SBJ/May 24 - 30, 2004/Facilities

Room, with a (partial) view: Padres pack ‘park,’ Cowboys take note

The Dallas Cowboys will be happy to hear that the “Park at the Park” concept has been a hit at Petco Park in San Diego, where the Padres created a general-admission grass berm beyond the outfield with $5 tickets and a video screen to supplement the limited views of the playing field.

Bryan Trubey, a principal and senior vice president of HKS working with the Cowboys to design their new stadium, confirmed that team owner Jerry Jones wants to have a low-dough section for 10,000 to 15,000 fans outside the planned 75,000-seat facility.

The Cowboys’ venue, which may replace the Cotton Bowl at Fair Park in Dallas, would open up at one end to allow as many fans as possible a glimpse of the NFL experience and serve as a compromise to Jones’ desire to build a 100,000-seater.

The Cowboys have had to scale down their plans to build a $1 billion complex. The Fair Park site, which city officials favor over other locations, contains buildings erected for the 1936 World’s Fair that have since been given landmark status. Those structures can’t be torn down, making the site too small for the Cowboys’ original vision of a stadium/hotel/entertainment complex.

The Padres may increase the number of tickets they sell for the popular “Park at the Park.”

On a recent Friday night in San Diego, Park at the Park was filled with families taking advantage of the cheap seats and kids playing Wiffle ball on the small diamond next to the berm. Granted, the Cubs were in town, and what appeared to be half the paid crowd of 41,398 was rooting for the visitors.

Steve Violetta, the Padres’ vice president of business affairs, said the team has 1,000 park passes available for each game, and may increase that number May 31. The Padres have sold out that section several times and average 950 passes sold through 22 dates. The team eventually could sell as many as 4,000.

“With the traffic flow and the number of concessions,” Violetta said, “we wanted to crawl before we could walk, and walk before we could run.”

FROM THE CHEAP SEATS: Panelists discussing the sports venue of the future during the recent SBJ/SBD Sports Facilities and Franchises conference in San Diego agreed that the Padres’ vision of festival seating is among the trends evolving at arenas and stadiums as teams offer alternatives to high-priced inventory such as the $275 dugout seats at Petco Park.

The idea isn’t revolutionary. What are commonly called knothole sections, inexpensive seats in the end zones and obstructed-view areas, have been part of college football for decades.

Among the low-dollar deals in the pros, the Memphis Grizzlies will continue to offer $5 day-of-game tickets in moving this fall to FedEx Forum, a novelty the team started during its three-year stay at The Pyramid. Those 500 seats are behind the baskets in the upper bowl and are the lowest priced tickets in the NBA, said Mike Golub, the Grizzlies’ senior VP of business operations.

The Minnesota Wild created demand on both ends up top at Xcel Energy Center by charging $12 a game for season tickets and $15 for single dates. It’s the toughest ticket to get in the building because “you’re right on top of the action,” arena manager Jack Larson said.

Buying a ticket for Park at the Park may not provide a premium view seat, but it doesn’t restrict access for the average Joe Fan.

The $5 pass allows those patrons to roam the ballpark, eat at the Hall of Fame Club sit-down restaurant inside the Western Metal Building that adjoins the facility and sample a different view of the game action at one of the designated standing-room areas on the concourses.

“As teams try to figure out how to make as much money as they can off of those customers looking to be on the 50-yard line or in the front row next to the dugout, no matter what the cost, they’re also trying to balance out how to make an affordable experience for the family, one that doesn’t require trading the family vacation,” said Janet Marie Smith, vice president of planning and development for the Boston Red Sox.

Fans buying tickets to Park at the Park also have the opportunity once in a while to compete with the big leaguers, something the high rollers in the corporate seats don’t get to enjoy, noted Ernie Hahn, general manager of the San Diego Sports Arena.

“The other day, [Padre] Trevor Hoffman showed up … pitching Wiffle balls to these kids hitting balls out there,” he said. “Ultimately, why people are coming out to these venues is they want to be part of the bigger experience.”

TWO VIEWS OF PHOENIX: Officials with the Phoenix Coyotes and Phoenix Suns offered different opinions during the conference when asked about their arenas competing for business in a top 15 market. Glendale Arena opened in December, joining 12-year-old America West Arena.

“Phoenix is a very large market … and there are two downtowns,” said Steve Ellman, co-owner of the Coyotes and Glendale Arena. “We believe that with the West Valley growth alone, and the growth that’s projected, we’ll survive.”

Rick Welts, president and COO of the Suns, wasn’t so optimistic about the future of the two major league indoor venues. In two years, Phoenix will also have a second retractable roof facility when the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium opens across the street from Glendale Arena.

“Yes, Phoenix is growing, but it’s going to be a challenge,” Welts said. “I think the jury’s out on whether two arenas can operate successfully. I think we probably are a little sharper than we would have been had we not had an arena opening in Glendale. We have a commitment to downtown Phoenix. We think our geographic location is the right place for an arena.”

JOB TALK: Gene Felling, former GM at Pepsi Center in Denver now looking for a job after getting the pink slip from Clear Channel Entertainment, said he had an informal discussion with Charlotte Bobcats Executive VP Barry Silberman in San Diego about the building manager’s job at the new Charlotte arena, opening in the fall of 2005. Silberman expects to select a GM by September. Felling said it would be difficult to leave Los Angeles, however, because his wife, Cathy, is based there as Ticketmaster’s executive VP for the Western region.

AEG INTERESTED IN CHARLOTTE: Anschutz Entertainment Group of Los Angeles is negotiating with the Bobcats to acquire the NBA expansion team’s merchandise contract, said a source familiar with the situation. The new arena, designed by Ellerbe Becket, will have a 3,500-square-foot team store. Silberman said the Bobcats are still working on the deal for Levy Restaurants to buy the food concession rights from the Charlotte Auditorium-Coliseum-Convention Center Authority.

FROM THE HIP: Andy Dolich, president of business operations for the Grizzlies,

Dolich
was his usual opinionated self during the conference. In a session on the ultimate gameday experience, Dolich mentioned that his team’s primary demographic in Memphis is “people that eat.” In another meeting, he embraced the futuristic technology of holograms, saying “we could finally become profitable” if those 3D images replaced the actual players on the court.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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