personal

Holiday Cheer

Last year the holidays were almost an afterthought, as me and my team were busy opening not one but two new entertainment venues. Like always, it is hard to believe it’s been a year. Both venues have had a great year. And we have much more in store in 2018 and beyond.

But the excitement and business related to those activities last year meant we had to sacrifice some holiday traditions and goings-on. We didn’t send cards to friends and family. We weren’t able to get my team together for a holiday event. We didn’t really do gifts of any magnitude.

This year is more normal, though being that I work for a company that never slows down, we are still busy. And Joyce has been swamped all year helping Caesars resolve its financial situation. So we are excited to still be able to attend a holiday party some good friends throw, and added back team dinners for both of us. And I got gifts for everyone on my team. These activities have given us a peaceful feeling through a busy season, which to me may be the best gift of all.

Still waiting to be brought back are the holiday cards (will be sending an email to our friends so at least they know we still care about them and appreciate them). And house decorations are still relatively simple. Luckily, we have next year to look forward to. I guess I need to start putting up lights at Halloween!

Here’s hoping everyone is enjoying the holidays, in your own unique way. Good cheer and peaceful spirits are coming your way at least from the Arpin family.

 

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personal

End of the Year

I looked back, and so far this year I have written what appears to be just over 70 blog posts. Some were book reviews, some were about leadership topics, some were about sports, some about travel. Many were about the thee seminal events that all happened to occur in my life this year – my father’s passing, my mother’s struggles with dementia, and the Las Vegas shooting on October 1.

I’ve also written probably 25-30 introductory messages to our entertainment division newsletter. And written three articles for an industry magazine focused on gaming and technology.

To recap all of this would end up focusing on the negative. It would be way too easy to say “GOOD RIDDANCE” to 2017. Instead I think I should challenge myself to be thankful, and to cherish this year. As Tim Urban noted in his Ted Talk, we lose time quickly in our lives so we better enjoy it, even if it’s not the easiest thing to do. So here are things I’m thankful for in 2017:

  • First full year of marriage. We enjoyed it thoroughly. Had family at our house, entertained, traveled, supported each other through buys work schedules, and through incredible trauma we grew even closer than we were. We made our roots stronger, tackled life together.
  • Traditions. We were able to take our annual trip to Cedar City, Utah for the Shakespeare Festival with our great friends the Selwoods. We were able to make our annual Thanksgiving trip to somewhere new, traveling to Hong Kong (ok, new for one of us) and Singapore. We had our annual staycation at Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas (always great spa experience and a meal at Twist, plus window shopping at Crystals! We made it to a few “first Saturday” wine tastings at Trader Joes – note to self for New Years resolution, do more of those!
  • Pro sports! This one really is meaningful for me at the intersection of native Las Vegan, entertainment executive, sports nut, and with my personal story working for many years to make a new arena in Las Vegas a reality. Our NHL team started this year, and we have already experienced some of what pro sports brings to a community, starting with just that – community. The ability of sports to help heal after the October 1 shooting was a great introduction to Las Vegas residents as to what sports can do for you, if you invest in it. I wish Bill Foley and his team all the best and will do whatever I can personally to ensure we are a top tier sports town for a long time. And there is more to come – next up WNBA and USL soccer, then of course the Raiders in a few years.
  • New tradition – journaling. We documented the last few years of travel, events, dinners with friends, concerts, movies, sporting events, etc. Including “scrap-booking” the mementos.
  • Our health. I still weigh too much, and I keep re-injuring my rib cartilage every time I do a corporate challenge sport I haven’t played in years; this year it was dodgeball. But it was worth it, we finished second to the perennial champs the Hakkasan team. Joyce got to go to her first executive physical and we had a wonderful time in La Jolla enjoying the resort there with Joyce’s friends who came down from Santa Monica.
  • Golf. Speaking of which, I got to play the famous Torrey Pines south course while I was there. I didn’t get to golf too much this year, but that was a highlight, and I always appreciate every round I get to play as it is time outdoors and with friends. I also got to play another top course, while in Tampa for the College Football Playoff championship, we got to play Innisbrook (the Copperhead course where the pros play) with friends from IMG College and Under Armour. We played a fun charity tournament at Spanish Trail with our partners from Anheuser Busch, the annual Gaming and Leisure tournament, and a couple of rounds with friends and co-workers that resulted from charity auction buys. Definitely another NY resolution here.
  • Emotion. Losing my dad brought out a lot of emotion in me. I was appreciative of that, as it let me know I was grieving and processing the loss. I needed those emotions and that process later in the year to help myself and those around me after the October 1 shooting. I didn’t want either of these things to happen, but I am proud of not ignoring the pain and emotion and resolving to grow for myself and with those around me.

