Minnesota alcohol ban could make suite renewals tougher

The decision to prohibit alcohol sales at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium could affect Gopher Sports Properties’ ability to renew suites for basketball and hockey.

The firm, part of Learfield Sports, holds the rights to sell 19 “barnlofts” at Williams Arena, where the school’s basketball teams play, and 18 suites at Mariucci Arena, the hockey facility.

The companies and individuals paying to sit in those premium spaces had been able to drink beer and wine, but the policy changed after the school’s board of regents voted in June to make the stadium and arenas alcohol-free on game days.

That decision followed passage of a new state law requiring the university to sell alcohol in all areas of the facilities or not at all. The stadium and arenas are all on campus.

Officials estimate the rule will cost the school about $1 million in yearly revenue among the three venues, said Joel Maturi, Minnesota’s athletic director.

Gopher Sports Properties is working to renew about 12 suites, one-third of the inventory at both arenas. Skyboxes cost $40,000 to $49,000 a year at Williams and $52,000 to $57,500 annually at Mariucci.

The suites at Minnesota hockey games
will be dry for the first time this season.

The full effect of the rule change won’t be known until later this fall, said Greg Gerlach, Gopher Sports Properties’ general manager, but Gerlach said he has heard from a few suite holders who could walk away because of the no-alcohol policy.

“People are upset,” he said.

For football, two suite holders pulled out of their long-term contracts after the athletic department offered them a 10 percent discount to keep their commitments, Maturi said. The same offer is good for hockey and basketball.

Should those basketball and hockey suite holders decline to renew their deals, the athletic department will adjust the terms of its deal with Gopher Sports Properties to reduce the annual guarantee the firm pays to athletics. This year’s guarantee is $6.2 million.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Maturi said.

In 2008, Gopher Sports signed a 15-year, $112 million contract extension for media, advertising and suite sales rights. Learfield has held those rights since 2003.

 THE COWBOY WAY: Cowboys Stadium’s giant center-hung video board has garnered plenty of attention in Arlington, Texas, but some smaller screens will generate income even when the Cowboys aren’t playing in their new digs.

Eight portable Daktronics screens, which the Cowboys bought to use in plazas outside the stadium, will be rented out to other events through a revenue-sharing deal the team signed with GoVision, a Texas-based firm.

On non-game days, GoVision will transport those high-def screens to use at events in other markets, including the 2010 NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis, said Chris Curtis, the firm’s owner. He has promised the Cowboys a 15 percent annual return on the team’s investment in the boards through renting them to 10 to 15 events annually.

The company struck a similar deal with Texas Christian University in Fort Worth in late 2008. The school’s football stadium video board generated $130,000 for the athletic department from 20 rentals this year, including PGA Tour and NASCAR events, falling in line with GoVision’s projections.

The Cowboys were still programming their content for the boards last week, but early plans called for showing live concert feeds and the team’s pregame show for all home games. It’s part of the team’s effort to entertain fans buying standing-room-only tickets with access inside and outside the stadium, said Charlotte Jones Anderson, the Cowboys’ executive vice president of brand management.

 PEPSI, PLEASE: The Minnesota Twins have awarded Pepsi pouring rights at Target Field, their new ballpark opening in April.

The Twins have not officially announced the deal, but the soda maker’s dispensers were visible during a recent hard-hat tour of the $412 million downtown facility. The team has had a long-term promotional relationship with Pepsi at the Metrodome, a building that serves Coca-Cola products.

The contract is for seven years, according to an industry source. Financial terms were not available.

Pepsi now has its taps operating at 17 of MLB’s 30 parks, according to SportsBusiness Journal research.

Don Muret can be reached at

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