British experiential design consultancy MET Studio has completed the design of an exciting, new, immersive exhibition and experience for the world’s most famous football club, Manchester United. The Manchester United Experience is a £1.5m, 1000 sq m indoor attraction, located within the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel in Macau – a SAR (special administrative region) and former Portuguese colony in south-east China.
It is the first ever visitor attraction featuring the club to be opened outside of Manchester United’s Old Trafford heartland (and Asia’s only interactive football experience) and has been created to appeal to both fans and a lay audience alike. ‘Our ambition in designing the space’, commented MET Studio’s Alexander McCuaig, head of graphics and AV on the project, ‘was to create the most exciting and world-class football experience outside of actually watching the beautiful game live.’ With the company’s long experience in masterplanning major visitor attractions and in-depth knowledge of Far Eastern markets, MET Studio was ideally placed to help develop the look and feel of the scheme, jointly with the client, from the earliest stages.
Visitors are taken through the highly interactive experience on a route, which covers everything from the earliest beginnings of the club to a real sense of what it means to support, play for and manage the world-class club of today. From huge-scale media walls to exhibits which allow fans to pit their own footballing skills against today’s team, to being directly addressed by Sir Alex Ferguson in a behind-the-scenes look at the Old Trafford Changing Room and joining the players in the tunnel before a game, the experience completes in a wraparound and highly stylised 4-minute presentation of a classic Manchester United game, atmospherically captured and re-presented by award-winning film director Daryl Goodrich (the man behind ‘Sport at Heart': the film that launched the British bid to host the 2012 London Olympics).
Former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson, who, along with United legend Brian McClair, formally opened the attraction, commented: ‘The Experience really captures the spirit and the atmosphere of this great club. The amazing way in which they have used technology makes it really feel like you are in the United dressing room or lining up with the players in the tunnel. It’s the next best thing to being at Old Trafford. United’s Chief Executive David Gill added: ‘The Experience has exceeded all expectations. It is an exciting prospect for our fans in Asia and I am sure it will prove to be an extremely popular attraction.’
MET Studio’s client on the project was The Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel, owned, as is its sister hotel in Las Vegas, by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. The Vegas hotel, opened in 1999, is America’s largest AAA Five-Diamond Resort and is comprised of 4049 suites and a 120,000 sq ft casino. The Venetian hotel in Macau is part of a new-build, mixed use, retail and leisure complex on the Cotai Strip, bordered by canals. The hotel rooms are arranged around the perimeter of the complex, which also features a casino on the ground floor, a Cirque du Soleil attraction and a large variety of food court and retail usage, including a 600 sq m Manchester United Megastore (designed by Head in Hong Kong), which serves as an entry point to the Manchester United Experience.
The Manchester United Experience: Walk-through
Entrance / Mezzanine Drum
Visitors pay to enter the attraction in the Manchester United Megastore situated directly below. They begin to get a sense of what lies ahead via a cylindrical ‘drum’ stairwell with a mezzanine mid-point waiting area, surrounded by 8 screens showing high-contrast, slowed-down 360° footage of the current Manchester United team. The screen display is clearly visible and audible (with an audio track of fan songs) from the shop, attracting the attention of shoppers and enticing them towards the entrance area. Having paid, there is then a full revolution and a half of stairway to build anticipation before visitors come through the door into the main space and arrive in the first main area: The Club.
Each visitor enters the experience equipped with a named and personalised visitor card (akin to a credit card), which will allow information to be stored on it and for interactives to recognise the user, awarding points or congratulating the user for high scores on some of the games to come – as well as setting skill levels that are appropriate to the user’s age group.
The aim of the first major space is to instill a sense of wonder at the incredible history of this iconic team, first founded in 1878 and now ranking as the world’s richest and most valuable club (recently valued at £1.8bn). Taking inspiration from Old Trafford’s Eastern Stand facade, the first display takes the form of a curved wall of screens showing looping footage of some of the club’s biggest stories, such as Sir Matt Busby and ‘The Busby Babes’ and their tragedy and triumph at Munich and beyond – and, more recently, ‘Winning the Treble’ in 1999 and ‘The Double’ in 2008.
In front of the screens are a number of classic artefact displays in glass boxes including, for example, signed football boots from both Bobby Charlton and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as a glass model of Old Trafford. The bespoke model, commissioned for the scheme by MET Studio, allows visitors to highlight areas and run footage of everywhere from the reception to the changing rooms, physio rooms and boot room as they navigate their way around the ground, with images of the chosen space projected directly onto the wall behind. A further digital exhibit takes the form of a 2D digital book, which visitors can leaf through via a touch screen, giving a much more in-depth chronological history of the club via hand-written notes and old photos, which interact with the object and media wall.
