Panthers overhaul game day experience
Two giant television screens, ordering beverages on your phone, walk-through merchandise stands, and even a new goal-kicking routine from Jamie Soward... it seems Penrith's playing roster wasn't the only department to undergo an extreme makeover in the off-season.
Even the iconic Panther scoreboard didn't survive the overhaul, taken down earlier this week to make way for a second screen – the way most of us take in our sport these days – making Sportingbet Stadium just the second arena in NSW with two high-definition screens.
"The Panther [scoreboard] hasn't gone by the way," Panthers Group's head of marketing Anthony Frantzis reminded NRL.com.
"We will one day resurrect the Panther and it'll be used on the other fields in the developing precinct at the back of the Leagues club, or even on a wall commemorating its time with the Panthers.
"It's just been positioned in a storage facility for it to be reborn again another day."
Recently Panthers senior management went on a fact-finding mission to the United States and UK, visiting powerhouse franchises New York Giants (MLB), LA Dodgers (MLB), the Dallas Cowboys (NFL) and the LA Clippers (NBA) and learnt the Panthers were as far behind US sporting clubs in game day experience as they were in geographical kilometres.
"The experience of going to the football, in our opinion, was underwhelming. Previously there was scant imagery around the stadium underpinning that this is our home ground. Visually, the stadium lacked presence. That was the first and foremost thing," he said.
"Short of tearing it down and building from scratch, we felt that there were a few things we wanted to do to make the stadium more emotive and more significant to all our fans and the first step in that process was to rebrand the whole stadium.
"We launched our new logo last year and after some initial concerns by supporters , everyone seems to be very happy now. In fact, quite amazingly, we're receiving more correspondence complimenting the new logo and how it resonates beautifully with everything we've done and continue to do since the change."
What will also 'resonate beautifully', Frantzis says, will be the VIP treatment for patrons who pre-order their drinks on an air service app.
"We trialled it for the first time two weeks ago in the trial against Newtown and we're trialling it again this week for beverages only," he said.
"But if all goes to plan, in next couple of weeks they'll be ordering food on their phones, paying for it on their phones and taking a 'selfie' of themselves prior to collection so the staff will know who it is.
"It will all be paid for, it will all be prepared and they can walk down to collect it, and walk straight back to their seats without waiting in line.
"A dedicated area called Kidz Korner [will be] an entirely revamped amusement area inside Sportingbet Stadium, including jumping castle, super slide, cup and saucer, bungee trampolines, pass the ball, face painting, balloons plus loads of fairy floss, all free."
It's all with the aim of improving traditionally poor crowd figures (their average of 10,337 was 15th in the NRL last year) and membership numbers (their 4837 members ranked 12th in 2013).
Perhaps the most surprising change however, on and off the field, is a rumoured new goal-kicking routine from new recruit Jamie Soward that – in tune with Frantzis's visual theme – might be a lot more aesthetically pleasing.
But that's a new innovation the newest Panther is trying to keep under wraps.
"I don't know, you'll have to wait and see," was all Soward could offer. "[Peter Wallace] has been kicking pretty well so he might be kicking this week."
If Soward's new technique is anything like the last one, you'd pay to go and see something like that.