Hall of Fame Resort and Entertainment Co. President and CEO Michael Crawford
By Jarrett Banks
Former Disney executive and current President and CEO of Hall of Fame Resort and Entertainment Co. Michael Crawford knows that the impact of COVID-19 will be hard to ignore. But the man who led the development of the Shanghai Disney Resort believes that the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio is a product that can weather any storm. Crawford is sticking with his long-term plan of diversifying the revenue portfolio by creating the Hall of Fame Village Powered by Johnson Controls, a world-class sports, entertainment and media enterprise that includes youth sports, e-sports, fantasy football, themed destinations and more.
In early July, the company that owned the Hall of Fame Village Powered by Johnson Controls merged with a special purpose acquisitions company or SPAC, creating the Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Co. (NASDAQ: HOFV). In an interview with IPO Edge, Crawford said as a public company, it now has access to a wider universe of investors and can benefit from greater liquidity as well as access to multiple forms of financing. In addition, the company will be honoring football heroes with more than just a golden jacket — it will also build a premium housing complex for them called Legends Landing. The full interview is below:
IPO Edge: Why should investors invest in HOFV?
We are the only company that provides investors the rare opportunity to invest in a business that directly benefits from the popularity of professional football. Working alongside the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFL Alumni Association we are committed to the future growth of the game by improving player safety, education and training at all levels. We have a diversified business model, which affords us the ability to benefit from multiple revenue streams through different verticals, and our leadership team is comprised of highly experienced and qualified individuals. Having spent 25 years at the Walt Disney Company and several years with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, I immediately recognized the company’s potential and look forward to advancing our well-defined business plan.
IPO Edge: How do you expect crowds to return to the HOF stadium post-COVID?
With caution, of course, but also with the same passion for the game and desire to play or watch games or concerts and events at a premier stadium. We continue to work closely with state and city officials and our operational partners, ASM Global and AVI Foodsystems, to ensure our stadium is in accordance with and exceeding all national and local health measures so that when our fans return, they can enjoy the thrills of football and events in a safe environment. We have been proactive about this so that we will be prepared to host sporting and other activities at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium as soon as possible. If fans are slow to return, we will have multiple diverse, yet integrated business verticals – strategic sponsorships and partnerships, fantasy sports, eSports, youth sports, etc. –that should help us to drive revenue opportunities and increased brand awareness. In other words, our long-term business plans remains the same.
IPO Edge: What other ways are they going to monetize the business beyond attendance?
To fully appreciate all that our company has to offer, you have to look at it as an entertainment business built on the popularity of professional football that is not solely reliant on travel to the Hall of Fame Village Powered by Johnson Controls. We have a multi-dimensional business model that helps protect us from risk to any one of our diverse revenue streams. In the immediate term, we are focused on completing the renovation of our Hilton Double Tree property in Downtown Canton, advancing Phase II of constructing the Hall of Fame Village, and using our one-of-a-kind affiliation with professional football to generate additional sponsorship and event opportunities. Another component to our strategy involves further capitalizing on the growth of youth sports tourism and leveraging our direct access live sporting events as well as millions of pieces of unique media content in the Pro Football Hall of Fame archives. Utilizing this access, we are well positioned to create and develop original content – full-length feature films, documentaries, family programming, live and taped television specials, etc. – that can be monetized and distributed across multiple distribution channels. We are creating a horizontally integrated sports-driven company based on the most popular sport in America – and we think this is a very powerful value proposition.
IPO Edge: You’re now involved in eSports and fantasy football, what sort of additional revenue and brand value do you expect from this?
We see significant long-term growth potential in these two very popular verticals, as both segments already benefit from high levels of fan participation and support, and are projected to grow even stronger in the years ahead. Fans are competitive by nature, and they enjoy the fact that fantasy sports and eSports allow them to compete and experience the game in different ways – all while building deeper connections with their favorite teams and players. On the fantasy side, we acquired The Crown League, a development-stage fantasy football league, in June 2020. With the close affiliation we have with significant brand partners, this acquisition provides an avenue for us to incorporate never-before-seen content to meaningfully enhance the fantasy football experience for our players. Further, given our partnerships with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFL Alumni Association, we will have the ability to offer fantasy users access to many of the best football players of all time, who could become part of the leadership of each team and participate as both managers and coaches. Our fantasy football league may also fuel the development of on property programming at the Hall of Fame Village Powered by Johnson Controls, including fantasy football days in Tom Benson Hall of Fame stadium.