I still didn’t cover many great things, like my church, friends, wonderful meals, and I’m sure many others. I am still glad 2018 is coming soon though. I hope it will bring new adventures along with traditions built upon. I pray for good health, and stronger relationships. I wish us all peace regardless of what craziness is happening around us.

travel

A week in Los Angeles

Recently, I attended two conferences in Marina del Rey, California. Marina del Ray is a small community on the beach just south of Venice. These two cities form a series of beach towns just southwest of downtown LA. Just one of many “micro” areas within the larger metropolis of Los Angeles.

Being from Las Vegas, I have traveled to LA many times. And often it is to stay within one of these micro areas, usually for a weekend. Each one has its own sights, its own charm. To give a few examples, Orange County[ beaches in Orange County like Laguna, Newport and Huntington; Hollywood and Beverly Hills; downtown; south beaches like Venice, Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo; Long Beach; north beaches like Santa Monica and Malibu; and the list goes on.

The thing is, I always went for a weekend, which even a long weekend is 3-4 days, and during that time I’m often either super busy with tourist-type stuff (shopping, sight-seeing, sporting events, etc.) or totally unplugging by laying on a beach or by the pool. So I don’t think I’ve really spent a chunk of time in LA just enjoying the neighborhoods, people, and special places that make these micro areas special and unique.

I didn’t go into the week thinking that would change necessarily, but I did know I would be in LA for a week because my wife and I had already scheduled a weekend in Santa Monica visiting her business school friends (and now my friends!). So two different micro areas, but still a week in LA is longer than I’ve ever been.

I came away with an appreciation of weekday life in Marina del Rey, and I liked it a lot. Very casual, fitness is clearly important, and it seemed like there were great people everywhere. I’ve always liked Santa Monica and it didn’t disappoint this time either, quiet, casual elegance. Great food. Fresh air.

I started to really think I could live in LA, except I knew I had spent a week in LA unlike how it usually is when you live there, since I hadn’t had to drive, and therefore hadn’t dealt with the traffic!

I am going to look for a time next summer when we can take a week and explore LA some more, a great adventure so accessible.

travel

Annual Thanksgiving Week Trip

For the fourth year of five, Joyce and I took the opportunity to leverage the Thanksgiving time off at work into a vacation. Last year we were fortunate to take our honeymoon to South Africa. In past years, we had visited Hawaii and Palm Springs. This year, we hadn’t taken any sort of real vacation due to work, just weekends. So this was needed. We took another long flight and visited Hong Kong and Singapore.

I’d been to Hong Kong before, but only for a couple of days. And neither of us had been to Singapore.

Hong Kong in November is beautiful, moderate temperatures allowed for us to explore the entire area. We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, which is always a great experience of service and amenities. We enjoyed some great food and drink at the hotel and at some other restaurants, and got some great sightseeing done.

The highlight of sightseeing was likely the “big Buddha” at the monastery in Lantau Island. A bit of a trek to get there, but it’s magnificent, and indeed very large! Second to that was the visit to Victoria Peak (though we wish we had time to do the hike), where you can see all of the city laid out before you. We also did the Star Ferry harbor cruise, where you can see all the variety of lights the skyscrapers use, some specially decorated for the holidays. We discovered that Asians really like Christmas! Both in Hong Kong and Singapore, Christmas music was playing everywhere, even at the Bar at Mortons in Singapore during happy hour.

Shopping is of course good in Hong Kong. Joyce didn’t want to do many of the fancy stores as she doesn’t like them “following her around” while she looks. But she did hit Zara. Twice.

