tumultuous time?
AJ: I’m really proud of the way OVG has decided to support the employees throughout the pandemic, not laying people off, letting them keep their benefits, bringing people back as things opened up and it became safe to do that. From an onboarding perspective, we’ve been trying to make employees in remote places feel like a part of it by, say, sending them swag because they’re just sat at their dining-room table, and not at an OVG office.

We’re hoping that we’re going to have 100% of employees back in the office by the fall, based on what’s going on with the pandemic. We want to make it a very festive environment that says we’re glad that we can spend time in each other’s real presence, but at the same time there’ll be protocols in place, not to prohibit or make anyone’s job more difficult, just to keep them safe.

“OVG is lightyears ahead of our competitors in terms of gender diversity”

As OVG expands internationally, what’s your strategy for creating diverse teams?
AJ: We’re making sure that we go about hiring with intention. Whether that’s reaching out to HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) or diverse professional organisations to ensure that we have a larger slate of people that we can consider for the roles that we’re looking to fill. For example, we’re supporting diverse students to do an MBA in Sports and Entertainment Management at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics. So we can start building that pipeline to venues like our Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and get people back into this industry to get a more diverse interview.

Why is making diverse hires good for business?
JK: OVG is lightyears ahead of our competitors in terms of gender diversity. One of the reasons it’s so important is to do with the fan experience. If there aren’t people designing a fan experience with everybody in mind, then it’s going to fall short for big chunks of the population and people aren’t going to feel welcome. It’s just as important from a customer service point of view too; if fans are being greeted by a wall of people who are different from them.

Just look at the UK’s events research programme that our almost completely white male government is putting forward. They’ve picked cricket, football, Formula One racing, Wimbledon and the snooker championships. There are virtually no women and virtually no people who aren’t white in any of the event research programmes and that kind of gender and racial data gap is what creates a crap experience for most of the population.


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