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Before the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, the area between downtown Atlanta’s major hotels and the Georgia World Congress Center was a blighted wasteland of empty warehouses with broken windows that convention-goers felt nervous traversing.
A decade later, the $57 million Centennial Olympic Park provides not just an aesthetically pleasing and safe urban corridor but is a vibrant hub of concerts and family activities ringed by hotels, restaurants, theaters, loft residences and the city’s most highly anticipated new attractions, the $200 million Georgia Aquarium and a new, grander World of Coca-Cola set to open in 2007.
Some people have said the Olympics did not jump-start Atlanta as a tourist destination as the Games did for Barcelona, Spain, but city hospitality industry leaders say it’s just taken time to reap the benefits from the new infrastructure created, the relationships forged and the confidence to rebrand a Southern city into an international hub.
Indeed, the Olympics’ long-term impact on Atlanta can be felt right now, 10 years later, more than ever, said Spurgeon Richardson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“The Olympics were the spark that provided all of this unprecedented growth in this city,” he said. “I really believe that the next three to five years will be the greatest in Atlanta in terms of numbers of visitors coming.”
The Games’ first direct benefit to Atlanta’s hospitality industry was in awareness, Richardson said. Two million people from around the world visited Atlanta during the Olympics, while an additional 3.5 billion viewed the Summer Games and concurrent coverage on the city on television.
“All of a sudden, people knew Atlanta,” Richardson said.
That visibility helped in keeping the now “international city” on top of its already flourishing event and convention business, another prime generator of travel and hospitality dollars, said Cindy Fowler, CEO and founder of Presenting Atlanta, who served on the bid committee to bring the Olympics to Atlanta.
“The mere fact that we held, attendancewise, the largest of any Olympics meant that there was no fear that we couldn’t handle the size of any meeting,” she said.
That extra boost also can be clearly linked to Atlanta’s hosting of two Super Bowls, the 2002 NCAA Final Four and other large sporting events, said R. Mark Woodworth, executive vice president of PFK Consulting Inc.
“Was there a quantum leap in the level of tourism in Atlanta? The answer is clearly ‘No,’” he said. “On the other hand, have more people come and visited Atlanta since the Olympics? The answer is clearly ‘Yes.’”
More than $2 billion of construction and capital improvements completed between 1990 and 1996 also helped the city pass the acid test of large event organizers, said Gary Stokan, president of the Atlanta Sports Council.
That new building flurry included Turner Field (built as Centennial Olympic Stadium), the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, 6,000 hotel rooms added in 1995-96, the renovation of the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum and airport, hotel, highway and streetscape improvements.
“Without the facilities of Turner Field, we would not have won the bid for the 2000 Major League Baseball All-Star Game,” Stokan said.
This story was originally published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, an affiliated publication.
The echo of hockey pucks thumping off the boards at Cincinnati Gardens isn’t heard nearly as often as it used to be.
But that doesn’t mean the Gardens is totally asleep.
Tucked into the bowels of the old arena, the offices of the Cincinnati RailRaiders were buzzing on a recent afternoon. A few fans were buying RailRaiders items from the gift shop. Others put money down for a deposit on season tickets they hope will come to fruition.
That’s the big issue these days for workers at Cincinnati’s latest pro hockey franchise. They’re trying to get season-ticket deposits for a team they don’t yet have. And the clock is ticking.
The owners of the American Hockey League franchise formerly known as the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks lost their team last year when a game of musical chairs involving NHL affiliates in the AHL left Cincinnati out of the mix.
But the owners kept possession of the franchise, even though it’s been idle this season.
Now, RailRaiders CEO Pete Robinson and his staff are racing to sell 2,000 deposits for 2006-07 season tickets in an effort to show the league and prospective NHL affiliates that Cincinnati is still a strong hockey market.
The team is more than one-third of the way there in selling refundable deposits, Robinson said, but he figures his group has about two months to generate the rest.
“Typically, by March, NHL clubs want to know where they’re going to be next year,” Robinson said.
