SBJ/August 29 - September 4, 2005/Facilities

Nets dump comp seats for hot suites

The New Jersey Nets have converted seats they sometimes gave away into premium areas that will generate $1.5 million for the team over the next three NBA seasons.

The Nets have sold two newly created 14-seat courtside suites at Continental Airlines Arena for $250,000 a season, said Brett Yormark, the team’s president and CEO. The three-year contracts expire in 2008, the same year the club hopes to move to its new Brooklyn, N.Y., arena.

The Nets recently assumed control of their existing arena’s sales and marketing program from the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority and are treating the 24-year-old building as a “lab experiment” to test new seating products they’ll consider using in their new facility, Yormark said.

The event-level suites will be next to the tunnels where the players come onto the court, replacing seats that were difficult to sell and sometimes used as complimentary tickets.

“We’re taking seats that individually were not that interesting and creating a community experience,” said Michael Hallmark, the sports facility architect who designed the suites.

The portable units can be assembled in 20 minutes, Hallmark said. They will be replaced with regular seats for games of the New Jersey Devils, the Nets’ co-tenant in the East Rutherford, N.J., building, Yormark said.

Each suite has flat-screen television monitors set up on counters that are wired into the Nets’ in-house operations system to provide “game statistics as they occur,” Hallmark said.

There’s also a branding component. The two companies that bought the suites will have temporary signs with their respective logos installed around their boxes during Nets games that will be camera visible.

“We packaged the suites with branding and signage and an identity that’s completely visible to the bowl and the cameras,” Hallmark said. “That’s a brand-new twist.”

In another twist, the Nets are creating seat-cover signs for five companies that are “sponsoring” about 2,500 additional premium seats in the lower bowl, Yormark said. Those logos are on the fronts and backs of the chairs. The Nets will collect revenue in the seven figures for those seats, he said.

The team was expected to disclose the names of the firms that bought the courtside suites and that will sponsor the other seat “neighborhoods” this week, Yormark said.

One of the keys to selling the less desirable space in the two corners was providing those courtside suite patrons with access to the Nissan Courtside Club, according to Hallmark, whom the Nets hired to work with designer Frank Gehry to plan the Brooklyn building.

The Nissan club provides free hot dogs, pretzels, peanuts, beer and soda before, during and after Nets games, Yormark said. Courtside suite holders pay for food to be delivered to their seats.

“Those seats weren’t perceived to be in the best possible location, but in our mind, it was terrific territory,”Hallmark said. “You’re right by the players as they come out of the tunnels. The incentive is the club itself, and you’re a few feet away from everybody sitting on the court.”

The concept sounds new to Steve Zito, vice president of arena operations at FedEx Forum in Memphis, the 1-year-old home of the NBA Grizzlies.

“I haven’t heard about it,” Zito said.

The courtside suite setup is similar to the open-air club boxes at FedEx Forum and ledge boxes at SBC Center in San Antonio, where Zito was previously general manager. Those premium areas also feature high-end chairs, counter space, TV monitors and access to an exclusive restaurant/lounge. Those spaces are midlevel in the arenas, however, and carry lower price tags.

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Basketball, Brooklyn Nets

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