IPO Edge: Can you talk about your vision for the immersive VR/AR experience and how 5G will play a role?
We feel these elements are critical to enhancing the fan experience, and are continuing to work with leading VR/AR providers to incorporate this technology across both our entertainment and media divisions. Football is something all sports fans want to feel involved with, close to, and part of, and VR/AR can amplify their connection with the game. We are currently looking at ways we can add virtual reality components throughout the Hall of Fame Village Powered by Johnson Controls, and are also considering how we can implement it at our youth sporting events. Whether it’s helping players feel like they are actually on the field on game day, or like the ball is being thrown to them, virtual reality has the potential to help fans feel like they are part of the action and can make their experience with us that much more memorable. We’re focused on creating highly unique and immersive experiences that can’t be replicated in other environments.
IPO Edge: As you diversify your revenue streams, how much will your property assets play a part of this?
The Hall of Fame Village Powered by Johnson Controls is unlike any other destination in the world and is a core part of our growth strategy for our company. What we are building is physically transforming the area surrounding the Pro Football Hall of Fame into an unmatched football experience for fans. Through the power of technology, we are creating year-round opportunities for fans to interact with some of the game’s greatest legends. In addition to the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium and the National Youth Football and Sports Complex, which have already opened, we anticipate breaking ground this fall on the Constellation Center for Excellence, a 75,000-square-foot, sports-centered research and programming building with office and retail components, funding for which was secured through Constellation’s Efficiency Made Easy (EME) program. Moreover, a 183,000-square-foot Center for Performance will be built to host sports and conventions and will be the new home of the NFL Alumni Association. Our partnership with the Association allows its Academy complex, and its related facilities to be housed at this Center for Performance. Also included in Phase II of the Village is our football-themed indoor Hall of Fame Water Park and several unique retail and dining experiences. Each of these assets provides opportunities to diversity our business while creating multiple reasons for fans everywhere to join us on site for multiple days.
IPO Edge: Can you talk about your media operations and what projects you have in the pipeline with major studios?
We are in the process of establishing a top-notch team focused on asset development that will enable us to accelerate the pace at which we are able to create content. We have several shows already being pitched to production and distribution partners, and have been refining a slate of live sporting events with our youth programming and partnership with the NFL Alumni Association and its Academy. I look forward to discussing these more later in 2020, and to developing distribution partnerships that will allow our content to be seen by fans in whichever ways they choose to consume it.
IPO Edge: I noted the waterpark and premium hotel plans. Are there similarities between your current role and your role at Disney when you were in charge of the Shanghai theme park?
One of the reasons I was excited to join this company was because of its potential to do what Disney has done for families around the world: create something truly unique and memorable for each member of the family, no matter their ages, genders or interests. The one thing football fans don’t like about the sport is its long offseason, and what we are creating is something truly special that allows enthusiasts to be connected to the game year-round – either in a vibrant resort setting or through an innovative digital platform. Families flock to Disney parks each year because of their ability to consistently innovate and create new and exciting experiences, and that is what we are striving to do for football lovers around the world through the Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Company.
IPO Edge: The Legends Landing plans for ex-players seems like a good way to leverage your ESG capabilities. Can you talk about how this will help them and your company?
At this time, Legends Landing is still part of our Phase III plan for the Hall of Fame Village. Finding ways to honor those that love and have built the game and contribute to their health and wellness is something for which we have great passion. Through programming at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and facilities and programming we have and will create at the Hall of Fame Village, we will always continue to honor their legacy and welcome and inspire others to achieve their absolute best in life by being a part of it all.
IPO Edge: Are there plans to enter the gambling/gaming space if it becomes available?
Sports betting is another growth vertical we are exploring, especially after the NFL’s decision
to select Caesars Entertainment as its first-ever official casino sponsor. We know that fans of all sports like to participate and engage in multiple ways – enhancing their experiences while doing so. At Hall of Fame Village Powered by Johnson Controls, we are creating unique environments where fans can be given even greater engagement opportunities, providing them with more direct connections to their favorite teams and athletes.