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Moving a Convention Center Customer Expo to a Major League Baseball Stadium.

Three and a half months prior to my client's largest annual trade show, we were notified that the San Diego Convention Center would be unable to host the program due to it being used as a temporary Emergency Intake Site. The center was not going to be available for groups from March to August 2021. It was the end of March. Our event was the end of June. We had all the hotel blocks booked and had already moved the event twice due to Covid 19. There was no way we were going to move it again. Changing the date or city was not an option.

In walked Andrea Dekker, Event Director, ADS Inc, a woman with a plan. She said, "This isn't ideal, but, I have a captive audience of customers and suppliers that want to meet. We owe it to our business and our teams to hold this event, if we can. Where else can we do this?" Shortly after the notice from the Convention Center, Andrea flew to San Diego with an open mind willing to redesign the whole event to fit in the available venues. Fortunately, San Diego has a plethora of stand alone interesting venues and hotels that would have been an option for this event as long as it was available over their dates. We did site inspections of the available venues such as; Petco Park, The Shell, Port Pavilion and various hotel ballrooms. As we walked through Petco Park, with the intention of using the seating bowl for the keynote speaker, Andrea realized it would be a memorable location for the entire show. We got lucky. The week of the conference happened to be an "off week" for the Padres. We had all the set up and tear down time needed.

Andrea pitched the idea to her leadership team and got the green light.

Prior to this, Petco Park had never done a convention with this many exhibitors. I've personally booked the stadium for opening general sessions and elaborate food and beverage events, however, I had never seen it used in this way either. The park is known for their world renowned concerts and baseball stadium events but an event of this magnitude was a new endeavor for them as well. Luckily the venue had done a handful of non baseball events in the past so they had a smaller footprint to build from but nothing on the scale of the ADS event. "The show took over 2 levels of the ballpark, several ballpark restaurants, utilized the seating bowl and large videoboard, many suites on two levels and provided space for offices and smaller breakouts." Said Kristie Ewing, Director of Events for Petco Park.

With only three months to redesign the entire event, Andrea and the ADS Inc team worked closely with the venue and show partner Levy Exposition Services. It was a huge undertaking with countless hours of work, changes and our not-so-favorite word--"pivots".

Together, the whole team pulled off a major league miracle and hosted a spectacular event June 30 and July 1.

The Numbers:

Total attendance: 2054

Customer Attendance: 1191

Sales Rep Attendance: 174

Exhibitor and Booth Staff Attendance: 689

Suites: 45

Over 200 exhibitors

Here's how they did it:

  • 2 day set up and move in.

  • 2 day show.

  • Main ticket windows used for registration area

  • One way in and out which provided max safety and visibility for sponsors.

  • Exhibitors used table tops and built their area around the table top.

  • Exhibitors were set in Concourse 3 which spanned across half of the ballpark

  • 45 exhibitors used suites to create a boutique atmosphere and meet with customers one on one.

  • Used restaurant for education sessions.

  • Ballpark concessions were used to create a Taste of San Diego experience.

  • A small stage was built on the dirt track down first base line for the CEO to speak.

  • Guests sat in the existing stadium seats surrounding the field.

  • Ballpark jumbotron for speaker and branding.

  • Ballpark digital signage for conference logo and sponsor info.

  • Stairs up to suites were branded with company logo.

  • Company info booth in the middle of the concourse. Well staffed and welcoming.

  • Technology help desk behind the curtain in central location.

My favorite elements of the event:

  • Open air vibe felt safe and created conversations.

  • I never saw a line at registration, a booth, a suite, a tank, anywhere. The flow was really smooth and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

  • Tanks and tents at the entrance made for a WOW arrival experience. Excellent use of the large space.

  • Suppliers took liberties with suites. Some set up as residential homey feel while others created a clothing boutique feel.

  • The group used every last stitch of digital signage and jumbotron. There was endless branding and visibility for sponsors.

Overall this is a lesson in perseverance and creativity. This is a company who has world class customers, world class suppliers and world class staff. They put all their ambitions together and created an unforgettable event for everyone. Most importantly, business was getting done. I saw it, face to face, in real time, business was happening in a productive, safe and creative way. I think more companies and associations should take ADS Inc's lead and use unique venues to deliver high level messages and epic event experiences for their customers in the future. This is one that many will not forget.

Mandi Graziano is Vice President of Global Accounts for HPN Global. For more videos of how the actual trade show looked in the Petco Park space, click here to visit Mandi's Excellent Site Inspection Adventures YouTube Page.

If you want Mandi to find a unique location for your next trade show or event, visit her website here.

Mandi is the author of Sales Tales: The Hustle, Humor, and Lessons From a Life in Sales book which will be released this October. To sign up for chapter releases and get book information click here.


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