In late March, Mandi Graziano, vice president for global accounts for Hospitality Performance Network, got the kind of news no one wants to hear: The San Diego Convention Center (SDCC), where a client’s biggest trade show had been scheduled to be held, would not be available. The state of California had not yet communicated reopening guidelines for large events and the center would serve as temporary housing for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the United States into July. (SDCC reopened for events Aug. 1.) The event, Warrior West 2021 — a military and first responder resource and training expo organized by military gear and tactical equipment company ADS, Inc. — was to begin June 30. “We had all the hotel blocks booked and had already moved the dates of the event twice due to COVID-19,” Graziano said. “There was no way we were going to move it again.”
So Graziano and her client, ADS Event Manager Andrea Dekker, scouted out possible alternatives. As they walked through Petco Park, home to Major League Baseball team San Diego Padres — and where they were considering holding an event keynote — Dekker had a flash of inspiration: Why not do the whole show there? It would mean breaking new ground for the park, which had hosted concerts and special events, but never a multi-day convention and exhibition of this size and scope. With Petco Park available on their dates, Dekker decided to swing for the fences.
The event scored a home run, Graziano said. The show’s more than 2,000 attendees and 200 exhibitors took over two levels of the ballpark, including its restaurants, which were used for education sessions and social events, and 45 hospitality suites, which were used for breakouts and by exhibitors to host customers. Ballpark concessions were used to create a ‘Taste of San Diego” experience and the ADS CEO gave a talk from a stage near first base, with the audience seated in the park’s premium stadium seats.
The park’s open-air vibe not only felt safe, but encouraged conversations, Graziano said. And the group “used every last stitch of digital signage and the LED wall. There was endless branding and visibility for sponsors,” she said.
Graziano called it a “marvel of an experience that the company and planner whipped together in such a short timeframe.” She added: “More of us in our industry should continue to look at unique event experiences like this to give to our attendees — I truly believe this is what will keep people coming back for more.”
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.
Read more about the event on Granziano’s “Love of Meetings” blog.