Bunker busters: Air Canada Centre combining suites into club

Air Canada Centre officials are adjusting the arena’s premium-seat mix in Toronto for the first time in the building’s 11-year history, expanding the list of venues repositioning their top-end inventory.

For next season, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the arena, the Maple Leafs and the Raptors, will reduce its number of event-level platinum lounges from 40 to 28, said Bob Hunter, the arena’s executive vice president and general manager.

Those spaces, commonly called bunker suites, have no views of game action but are each tied to 10 of the best seats in the house for basketball and hockey, and include tickets to all events.

This year, a few platinum lounges were not renewed for the first time since Air Canada Centre opened in February 1999, Hunter said. They range in price from $442,000 to $467,000 annually and carry multiyear commitments.

The number of platinum lounges will drop from
40 to 28.

By knocking down the walls of 12 units, Maple Leaf Sports is creating the Chairman’s Club, which will have 120 seats available.

The price point has not been set, but the revamped area will provide the flexibility for companies and individuals to buy seats at a fraction of the cost to buy a platinum lounge, Hunter said. Food and drink will be an additional fee, as was the case with the platinum lounges.

In the upper deck on the arena’s west side, Maple Leaf Sports is converting eight of 24 loge suites, priced at $79,000 to $86,000, into regular seats. The group is pitching the revamped area to one of its existing sponsors to use for its clients.

If a deal is not done, the alternative is to make those 124 seats, an increase over the current 64, available for single-game sales and create affordable ticket prices of $15 to $18 for the Raptors and $25 to $30 for the Maple Leafs, Hunter said.

The capital investment is $2.26 million for both projects.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD: There’s been considerable movement within the ranks of veteran big league facility managers the past six weeks, including changes at two of Florida’s three NFL stadiums.

The most recent departure is Pat Fitzgerald, vice president of facility operations at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Fitzgerald opened the former Gund Arena in 1994, one year after he was hired. As of March 1, he was no longer employed by the Cavs, a team spokesman confirmed.

The club is searching for Fitzgerald’s replacement, according to online job listings. The Cavs are not releasing any further information about his exit, and Fitzgerald did not respond to an e-mail for comment.

In Miami, Bruce Schulze, former president of Sun Life Stadium, is gone after the Dolphins, the facility’s owner, eliminated his position, team spokesman George Torres said. Todd Boyan, the stadium’s vice president and general manager, is now in charge. The team declined further comment.

Schulze had been with the stadium since 1992, when he was named the Florida Marlins’ director of operations and administration. Schulze rose through the ranks of facility administration to become president in October 1999.

By cutting administrative payroll, the Dolphins could be reallocating funds to help pay for a $189 million stadium renovation to remain in the Super Bowl rotation, said Jim Riordan, director of the MBA in Sport Management program at Florida Atlantic University and a former SMG arena manager.

“The Dolphins are doing a thorough analysis of their personnel,” he said. “We have a few alums and students working there who are waiting to hear what their future with the organization will be.”

In Jacksonville, Larry Wilson has replaced Bob Downey as SMG’s general manager of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, home of the Jaguars. Downey resigned his position in mid-February after 15 years on the job, according to local reports.

Downey returned a call for comment too late for inclusion in this story. SMG executive Hank Abate did not return an e-mail for comment. Wilson comes from the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena.

Don Muret can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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