With the Tokyo Olympics and a Rugby World Cup approaching, Japan’s real estate community is considering how major sports events and venues can drive development, looking at best practices and examples both domestic and from around the world.

The ULI Japan Spring Conference, held at the Tokyo International Forum in May, convened a variety of experts, many from outside the real estate world, to discuss “Placemaking for People: Keys to Success in the Age of AI and e-Commerce.”

Both keynote speakers focused on sports- and leisure-related real estate, especially appropriate because Japan will be the site of two of the world’s biggest sporting events in the next two years. In 2019, Japan will host the Rugby World Cup, which will take place at venues across the country. The next year, the Olympic Games return Tokyo for the first time since 1964, when the event sparked a wave of development.

John Shreve, senior principal at Populous, an architecture and design firm responsible for a number of high-profile sports entertainment projects, including Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, and Nanjing Sports Park in China, discussed the development of the sports entertainment venue concept over the past century.

Looking at baseball parks in the United States and Japan, Shreve noted that the key element shared by the best new developments is their integration into their surroundings and links to their host city. For example, the new Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ballpark, which is to be developed in the city of Kitahiroshima, is much more integrated into the city than the Fighters present home, he said.

The ballpark of the near future will be “completely integrated into the surrounding city, make use of technology and media to expand access to the game, and also integrate public space,” he said.

The best sports stadiums act as a catalyst for development in the surrounding area, he said. He noted that the redeveloped Busch Staium in St. Louis has sparked plans for a 33-story residential tower, the first high-rise to be built in the city in two decades.

Japan is ripe for a wave of ballpark redevelopment, Shreve suggested, because the average age of stadiums there is 40 years. This could offer an opportunity for associated development, he said. “As you introduce more amenities around a stadium, people spend longer there and spend more money,” he said.

The address by Kenji Kitatani, executive vice president, Asia, and executive director for Japan at global sports and entertainment giant AEG, also had a historical context. He charted the growth of entertainment- and arena-based development from Nazi Germany’s Volkshalle through Walt Disney’s Epcot in Orlando, Florida, and the birth of the integrated casino in Las Vegas. Kitatani then showcased some of the group’s developments, such as L.A. Live in Los Angeles, London’s O2 Arena, and the Mercedes Platz in Berlin.

Developers of new arenas need to remember some key points, he said, including that architecture is important. “Unless the building appeals to your emotions, then it has failed,” he said. Developers also need to make sure that the surrounding environment is exciting and pay attention to the flow of people around and through the arena.

He outlined a few methods AEG is using to increase profitability—upgrading the quality of the food and beverage offering at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, for example, and installing international-grade sound and lighting equipment in all music arenas, which means acts do not need to bring their own equipment. AEG has also been assiduous in selling naming rights not just to each development, but within them, too.

At the O2 Arena, a new phase of development will add a designer outlet village, and AEG is planning more subsidiary developments at a number of its venues around the world.

Kitatani’s bullishness about AEG and its global network of arenas contrasted with the difficulties faced by PIA Corporation, a Japanese ticket agency that is building its own 11,000-seat music arena in Yokohama on land rented from Mitsubishi Estate. The development will cost ¥10 billion (US$91 million), and PIA is “betting its destiny” on the project, Satoru Kobayashi, director at PIA, said during a panel discussion. It was a struggle to get developer support for the arena plan because of concerns about future profitability, he said.

Kitatani suggested that PIA needs to invest heavily in technology; arenas need to build their own mobile relay towers and ensure strong wi-fi service, as well as develop an app for the venue. In contrast, Kobayashi said PIA found developing the hardware of the arena to be expensive and also did not plan to upgrade its ticketing websites to make it easier for tourists to buy tickets.