SBJ/20100607/SBJ In-Depth

AEG gets ready to open the souvenir stand

Sean Ryan is no stranger to running retail at mega-events, a big plus for World Cup soccer officials in South Africa.

Ryan is vice president of merchandise for AEG, the company that in December 2008 was officially awarded the rights to sell World Cup souvenirs at event sites. AEG’s deal is with Global Brands, FIFA’s master licensee.

Ryan’s experience includes working the 1994 World Cup in the United States and 14 consecutive Super Bowls when he was with FMI, another retail provider.

Recently, he has had to concentrate on events in Greater Los Angeles, where AEG manages retail at Staples Center and Angel Stadium in Anaheim, and last month’s Amgen Tour of California, a world-class bike race where mobile trucks trail competitors and sell T-shirts to fans lining the roadways.

He’s made the trip from Los Angeles to Johannesburg five times as he oversees World Cup operations. A sixth trip will be delayed by the NBA Finals, where the Lakers are the Western Conference representative.

In Ryan’s absence, AEG has deployed a full-time staff of six senior managers in South Africa, including William Stone, international director of merchandise. Stone has been on site since March 2009.

Soccer City is one of 10 World Cup facilities
where AEG will handle souvenir sales.

Last summer, AEG got its feet wet in South Africa managing retail at four venues playing host to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. The experience helped AEG’s crew resolve logistical concerns for the World Cup, an event much larger in scope. Officials expected full move-in at all venues by last Friday.

Establishing operations in Greater Johannesburg 14 to 15 months before World Cup competition began allowed AEG to become part of the fabric of the South African culture and fully understand its laws, Ryan said.

“We have been able to mitigate any problems we have had with our people coming over and getting into the country,” he said. “We have worked tremendously well with local authorities.”

AEG is employing about 2,000 South Africans to sell souvenirs at 10 World Cup facilities as well as several off-site locations tied to the event. The list of local workers extends to human resources employees, stadium managers, warehouse staff and cashiers.

A key part of AEG integrating its business operation is its commitment to local residents. AEG developed a new program to subsidize education for eight college students taking the year off to work the World Cup. The investment is about $3,000 a student, separate from their wages, Ryan said.

“These are kids that have been working with us in the warehouse since March 2009,” he said. “They were just getting their start and had a few college classes under their belt, but they weren’t able to finish the task of getting their diploma. We are helping them get their diploma with these incentives.”

In addition to selling at the 10 World Cup stadiums, AEG is responsible for retail operations at the 10 fan fests tied to each host city, where fans without game tickets can watch the matches on big-screen televisions, Ryan said.

AEG is also running fan fest locations at outdoor venues in Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Sydney that are broadcasting the games live in those cities. World Cup items range from $5 pins to $225 canvas jackets. The vuvuzela, a horn that South African soccer fans like to blow in the stands during games, should be a big seller, Ryan said.

In the U.S., AEG will sell World Cup merchandise at L.A. Live’s ESPN Zone, the retail and entertainment zone across the street from Staples Center, and the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. AEG owns the MLS facility, home to the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA.

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