The highly-popular Training Area (the largest area in the space) is all about what it takes to be a Manchester United player. Created as an open ‘field’ with artificial grass, it features five individual interactive mini-games. Players register their details on a touch-screen and an age-appropriate game level is selected for them to try out exactly what’s needed to train like a pro and to find out how skilful they are compared to their friends and fellow-visitors. To keep visitor flow moving, players can only use each game once and for a limited time. All five games, focusing on differing skills / challenges and set up with real footballs and sequential lighting pads, are linked to a giant scoreboard, the room’s focal point, so that top scorers’ names flash up on the ‘wall of fame’ board, whilst their efforts are recorded on cameras set within each of the five games – Awareness / Dribbling / On the Turn / Shoot / Goalkeeping – so that they can watch their performance afterwards. Some of the walls also feature clear Holo-pro screens, showing past and present Man Utd heroes performing the same challenges as the visitor players.
The space is edged by a giant mural of the real team at their training ground (in a slightly abstracted version of the real ground), created by a local artist to a brief by MET Studio. Display screens show the players in training, with in-depth looks at tactics and set pieces, as well as the general fitness regime all players are part of. A final exhibit is the fan wall, where visitors get to see the vastness and diversity of the Manchester United global fan base, becoming part of the club family themselves via two further touch screens.
In one of the smaller spaces in the experience, visitors come face to face with Sir Alex Ferguson – The Manager – and get an insight into what makes a great manager and what the manager expects from his players.
The space itself is based on what the players’ changing rooms really look like, complete with original wood panelling, benches and real team shirts against the walls signed by the current team. Touch screens allow you to find out more about any particular player – including being able to browse through a digital version of Wayne Rooney’s kitbag, getting to know another side to players, such as their hobbies or iPod music lists.
A large screen then shows Sir Alex Ferguson, using Pepper’s Ghost hologram technology (where real film is projected onto glass at 45 degrees and projected into a disconnected space and then merged). Sir Alex then speaks about what it takes to be a player for Manchester United and, whilst speaking, is interrupted three times by three different players, who talk to him as though all is happening in real time.
The ‘Build Up’ space is a multi-faceted environment, centering on how it feels on match day to be going to Old Trafford, capturing the anticipatory atmosphere in sight, sound and even smell. A giant mural shows the outside of the stadium, complete with approaching fans, hot dog / burger and programme sellers, with an audio track of real sound recorded at the stadium, including snippets of real fans’ conversations. A vending machine next to the scarf seller lets people buy badges in real time, whilst a Manchester Post seller shows you what the paper is saying in a 3D display.
Screens all around show the global media build-up to a major game, with major-name pundit commentary, whilst replaying highlights from some of the greatest games in Manchester United’s history on a large multimedia wall. A ‘Match the Manager’ area shows you what it takes to be the best manager in the world, running footage and then allowing visitors to make managerial choices, compared afterwards to the actual decision Sir Alex Ferguson had made at that moment.
A final area displays full-size replica trophies and allows visitors to pose for photos on a green-screen background with a choice of images (eg Old Trafford or the Manchester United team) in the ‘Lifting the Cup’ area.
The tunnel replicates the Old Trafford tunnel in a stylised reconstruction just before a game, with footage of the actual team shot on a very high-resolution camera, then projected onto the tunnel wall as if waiting for a game at full size, right next to you, building a further sense of anticipation. The players are seen stretching, eyeing up the opposition – in this case, you, the visitor.
As you progress down the tunnel, the noise of the ground mounts to a crescendo. Eventually the doors at the end of the tunnel open and visitors walk through into the experience grand finale alongside the players themselves.
The experience ends with a space that takes you as close to the feel of a live game as possible: ‘The Match’.
As you walk in, a 7m x 3m, 360°, high-definition screen shows the Old Trafford crowd as if you have just walked live onto the pitch at the Theatre of Dreams, combined with the sound of a deafening roar from the crowd. The impression is backed up by multi-sensory devices, including a blast of cold air and the smell of freshly-cut grass, creating a 4D experience. Then all goes silent and the screens go black before launching into a 4-screen, 4-minute version of a classic game, when Manchester United beat rivals Liverpool three goals to nil. The film, directed by award-winning London Olympics director Daryl Goodrich, shows four angles on the same events, with score and commentary integrated into the graphically-treated film, which builds to a massive crescendo. The high-impact footage will allow you almost to feel every tackle and to experience a real impression of the tension that the players actually feel whilst on the pitch.
This final area lets visitors down gently after the Match experience. Passing a photomontage capturing the victory, images of the visitors taken in the build-up area are shown alongside, prompting visitors to collect their own framed photographs from the sales point in the Megastore below. The floor then ramps up with a final look over the ‘Training Zone’, whilst the ‘Share the Success’ wall focuses on the unsung heroes of the club, the groundsmen, exhibiting a genuine antique lawnmower once used to trim the Old Trafford turf.Location: Venetian Macao Resort Hotel, Grand Canal Shoppes, Macau, P.R. China Architect: MET Studio
Project lead: Lloyd Hicks
3d design: Peter Karn
3d design: Jodie Mansell
3d design: Ricardo Mariotti
2d design: Chad Trutt
Lead 2d, AV art direction: Alexander McCuaig
AV Hardware: Sysco
Centre Screen: Film Exhibits
Main Film: North One Television
Director: Daryl Goodrich
Producer: Helen Barrett
Designers: Louisa Fitch and Allen Donhauser
Interactives: Kiss the frog