SBJ/February 27 - March 5, 2006/SBJ In Depth

Arenas use easy switch between hockey and indoor lacrosse to boost concession revenue

The similarities between indoor lacrosse and hockey allow sports arenas to capture significant concession revenue without having to worry about operational expenses cutting deep into their food and beverage profits.

The Arizona Sting is one of five NLL
teams owned by NHL franchises.
The 11 National Lacrosse League teams play in hockey facilities. Because the two sports share the same event configuration, the time it takes for workers to lay down a protective surface over the ice floor and install artificial turf for lacrosse is minimal compared to switching from hockey to basketball.

Quick changeovers reduce labor costs, and several arenas often schedule same-day hockey-lacrosse doubleheaders, freeing up more prime dates for hockey, said Jim Jennings, NLL commissioner. Indoor lacrosse teams play eight regular-season home games, compared to 40-plus for hockey.

“There’s a huge savings in man-hours,” Jennings said. “I know; I used to be in minor league basketball. The conversion from hockey to basketball takes six hours. [Changing to lacrosse] can take less than an hour to put the carpet over the ice.”

The ease in switching between the sports and the opportunity to collect solid concession revenues are key reasons why NHL franchises own and operate NLL teams in Buffalo, Denver, St. Paul, Glendale, Ariz., and San Jose.

In addition to cost savings from setting up for lacrosse events, those five franchises can save an additional $500,000 annually by utilizing the same staffs to work both teams and eliminating the need to lease office space, Jennings said.

Food and drink per caps average $6.50 to $9.50 throughout the league, he said.

“We get a lot of young adults, age 21 to 28, and going out on dates,” Jennings said. “We also get groups of guys and girls, and the younger demographic enhances beer sales.”

That’s been the case at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, home to the NLL Rock the past five years. The team attracts a younger crowd from the suburbs, compared to hockey’s old-school following, said Bob Hunter, the arena’s vice president and general manager. “We have very high beer sales … equal to if not a little bit better” than Maple Leafs games, Hunter said.

The Philadelphia Wings create a party atmosphere for lacrosse at Wachovia Center, and it pays off in Aramark’s food and beverage sales. The team’s 2006 home opener in mid-January resulted in a $13.95 per cap, said John Page, chief operating officer for Global Spectrum, the arena manager.

Global Spectrum is responsible for marketing the independently owned Wings, and the firm promotes the “Broad Street Bash” indoor tailgate party two hours before game time in one of the arena’s atriums. “Wings Flings” feature all-you-can-eat chicken wings and drink specials in the building’s Victors Club restaurant. The Wings’ first game this season drew 11,824.

Global also manages the Rose Garden in Portland, and the operator hired two people to sell the first-year Portland LumberJax, another independently owned team. The LumberJax introduced lacrosse’s indoor version to Pacific Northwest sports fans in January by scheduling a free scrimmage and offering $1 hot dogs and soft drinks, an event that attracted 11,000 people.

Portland’s first home game attracted 9,916 spectators, and 85 percent were paid attendees, said Mike Scanlon, Global Spectrum’s arena manager in Portland. The second game drew about the same number of fans, 9,613. About 2,000 “walkups” bought day-of-game tickets for each contest, Scanlon said. Ovations Food Services, Global’s sister company, reported $7 concessions per caps for each game, he said.

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