From a food perspective, we had a delightful Italian meal at 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo, sitting at the bar, maybe the best ravioli we had ever tasted. That was the same day we had lunch at Man Wah at the Mandarin, where we enjoyed dim sum, and a great rendition of Peking Duck, where they first served the skin in pancakes, then minced the meat and served it with lettuce wraps. We made a special trip to Tim Ho Wan for dim sum on another day, well worth the short wait for inexpensive and delicious dim sum. All told, we hit seven Michelin stars on this leg of the trip. It would be our last, as in Singapore it’s frankly better just to walk around and eat. Reminded us of Barcelona a bit that way. Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the obligatory McDonald’ and Starbucks visits – menus had some unique items, of course, but still amazing how consistent the taste of the common items (like a cheeseburger) is to the taste back home.

Singapore is absolutely amazing. Easily the cleanest and safest city I’ve ever visited from a tourist perspective. Easy to get around, most if it walkable. Food everywhere. Incredible architecture. Wonderful ethnic neighborhoods. I don’t know all the ins and outs of how they live, and feel like some research is necessary; but a bit of “big government” rule on things like cleanliness, guns and housing sure seems to make for a happy place to visit, and seemingly to live (again, would like to do some more research). One thing the government can’t control is the weather, pretty hot and humid all the time.

Hard to pick a highlight of this visit, we loved pretty much everything about Singapore. The view from the top of Marina Bay Sands sure was up there, we even got to see a thunderstorm roll in over the city. Plus they have the largest mall I’ve ever been in there. And another Zara. Food everywhere was wonderful, at every price point and quality level.

One thing to note about going to these cities is we are again reminded of how poor our domestic airports are. The airports in Singapore and Hong Kong are ranked as two of the best in the world, and you can tell why. And of course flying on Cathay Pacific the entire time was appropriately comfortable, with good food, great entertainment selections and perfect service.

All in all, a great trip. We didn’t explore as much as we could have, and would definitely love to go back to Singapore to do just that, maybe as part of a more extensive Southeast Asia trip.

business, career, education

Conferences – the good and the bad

I recently attended two conferences put on by Sports Business Journal in Los Angeles (Marina del Rey to be exact). I like the way SBJ does their conferences, so it got me thinking about what I like and don’t like at conferences.

I have probably attended over 100 conferences in my professional career (maybe close to 200), plus assorted training sessions which function similarly. I have been a speaker at least 25 conferences. I have had a hand in organizing over 20 conferences. These conferences have ranged from small gatherings to huge groups. They have covered industries/topics as varied as college sports, accounting issues, real estate, gaming, shared services, analytics, entertainment, media, and technology. Here are my top learnings. I think these learnings can help in a couple of ways – obviously for those organizing a conference to ensure “best foot forward;” but less obviously for those considering attending a conference you can look for these characteristics to see if the conference will provide value.

TIPS ON LOGISTICS

  • Conferences should be never be “one day” conferences. By extending to at least a second half day, you provide significantly more networking opportunities for the attendees.
  • Conferences should end by early afternoon on the last day, preferably by noon. This tends to keep folks attending the last day’s sessions but gives them time to catch flights home.
  • Plan the run of show to a detailed level and rehearse.
  • Get speaker slides, bios, and other info well in advance.
  • Ensure an active staff to interface with the hotel – to ensure proper room temperature, manage A/V issues, etc. These should be seamless to the attendees because you have put in the time and effort to ensure the event is planned well.