He added that without the fans’ commitment, a franchise sale is likely.
“If it’s not done, the franchise will be sold,” Robinson said. “We don’t talk about it internally, but the league doesn’t like to have franchises sit inactive for more than a year.”
Robinson has invested plenty of money in the effort. He and his family own the franchise and the Cincinnati Gardens. They’re building a new premium-seating section and an entertainment area known as the Party Zone.
Meanwhile, the lack of a pro hockey tenant is hurting the Gardens.
The ice sheets in the arena and in the adjoining skating center both get used seven days a week by high school, youth and community leagues, Robinson said. The arena also has booked a handful of concerts, a rodeo and a circus.
“But taking out 40 to 50 hockey games a year has a big impact,” said Don Helbig, the RailRaiders’ vice president of communications and broadcasting.
Other AHL owners are pulling for Robinson and the RailRaiders.
“This league has benefited from having them involved,” said Mike Lehr, president of the AHL’s Cleveland Barons.
Lehr pointed to Robinson’s commitment to put up his own money and to keep eight employees on staff.
He figures the RailRaiders stand a good chance if the push for season-ticket deposits works.
“It’s all up to the folks down there,” he said.
Steve Watkins writes for the Cincinnati Business Courier, an affiliated publication.
In the seven-plus months since Jon Robinson first alerted his readers about the development of a college baseball video game, he has received dozens of e-mails about it.
EA has priced the game at $29.99 to
encourage people to try it out.
Fans, players, alumni and others have asked Robinson, who writes for IGN Entertainment, a leading gamers’ source, about the industry’s first foray into the sport.
“We get more e-mails about this than any other sport,” said Robinson, editor of IGN Sports. “People are really curious about this title.”
Electronic Arts is banking on that curiosity. With the release of MVP 06 NCAA Baseball next week, the Redwood City, Calif., company is introducing several features to sports video games — many of which were expensive and time-consuming to develop.
That EA chose a college baseball game to launch these features, including a highly touted ESPN Integration package that is part of an exclusive deal with the sports network, is a gamble.
“The guys at EA are making a bet,” said Geoff Reiss, ESPN’s senior vice president for consumer products, “that baseball gamers are going to be really entertained” by the game.
EA makes several sports video games, including the top-selling Madden NFL series, but the company recently lost the rights to Major League Baseball. In response, EA produced the first college baseball game, said EA Sports publicist Jen Riley.
The game will be available in stores for $29.99 on Jan. 18, two months before the rollout of 2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K6.
EA set the retail price low “to get people to give this a try,” Riley said. “That is not at all reflective of it not being a premium product. MVP still is the best baseball game on the market — college or not.”
EA may have had other motives in releasing NCAA Baseball this early, a move that surprised industry insiders, Robinson said. “EA was really pissed off when they lost the MLB license,” he said. “This is their way to get back at everybody.”
But price and timing will only sell so many copies. EA also has incorporated new features into NCAA Baseball to enhance gameplay from its old MVP pro baseball series, such as interactive load and fire batting and precision throw control, customized stadiums and an exclusive deal with Victory Records, a leading independent label that will provide alternative-themed music.
The game’s top new draw, experts said, is ESPN Integration. It will be the first game to feature this package, which includes a live ESPN ticker, ESPN Radio updates and a portal to read ESPN.com reports. (Two other upcoming EA games, Fight Night Round 3 and NFL Head Coach, will also have ESPN Integration, as part of a 15-year deal signed recently by ESPN and EA, former video game rivals).
“This is revolutionary in the world of sports gaming,” Riley said. “We really wanted to bring a new kind of experience to video gamers,” Reiss said. “The next big idea in video games is online network play. We really want to take advantage of that.”
Including ESPN Integration should enhance sales for NCAA Baseball, Riley and Reiss said. “We’re talking about a title that would have had a more challenging time generating this amount of interest,” Reiss said, “if yesterday’s approach had been taken to it.”
