What comes to mind when planning an evening out for an arena concert or sporting event? Typically it is fun with family, a date or friends while watching the show. Often it is also a couple of beers or cocktails to liven up the party.
But, what of those who are at risk because of struggles with sobriety? There is a lot of social pressure to drink at events. In part this is because alcohol is one of the most significant profit drivers for the venue. As you move through these buildings there are bars everywhere, plus often vendors with little more than a cooler filled with tall beers and a credit card swipe device.
There are also areas set aside throughout most modern arenas, where the event is still in view, but the feeling of a private suite is made available to the public. These are in the form of clubs where there are bars and often food options. They provide a social setting more conducive than trying to talk while stationary in the line of fixed seats which make up the bulk of the interior space.
Oak View Group is in growth mode, building modern arenas around the globe. Their team has been creative in thinking about how to use design to enhance the experience of those who attend games or concerts. In partnership with Stand Together and the 1 Million Strong movement, OVG is actively working to provide sober alternatives for its guests who seek to normalize their evenings out and be able to have alcohol free drinks without shame or social pressure.
Their pilot project is underway at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, CA. Sober October is the kickoff, then OVG will expand the sober options as they become a permanent installation at Acrisure. They plan to roll sober options out to all other OVG locations. I spoke at length with Oak View Group’s CEO Tim Leiweke who is fully supportive of bringing sober options to all their facilities.
Leiweke is a masterful storyteller, perhaps the core of his success. It is easier to lead if the people who hear you will listen. Leiweke was emphatic that OVG will be a leader in providing alternatives such as mocktails, the alcohol free equivalent to a cocktail. Often these are a slight substitution, but OVG is working hard to deliver quality alcohol free drinks. These mocktails are made with the same care and quality ingredients as their cocktails, simply without the inclusion of alcohol. They will be made available at bars throughout the arena, and in a club space being created for those who feel more comfortable in an alcohol free environment.
OVG is taking a position broader than simply selling mocktails. Leiweke went on to discuss how he believed that people deserved more than just a sober environment, they also should be forgiven for mistakes made along the way. OVG is widening their hiring guidelines. People who have a mistake from their past are not barred from serious consideration when applying to join the work force at OVG.
Brian Hooks, CEO of Stand Together, OVG’s partner in this undertaking said: “We’re creating inclusive environments that help those in recovery realize their potential and contribute in the lives of others. Music is a powerful way to amplify these efforts and Acrisure Arena is leading the way. When music helps strengthen communities of support, we can help bring out the best in everyone.”
1 Million Strong, the third player in this effort is already present at events across the country. Their mission is “a community creating inclusive and engaging sober experiences encouraging open conversations about sobriety, and offering support for those impacted by addiction through The Phoenix.” The Phoenix is a “free, sober active community…which helps people who are dealing with addition find strength and new friends to support their journeys.” 1 Million Strong have previously created pop up sober spaces at many festivals. Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert is the first permanent venue location where 1 Million Strong is in place to assist those seeking true sober options.
Sometimes, life presents challenges. Solutions are not always easy, but there is usually a path. The path can be illuminated by the thoughtful ways in which those in power can direct light. The collaboration between Oak View Group, Stand Together and 1 Million Strong sets an example for what is achievable. They are collectively spotlighting an issue which cuts across all levels of society, and creating viable alternatives with attractive options for patrons who struggle with alcohol. It’s just common sense to provide for that constituency. It’s also good business, inspired from the heart. As the kids might say: it’s lit.