TIPS ON FORMAT

  • Provide ample time for networking, and the inevitable other work folks may need to take care of (calls, emails, etc.)
  • Provide forced but welcome networking opportunities. Get people up and moving in specific sessions that foster networking. Just because they have time for networking (see above) doesn’t mean they will use it for that purpose, so “make” them. One interesting way I’ve seen this done is to integrate personality and behavioral profiles, giving the attendees a takeaway and giving them topics for networking. I’ve also held sessions at conferences where the attendees break into groups that are logical (like by industry) but force them to meet new folks (by ensuring they don’t sit with others from their same company), and have them do some “work” – like identify the top three problems facing their industry and how they can be addressed.
  • For after conference cocktail parties, provide a hook. Unique entertainment, something to keep folks engaged and “loosen them up” and provide something for them to talk to each other about. This tip is especially useful for my fellow introverts. At the recent SBJ conference, a sponsor put on a ping pong tournament. .Great fun, engaging, and gave everyone something to do and talk about while enjoying finger foods and beverages.
  • There is a classic debate in conferences – individual speakers or panels? My view is that a mix is actually always the best. In fact this comment covers this bullet and the next bullet. The problems with a program of all individual speakers include added time needed to manage the preparation, reliance on high profile speakers showing up, and the fact that not all speakers are good at it. The problems with a program of all panels is that you need that many more speakers, they may not be inclined to prepare hoping the other panelists will carry the conversation, you need a good moderator to keep the panel pacing well and holding the audience’s interest. There are also pros to both styles, and I think a mix helps mitigate the cons.
  • The second classic debate is the style of presentation. So interview/free form discussion versus rehearsed presentation. Again a mix is usually best. Prepared presentations can bore an audience with poorly prepared PowerPoint slides they can’t even read, or get lost in a monotone voice. Free form discussion can wander and might never actually address the issues you wanted addressed in the first place.
  • Keep sessions as short as possible. This keeps the audience engaged, and awake, particularly if doing breakouts where they have to move between sessions. If the topics need more time to really be understood/discussed/debated, they are likely perfect candidates for a breakout session. So a rehearsed presentation at a high level gets the entire audience to understand the basics of the topic, and those that want to go deeper can during a breakout.
  • Give the audience a way to ask questions without shouting it out in front of everybody. Often, they will be too shy, especially if a large group. You can use text, email, etc. If you do take questions from the room at large, ensure staff with microphones are sprinkled throughout.

Coming back to what prompted this blog post, I’d like to compliment SBJ for achieving success in their conferences. I’ve been to four now, enough sample size to see the commonalities and know they didn’t “get lucky.” Here’s some of the things they do:

  • Flawless A/V and room and hotel logistics – temperature, meals, etc.
  • They often go with a complete program of interview style sessions, and rarely do breakouts. So they don’t fully follow my advice for variety, but their key to success is a combination of short sessions, mixing up the moderators, and changing between 1-on-1 interviews and panel discussions.
  • They provide time for networking and help facilitate it.
  • They have an iPad with the moderators where questions come in from the audience, and they interject them seamlessly into the discussion.

So if you are in the sports and entertainment industry, check out SBJ’s extensive list of conferences and consider attending. No, they didn’t pay me for the plug! If you are going to other conferences or are asked to help organize one, hopefully you can find success with some of the tips I provided.

 

personal

Thanksgiving is about gratitude

Gratitude is a slippery thing. It often feels like we don’t have anything to be grateful for. It often feels like we “exercise” our grateful “muscle” but are not rewarded with good karma or blessings in our life, like we are told will happen. It often feels like we should wait for others to be grateful for/to us versus us taking the initiative.

But this isn’t a game of “even-steven” and it isn’t about what others do for you or to you. Gratefulness is about you and you alone. It is about how you will view the world. Will you assume that because something bad happens in your life that must mean the world is out to get you? Or that it negates anything good happening in your life? Or will you accept that life is a journey and there will be good and bad, and focusing on the bad is a tough way to make it through life?

Amazingly, most people choose to focus on the negative, and don’t practice gratefulness. I know, I used to be one of them. I never realized it, for 40 years of my life. So when I started to try to change that, and be more grateful and look for the positive in the world, I was angry at those who hadn’t had my experience of change and were still being negative. Now I realize I should be empathetic and understand they don’t even realize it themselves. One wish for this Thanksgiving is that more people would hear and live this statement by David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk for many decades, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy” (credit to Jud Wilhite of Central Christian Church for posting that quote along with his own thoughts on gratefulness).

