SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Facilities

NFL stadium group plans test drive with country star Chesney’s tour

The Gridiron Stadium Network, a group of 11 NFL facilities lobbying the entertainment industry for non-football events, plans to use a summertime country music festival headlined by Kenny Chesney as a test model.

Heinz Field in Pittsburgh has tentatively booked Chesney for July 30, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are assuming the financial risk to promote the concert, said Jimmy Sacco, the Steelers’ executive director of stadium management. The Washington Redskins are doing the same for Chesney to perform at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

The Steelers and Redskins are negotiating their deals with Louis Messina, Chesney’s tour producer. The veteran promoter created the George Strait Country Music Festival, a daylong event that grossed $100 million from four tours of stadiums in 1998 through 2001, according to Billboard magazine.

Chesney’s 2004 route through arenas and amphitheaters grossed about $50 million and the artist was last year’s second most popular touring act behind Prince, Billboard reported. The roster of acts to support Chesney is still being completed.

Network officials will meet March 9-10 in Houston to see Chesney perform during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at Reliant Stadium and discuss how publicly owned NFL venues managed by sports authorities or third-party firms can join the group. The issue to be resolved: who’s responsible for paying the Gridiron group’s annual fee of $25,000 for the next three years.

Ten of the 11 facilities that are members are operated by teams, and their management entities are paying the fees. The Houston Texans were able to join the network because their agreement with stadium operator SMG allows Lone Star Sports and Entertainment, a separate company affiliated with the team, to produce five events a year at Reliant Stadium. Lone Star pays the network fees, said Jamey Rootes, Texans senior vice president.

The Tampa Sports Authority, manager of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, is interested in joining the network and would have to get approval by the group’s 11-member board for “anything outside our normal budget,” said Mickey Farrell, the authority’s director of operations.

Global Spectrum, which manages the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium in Glendale, set to open in 2006, probably won’t join the network and would use its own resources to book concerts and other events, said John Page, Global’s chief operating officer.

Gillette Stadium, owned and operated by the New England Patriots, also has scheduled Chesney but isn’t part of the network, Sacco said.

NOT SO NEW: The new security guidelines that the NBA issued this month pertaining to arenas and their alcohol policies are nothing new for most of the league’s 30 facilities, building managers said.

The NBA, in response to the ugly brawl Nov. 19 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, wants its venues and concessionaires to serve beer in cups no larger than 24 ounces, maintain a two-beer-per-purchase limit, stop serving alcohol at the start of the fourth quarter and initiate designated-driver programs.

Beer vendors, here selling to a fan at the NBA All-Star Game, have been asked by the NBA to serve beer in cups no larger than 24 ounces in response to the Pistons-Pacers brawl.
Food service consultant Dan Smith worked 26 years for Centerplate, and he thinks the league should have gone further by being proactive and setting a high standard for alcohol management. The two-beer limit “just puts a guy in line one more time; they’re going to be back,” Smith said.

“The key is being able to spot someone who’s had too much to drink and not sell them that third beer,” he said. “If they really want to make a difference with security, [arena officials] should stop letting people in the buildings that are already intoxicated.

“On the other side, focus on policing yourself as a facility. Adopt a zero tolerance policy and make it clear that if you’re an employee who’s overserving somebody and we have to eject them, your employment is terminated. That’s more in tune with the issue rather than putting in guidelines that are already followed.”

Air Canada Centre in Toronto hasn’t had many problems during Raptors games because 19 of the team’s 41 home games this season are on Sundays and those dates attract more families, said Bob Hunter, executive vice president and general manager for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

“We don’t sell a lot of beer at basketball games,” he said.

The arena established a one-beer-per-buy limit six months ago for Toronto Rock lacrosse games and heavy metal concerts such as Metallica, and Hunter acknowledged the restriction has resulted in an 8 percent to 9 percent decrease in beer sales for those events.

The policy, however, “has seemed to calm the crowds down a bit,” he said. “The big ruling [against Aramark] in New Jersey has put a scare into a lot of people, and everybody is more cognizant than they would’ve been previously.”

COLLEGE ROUNDUP: HNTB, HOK Sport and Rossetti interview today to determine who will design improvements to the University of California’s Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, according to a source familiar with the project. The renovation could cost as much as $180 million, school officials have said.

Ellerbe Becket, Heery International, HOK and the team of HNTB and Seattle-based LMN Architects are the finalists to design a study of improvements to Husky Stadium at the University of Washington in Seattle, confirmed Steve Tatge, project manager in the school’s capital projects office.

The four will interview with the university’s architectural commission March 15 and a decision should be made at the end of that day, Tatge said.

The University of Michigan conducted interviews last Thursday to design what the school’s architect said would be a $165.6 million renovation of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. HNTB designed a master plan for Michigan sports facilities two years ago and was among the finalists for the job, sources said.

Ellerbe Becket, Rossetti and 360 Architecture officials confirmed they weren’t selected to interview.

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

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