Riley and Reiss declined to predict sales figures for NCAA Baseball. Robinson thinks it should sell 300,000 to 500,000 copies combined for the Xbox and PlayStation 2.
It is not available for the new Xbox 360. EA has developed only five titles for that console, going with traditionally popular games. That does not reflect a lack of confidence in NCAA Baseball, Riley said.
Tom Rogan had never heard of the Professional Bull Riders before he saw a newspaper article about how hard Dr. Tandy Freeman, the PBR’s chief physician, has to work every week to keep the riders healthy enough to ride. That story sparked an idea, though, and late in 2004 Authentic Entertainment, a Los Angeles production company that Rogan co-founded in 2000, began planning a show called “Dr. Rodeo.”
“Beyond the Bull” follows riders
Brendon Clark (left), Adriano Moraes and J.W. Hart.
Happily for Rogan, Pro Bull Riders CEO Randy Bernard was already looking for a way to get his sport into reality TV. One phone call was all it took to get the access that Authentic Entertainment needed.
The idea has changed a bit since then. Rogan and Lauren Lexton, his co-founder and partner in Authentic Entertainment, decided early on that focusing solely on the doctor wouldn’t provide enough dramatic energy to carry a show.
Instead, “Beyond the Bull,” a series of 10 weekly hourlong episodes that debuts Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET on cable network TLC, features three of the PBR’s top riders, with strong supporting roles played by Freeman and the riders’ significant others.
Fresh from a meeting last week with the architects of the PBR’s new headquarters, which will open a little more than a year from now when the company moves its offices from Colorado Springs to Pueblo, Colo., Bernard said he could tell that the new series was getting the attention of people who were not already fans of the sport. PBR television programming has heretofore consisted almost entirely of event coverage carried mostly on OLN, with a few dates on NBC. Having a show on Discovery Communications’ TLC network means to Bernard exposure to a new demographic. “Our architects might not have ever watched OLN,” he said, “but they had all heard about our show coming up on TLC.”
Rogan, whose company has produced hundreds of hours of programming for networks as varied as Travel Channel, Bravo and Comedy Central, said TLC’s viewers could be broadly described as being in their early 30s, with slightly more women than men. “The general audience that watches TLC probably wouldn’t watch a bull-riding event,” he said, “but if you get them involved in the sport through good stories, they’re more likely to continue to follow it.”
The riders at the center of the show were selected after a production crew interviewed most of the 40 or so men who compete in the PBR’s top-level Built Ford Tough Series. Bernard said every viewer can find something to love in at least one of the three. Brazilian veteran Adriano Moraes, who is also a PBR board member, is a “super diva, two-time world champion, very Christian,” Bernard said. Rider J.W. Hart, Bernard said, is a “complete Southern, country-boy redneck, full of piss and vinegar and hell,” while Australian Brendon Clark is a “cocky wildman” who could probably star in some other extreme sport if he wasn’t already a pro bull rider.
TLC has placed “Beyond the Bull” on its best night, Rogan said, leading into one of its most popular shows, “Miami Ink,” a reality series based in a South Beach tattoo parlor that airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. If “Beyond the Bull” is successful, Authentic Entertainment will start work on season two. The company’s contract with the PBR, ratings permitting, runs for two more seasons.
Publishing Date Jan. 30 Closing Date Jan. 17
Super Bowl XL
With the Super Bowl moving into the Motor City, we will look at tactics the NFL will use to pull in an even larger audience and specific demographics the league is targeting. What steps will the league take to generate even more buzz and to distinguish this year¹s event from previous years? We’ll also look at how sponsors plan to maximize their exposure in Detroit and at the stadium
Publishing Date Feb. 6 Closing Date Jan. 23
The Torino Games
As the Winter Olympics kick off in Turin, Italy, SportsBusiness Journal will look at how sponsors are leveraging their relationship with the event. See how sponsors are trying to stand out above the clutter and reach consumers with a message they hope will last well after the Games have come to a close.
