In April, after nearly 13 years as president and CEO of Events DC, the District of Columbia’s convention and sports authority, longtime events executive and former PCMA board chair Greg O’Dell left to become president of venue management at OVG360.
At Events DC, O’Dell oversaw the construction and expansion of District-operated sports, meeting, and convention center venues, and an annual portfolio of 500 events. O’Dell hadn’t been looking to leave Events DC, he told the Washington Business Journal, but he was drawn to the opportunities presented by OVG360, which operates more than 240 venues including sports arenas, entertainment venues, and 58 convention centers.
“The growth of this company and how they’ve really focused on changing the industry — I would say, number one, that was something that appealed to me,” O’Dell told Convene. OVG360 is owned by the Oak View Group, which was founded in 2015 by music industry executive Irving Azoff and sports executive Tim Leiweke. Last November, OVG acquired Philadelphia-based venue management and hospitality company Spectra. “A lot of people talk the talk,” O’Dell said, “but this company really is focused on positively disrupting the hospitality, sports, and live-entertainment industry.”
The company’s culture and emphasis on sustainability also played a role in his decision, O’Dell said. OVG360 announced earlier this year that it would launch company-wide sustainability and operations guidelines, called GOAL (Green Operations and Advanced Leadership), which are intended to minimize the environmental impact of their buildings, among other areas. “One thing that’s great to see in this company is that we take care of our employees, who really are great stewards and support the local communities,” O’Dell said. “And then just the exponential growth, both through ownership, as well as our senior leadership. It really dares everyone to think big, and that’s just been refreshing to me.”
Convene talked with O’Dell about his outlook on the future of events, from the vantage point of his new post.
Do you think the pandemic has changed behavior and has it changed how you think about events and venue management?
The pandemic has changed us forever. I think early on, everyone thought that we would return to some normalcy, but our lives have changed. I would argue that it’s not just the pandemic, but also now we’re focused on things that matter, such as equity, inclusion, and sustainability. Those are the foundations of what we are at OVG, but also our offering is that it is also important to our customers.
When we offer our services to our clients and our customers, we have to make sure we’re now driving value more than ever. People have choices and we want to make sure that we’re providing meaningful experiences. [At OVG360] we provide local authentic experiences, whether it’s your culinary experience that we have through OVG hospitality or whether it’s actually bringing non-conventional content to that experience. OVG has relationships with incredible promoters such as Live Nation, the largest live entertainment company in the world. And we do this on a scale so that we can now help our clients bring that type of content to their experience.
Do you think that the borders between entertainment and business events are blurring?
I think the days of people sitting in a plenary session for two hours listening to one speaker are over. So, I think there is going to be more emphasis on festivalization and ways that we actually can bring attendees together for more intimate experiences. We have to make sure that our offerings reflect that.
Where are the areas that you consider to be ripe for growth?
Focusing on sustainability, in your offerings and in your event experience, I think is critical as a growth area. I think culinary experiences that focus on hyper-local are going to be areas of growth. People want authentic experiences when they come into your market or your destination. So, as convention centers, we need to reflect that, and what our local market is and give [attendees] that authentic experience as part of their overall event.
And we’re obviously going to leverage technology. Hybrid meetings have been around long before the pandemic — I never really thought that they were a threat to face- to-face meetings. Obviously during the pandemic, they were a stopgap measure, but they don’t replace the need for people to socialize and for people to have emotional connections. People, when they’re doing business, do business with people they like and they associate with and they get to know. Technology will help you attract a different audience remotely, who couldn’t come to your face-to-face meeting. So, I think there’s a place for that, but I don’t think it’s going to replace face-to-face meetings. I think we’ll see those will continue to grow and will leverage technology to create an ongoing relationship with the attendees that may be a year-round experience in addition to the live, face-to-face event experience.
What is it that you’re really excited about looking forward? And on the other hand, what is it is keeping you up at night?
I’m excited personally for OVG. I think we’re uniquely positioned as an organization to invest in our communities, to invest in and support our clients, and to really help grow opportunities. And those opportunities can come in a way that’s inclusive and equitable, and that creates economic opportunities for many — and particularly for some who did not participate before. That excites me as well.
I don’t sleep much, so I stay up at night anyway. But I think we’re all in a tenuous situation. We’re obviously coming out of a pandemic. There’s some fragility for all of us. We’re going to double down and believe in what we’re doing and that we will always adapt. And not work in silos but continue to work with our partners and with communities so that we can attack any challenges that may come our way.
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.