There is no silver bullet to making yourself more grateful or making those around you more grateful and more positive about life and the events therein. It takes practice, and discipline. Old habits are hard to change. You can’t just be thankful on Thanksgiving, and you can’t just be grateful when times are good. You have to work at it, and be grateful even on days your mom doesn’t remember you are her son. That is my bad thing, but I still find things I am grateful for. You have to be grateful even when you find out your grandson has cancer, likely terminal. That is a co-worker’s bad thing, but she still finds things to be grateful for. You have to be grateful even when it seems we are helpless to stop mass shootings, even in our own town. That is a lot of ours bad thing, but we must find things to be grateful for, like the kindness of strangers on display since the shooting.

Thanksgiving started because one group of folks (Native Americans) helped another group of folks (the Pilgrims) and the group that received that help didn’t take it for granted, they celebrated it and said “thank you” with a meal. This thanksgiving, realize that other people are likely the things you should be most thankful for. Find them, tell them that, and keep telling them that. You all may just start a snowball of gratitude that could help us all feel a lot better about this world.

I’m grateful today for my incredible friends who always stick by me and support me. I’m grateful my mom is in a safe place and gets the care she needs. I’m grateful for a wife who taught me the meaning of gratefulness and how to have a positive outlook. I’m grateful for strong families and family connections for both of us. I’m grateful for an awesome team I get the privilege of working alongside.

If I think about it, I’m grateful for a lot more, but you’d just get bored. More importantly, what are you grateful for?

Happy Thanksgiving.

technology

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

I am not going to spend your time defining these two new technologies, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR); you can Google those on your own. But I spent part of last week at a sports and media technology conference in Los Angeles and wanted to relay a few things I learned. Separate post to come about my thoughts on conferences in general, as this one was put on by Sports Business Journal and I love how they do conferences. It’s not easy and they seem to do it well every time. Also I may post about my week in LA.

What I heard, and have thought myself for some time, were opinions that AR is “where it’s at” in selecting between these two technologies. That is not say that VR isn’t a great product, or isn’t going to be (already is?) a huge market. The context for the particular discussion was about live events and media viewing. In that context, the thinking is that layering in AR on top of a viewing experience is easier, more customizable and more practical than watching a basketball game from your living room with a headset on simulating courtside seats. Again, something that has already been done and seems successful so not knocking VR.

AR has some great features that may be able to resonate with consumers (of ALL generations) and providers. For the consumer:

  • Customizable. Think of the early AR we still use today – yellow line for first down and stroke zone for baseball. Imagine you could add to that, with statistics, odds of where the next play in the football game will end up or where the next pitch will go, historical at bats, etc. Imagine a special “announcer “ came on screen as a hologram and told you more about the players. Or…imagine you could turn it all off and watch as a traditional fan? Your call.
  • Practical for live experiences. AR can be developed via app for smartphones, already has fact (Pokemon Go fans where are you?). But content providers and venues could interact with their fans in a whole new way. Imagine you were getting ready for the hockey game, and at the designated time the music came on but instead of the current video mapping on the ice (at a cost of over $1 million…), you raised your phone and could select from multiple game introductions. Or imagine if you hold your phone up for a pic of Beyonce, she could pop up in your phone and provide a free download of her next song.
  • Gamification. Continue with the recent example. Imagine if Beyonce’s social media postings were hints about when to hold your phone up to win the prize. Or if you were watching a hockey game but there was a parallel AR game on your phone, where you earn points through merchandise purchases that gets you extra players to score more goals.
  • Less expensive. You already likely own a phone…so no hardware to buy to enjoy a leveled up experience.

For the venue or content provider:

  • Cost savings. As noted in one of the examples above, if the venue or sports team didn’t have to buy expensive hardware to deliver a great in-game experience, that would be a win. Similarly, artists are spending more and more on their production elements to wow the audience. Some of those elements could be recreated in an AR world.
  • Data!!! This one is huge. Users would need an app or to sign in. Their actions can be tracked in the AR app. This gives providers exponential data that should be very useful to promote interaction and engagement, and ultimately to sell to.

I’m a big fan of AR and its potential. One of the panelists at the conference pointed out that the new iPhone X is purpose built for AR and the new generation of iOS was developed with AR developers in mind. So this seems to be where the world is headed. And I still believe there will be a market for VR but that it will be more limited.

But if I’m wrong and VR wins out, I will just play Pokemon Go with my Betamax and be just fine.