Publishing Date Feb. 13 Closing Date Jan. 30
NASCAR Season Preview
Before the green flag waves at Daytona, we’ll examine how NASCAR plans to market the sport and keep the recent momentum going. We’ll also look at the tactics media and sponsor partners will employ to build on their relationship with NASCAR and generate solid returns. Will we see TV partners incorporate new technologies to bring viewers closer to the sport? Which sponsors plan the most aggressive start to the new season.
Publishing Date Feb. 20 Closing Date Feb. 6
The Demographics: How 12-17-year-olds playing
This is the first of a three-part series studying the demographic trends of sports fans,
This part of this special series will go inside the mind of 12-17-year-olds, a much sought-after demographic. SportsBusiness Journal will study the behavioral pattern of 12-17-year olds and, specifically, how they connect to sports. What are they watching, what are they playing and how do they develop affinities with specific sports? They’re a tough demographic to reach, but the rewards are big for those who can stay on their radar.
Publishing Date Feb. 27 Closing Date Feb. 13
The Niche Sports
The first of a three-part series focusing on key sports not considered to be among the major sports in the U.S.
As part of a yearlong editorial project, SportsBusiness Journal highlights niche sports that have managed to build solid positions for themselves in the shadow of major sports properties. Which sports have had the most success attracting sponsors and fans, and how have they overcome typical challenges such as limited media exposure? Which sports are best positioned to gain mainstream acceptance? From bass fishing to lacrosse, indoor soccer to professional rodeo.
The NFL is opening an office in Frankfurt, Germany, this year as part of its plan to fortify NFL Europe. The international office is the first in five years opened by America’s top sports league and the fifth overall.
|German cities are home to five of the six
NFL Europe teams, including Berlin (in black).
The league late last year promoted Seth Rabinowitz to take charge of the new German operation, and he will move there shortly after the Super Bowl. Rabinowitz works in New York in the league’s corporate development group.
“Most of our Europe league business is in Germany, and to service that business out of [our] London [office] requires getting on a lot of airplanes,” Rabinowitz said. “This will integrate us better into the German sporting community, the German landscape. It will give us a better feel for the market.”
Part of the NFL Europe five-year business plan that league owners approved last year was to seek local operators for the six teams, five of which are in Germany. That will be one of Rabinowitz’s first tasks, though he declined to comment on how much an operating right would fetch.
Because NFL Europe is now so centered in the German market, this year will present unique challenges with the World Cup in that country. The NFL Europe season starts two weeks earlier than usual to avoid overlap with the early Cup rounds in June. That means NFL Europe training camps in Florida commence the day after the Super Bowl.
Rabinowitz is not concerned about competition from the Cup. The league’s research shows soccer fans in Germany are primarily older, while football’s fans are younger, he said.
|NFL International Office Openings|
|*The office that opened in 1996 was in partnership with a Dentsu subsidiary; a stand-alone office was opened in 2001. Source: NFL|
The league has lost money for years. It initially was launched in 1991 as a way to export the NFL brand, but the NFL now justifies its overseas offshoot as a player-development tool. Rabinowitz said the league does not expect to make money.
Rabinowitz, 38, will report to Jim Connelly, managing director of the Europe league. Rabinowitz will be replaced within the NFL’s corporate development group.
Initially, Rabinowitz will work out of temporary office space in Frankfurt borrowed from a league partner. He expects, however, to secure permanent quarters for the league and the handful of employees the office will hire.
Rabinowitz does not speak German but said he will try to learn. Most German business leaders speak English, he said. And socially, his wife speaks a little German, and he added jokingly that his two young children can learn it quickly, so they can translate for him.
For all the excitement generated by a resurgent Penn State football team this season, the Penn State women’s basketball program has been making its own news of late. It’s the kind of news that a university with a proud sports tradition would gladly do without.
Last month, Jennifer Harris, a former starter on the Lady Lions’ basketball team, sued Penn State as well as the university’s women’s basketball coach, Rene Portland, and Penn State athletic director Tim Curley in federal court.
