Planning And Selling Events Post-COVID: Q’s With OnePlan CEO Paul Foster

Paul Foster.
– Paul Foster.
CEO of OnePlan.

In a time of significantly less events, promoters are investing more time in event planning than ever before, which is owed to the looming uncertainty surrounding the restrictions under which live events will be allowed to return in the various countries across the world. The team at OnePlan, a SaaS event planning software that enables event organizers to map, plan and procure for their event, has never been busier. Events and venues of any size and genre in 50 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Australia and many territories in Europe, have used OnePlan technology, from concert promoters to sports teams to authorities mapping out vaccine centers and election polling stations. 

Pollstar reached out to company CEO Paul Foster to talk about ways his company can help event organizers save time and money, as well as generate new commercial opportunities now, that live is slowly, but surely, returning worldwide. 
Pollstar: How have you been spending this past year?
Paul Foster: Although events aren’t happening, there’s a lot of planning happening for lots of different scenarios in lots of different environments. People don’t know whether they’re going to come back with 25% or 50%, social distancing, vaccine scanning, tests, etc. Everyone’s planning the same event about five times. We’re well positioned to help support that and build some efficiencies.
One of the things we developed early on during COVID was the seating assessment based on social distancing rules. We were the only system in the world that got formal approval from the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security. We were peer-reviewed by sports teams in Detroit and San Francisco, and [were or are being] used by the Brooklyn Nets, as well as Chelsea Football Club and Arsenal in London, UK.
We also wrote COVID guidance for triathlons, which have pretty much gone through all the way through the pandemic. The rate of acceleration in terms of our development has been massive. We weren’t planning on developing [our new 3D visualization software Venue Twin] for at least another year. But we brought it all forward just because of the demand from clients, which accelerated what we were doing. 

OnePlan aims to make event planning easy and efficient.
– OnePlan aims to make event planning easy and efficient.
The software has been used by events in 50 countries.

How could your software assist with new entry requirements?

We have an arrival calculator, which works out how much space you will need to keep people in a socially distanced environment, and it has flow rates. We always had that, but it used to create flow rates for a two-step process, security screening and ticket check. Now it’s a three stage process, there’s also validating that you’ve had your vaccine or PCR test or whatever. We model that process and then work out how much space is needed, how long that process will take.
We’re finding, that, although the capacity of venues is reduced significantly, people are still having to wait a long time outside the venues, which is not good, because they’re stood with a lot of other people in an area not inside the venue. How people circulate around the venue, particularly with its tight spaces and concourses, how they queue at the food concessions or in front of the toilets. We think of the whole end-to-end experience, including the exit environment.
In what other ways can OnePlan specifically help facilitate the return of live?
Everyone [involved in a project] is planning on one single source of truth. If you’re logged in and I’m logged in, you can see my cursor, I can see your cursor. It’s essentially like a Dropbox or Google Drive for all your event’s site planning. Everybody’s planning is all in one single source system. It speeds up the whole planning process, and enables you to create many kinds of different scenarios all in one place. 

3D visualization creates new commercial opportunities, says OnePlan CEO Paul Foster.
– 3D visualization creates new commercial opportunities, says OnePlan CEO Paul Foster.

How does Venue Twin fit into that?

3D visualization brings a significant amount of commercial benefits, it’s essentially a second venue for clients to commercialize, and it’s exactly what the LA Clippers, for instance, are doing. We built a full 3D visualization IBEC arena, which doesn’t open for another four years. First of all, they’re using it to inform the design decisions for that venue. Steve Ballmer has sat in his seats in Venue Twin and taken decisions about the color of the seats, the height of the halo. Their team on the sponsorship and sales side are using it to show clients, what their hospitality suite will look like, or the route from the parking lot or metro station through to your seat. At the moment, there’s nothing there to see, but they can visualize the whole space. And it’s helping them to sell more quickly. 
Do you have any examples of your recent work that exemplifies the way the software works?
There’s a marathon we work with. Their marketing and sales team sell the advertising space on the banners. The biggest problem is, that the operations team are constantly moving the barriers as the route changes, so [marketing and sales] don’t know what they’re selling. The other problem is that sponsors keep changing. So they’ve got to keep going back to a company that renders it out, it’s really expensive and it takes a lot of time. 
With our software, if the operations team move a barrier in OnePlan, it moves in Venue Twin. Sales knows exactly what assets they’ve got to sell at all times. And they can add the sponsor branding onto those barriers themselves. So, if they’ve got three meetings in a day with Tesla, Ford and whoever else, they can just change it around.
What other use cases do you envision for Venue Twin?
We are potentially starting to move out into historical palaces and castles, where they could sell virtual tickets for places where people can’t physically visit for various reasons. In the UK, for example, some of the royal palaces aren’t open to the public. We could do a virtual version of them. There are different use cases. Compared to OnePlan, Venue Twin is a much higher value product. It offers real commercial benefit. I always say, ‘don’t buy Venue Twin unless you’re going to make money back off it, don’t just have it, because it looks nice’.
I guess it’s also quite costly to render an entire building?
Yeah, it’s much more expensive to run. With the IBEC arena for the Clippers, for instance, it’s constantly stimulating over 1000 lights. If there’s a change the lighting, you don’t just turn the light up and down, you need to go into the ceiling, take out a light bulb and replace it with the relevant lux levels. It’s constantly simulating the reflections, the surfaces and the lighting.
So what kind of costs is a promoter or venue operator looking at?
It all depends on the geographical, and then the technical scope. Do you just want the seating bowl, or do you want the toilets and kitchens, and the changing rooms, as well? For example, we’ve done a Venue Twin of the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, which is potentially a FIFA World Cup venue. It’s a very old Stadium, they’ve got lots of upgrades. So we’ve done the upgrades in Venue Twin, and FIFA are doing all their site visits, their walk arounds of that venue in Venue Twin. They can make sure the changing rooms are big enough and that the hospitality suites are of high enough quality. 
For the Clippers, at the moment, we’re not going to need the changing rooms, we’re doing the club as well as the suites, the things that they’re selling. So, your costs depends on the use case and the quality of detail you want. With the hospitality suites, we go down to show the bruises on the apples. But for the parking lots, it’s not to that level of detail. It depends how much artworks is needed as well, it can vary significantly.