Harris, who was kicked off the basketball team by Portland last spring, alleges that during her two school years at Penn State she was hounded by the coach over whether she was a lesbian.
In the complaint, filed Dec. 21 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Harris makes numerous claims about what the coach did to learn more about her sexual orientation and ultimately how she was forced from the team because the coach believed she was a lesbian. (Harris has since transferred to James Madison University.)
“Coach Portland is not unique,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and one of Harris’ attorneys. “There are other coaches with similar attitudes. But she stands out because she is so open about her gay biases.”
The lawsuit, which asserts 20 federal and state claims, alleges sex, race and gender discrimination, breach of contract in withdrawing Harris’s athletic scholarship and defamation for comments that Portland made publicly about Harris after she left the team.
The core of Harris’ lawsuit is her contention that Portland became obsessed with her sexual orientation, and that the coach launched a campaign to remove her from the team once she became convinced that the player is a lesbian. (Harris is not gay, according to Minter.)
Among Harris’ claims in the lawsuit:
During her freshman season, Portland called Harris and a teammate into a meeting and “demanded to know whether they were dating each other.” The players denied it.
In December 2004, the start of Harris’ sophomore season, Portland told the player that she should dress in more “feminine” clothes. When Harris resisted, Portland accused the player of “personally disrespecting her by not changing her image.”
During the 2004-05 season, Portland “repeatedly questioned [Harris’] teammates and others about Jennifer’s sexual orientation, asking them whom Jennifer was dating, whether girls stayed over at her apartment, and whether they had seen her kissing girls.”
In February, the lawsuit states, Portland demoted Harris from her starting position. Afterward, Portland pressured Harris to take a leave of absence from the team. When Harris asked why, Portland allegedly said that Harris had disrespected her for not adopting a more feminine image.
School spokesman Tysen Kendig offered responded to the lawsuit late last month in a campus newspaper, saying, “They are allegations at this point. I think it’s important to keep that in mind.”
During her 26 years at Penn State, Portland has been drawn into controversy about sexual orientation before. In 1986, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Portland didn’t want lesbians on her team.
The university established a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in December 1991, according to the lawsuit.
When Harris went public with her claims, the university launched an internal investigation to see if the anti-discrimination policy had been violated. The investigation continues, Mahon said.
As for Portland, Mahon noted, “The coach says she has not violated our policy and that she supports it.”
Mark Hyman (email@example.com) is a lawyer and writer.
Court case of MLB Angels v. City of Anaheim scheduled to begin (stadium lease dispute)
ATP Sydney International begins
Location: Sydney, Australia
ATP Heineken Open begins
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
WTA Tour Medibank International begins
Location: Sydney, Australia
WTA Tour Moorilla Hobart International begins
Location: Hobart, Australia
WTA Tour Richard Luton Properties Canberra International begins
Location: Canberra, Australia
IAAM International Stadium Management Conference begins
Bob Whelan College Football Awards Banquet
Location: Burlington, Mass.
PGA Tour Sony Open in Hawaii begins
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
TV: ESPN, ESPN2
Movie opening: “Glory Road” (story of Texas Western winning the 1966 NCAA basketball tournament title over Kentucky)
NFL Divisional Playoffs Weekend begins
MLB salary arbitration filing period ends
Events are subject to change. Information about upcoming events can be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or via fax to (704) 973-1401, attn: Ryan Baucom.
Toyota is leveraging its unique position of being the first NBA partner to also hold naming rights to the league’s All-Star Game host arena.
|Toyota already has a vehicle display in
Houston’s Toyota Center called the Tundra Zone.
The company, in the first full year of its NBA sponsorship, is planning to use February’s all-star week in Houston as the launching pad for a host of offerings, including the rollout of a national sweepstakes, the introduction of new car lines, and a sponsorship of the all-star practice sessions — marking the first time the league has given title sponsorship to the practices (see chart).
The All-Star Game is scheduled for Feb. 19 at the Toyota Center.
“Not only is the All-Star Game at the Toyota Center, but we are a corporate partner as well, and that’s an unusual combination,” said Doug Frisbie, events and promotions manager for Toyota. “The overall goal is to connect our brand to the NBA and to get consumers to interact with our products.”
A league official confirmed that Toyota is the first league sponsor to also hold naming rights to an All-Star Game arena in the same season. In addition to the on-site presence, Toyota will have an ad presence on TNT’s all-star coverage throughout the week.
Last spring, the company signed as an NBA sponsor and began activation around the NBA Finals as well as sponsoring the NBA’s Rhythm ’n’ Rims music/basketball tour. Toyota is also a team sponsor for 14 of the league’s 30 clubs.
Other Toyota sports sponsorships include deals with USA Swimming and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Formula One teams.
|Toyota's NBA All-Star Plans|
Sponsorship of the game’s practice sessions.
The company’s NBA spending in Houston will extend to the Jam Session fan-interactive event, which will run Feb. 16-19.
“It will be significant,” Frisbie said of the total spending plans, declining to share specifics.
Local Toyota dealers will not have any promotional involvement, but will be included in hospitality considerations around the All-Star events, Frisbie said.
The additional exposure for the company will be on top of a vehicle display it already has inside Toyota Center called the Tundra Zone.
The planned national sweepstakes, which is yet to be named, will let fans vote on their favorite NBA plays weekly via a Web site. One winner will be selected from that pool of voters each week, with that person receiving a choice of three experiences as a prize.
“The details are being worked out, but the winners can spend time with an NBA player, an NBA-related fashion designer or record producer,” Frisbie said. “We are trying to broaden our brand not only to the NBA as a sport, but also with its music and fashion lifestyle.”
This month’s annual industry show of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association will be the 21st and last Super Show. After years of flagging attendance, followed by the withdrawal of some of the top athletic brands and sports properties, the SGMA will opt to go with two smaller shows in 2007: the SGMA Spring Market, slated for June in Las Vegas, and the SGMA Fall Market, scheduled for October on the East Coast.
For years, retailers, brands and licensees have said the Super Show’s January event did not fit with their buying patterns, and the recent consolidation of sporting goods retailers and manufacturers made the need for the Super Show less important.
“With so much consolidation, the question with all these [trade shows] was whether you could justify the expense, which is considerable,” said Susan Rothman, vice president of consumer products at the NFL, which has not had a booth at the Super Show for several years.
“Sports are seasonal by their nature and you just couldn’t find a date that satisfied everyone’s need,” said Phoenix Footwear Group CEO Rick White, a longtime exhibitor and attendee at the show when he was in senior management at MLB Properties, Nike and trade show company Reed Exhibitions. “Companies are under pressure now to show ROI for everything, including trade shows where they used to spend millions just to have a presence in front of the industry.”
From a macro perspective, the question is whether omnibus trade shows have outlived their usefulness. In the world of sporting goods, niche shows have become more important. K2, with its vast collection of sporting-goods brands, including Rawlings, Worth and Shakespeare, would seem a natural for a larger show like the Super Show. But K2 president of licensing and promotions Scott Dickey, who has been attending the Super Show since 1990 while in various positions with the NBA and Spalding, said, “With fewer retailers, if you need to do a trade show, it’s got to be one that’s really focused. For us, the targeted shows like Action Sports Retailer, the Outdoor Show or the Ski Industry Association shows all work, because they are so targeted.”
The two new SGMA shows are designed with the industry’s changes in mind. The June show will feature products for holiday sales, while the fall show will highlight goods scheduled for spring delivery. The shows also will be targeted at small and midsized companies, and the Super Show name is being dropped.
“We need to send a message that we are going in a different direction to be responsive to changing dynamics within the industry,” said SGMA president and CEO Tom Cove. “The Super Show didn’t evolve with the industry, so we’re letting it run its course.”