SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Facilities

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  • What does $1.7B buy in NYC market? Two stadiums in one

    Jets & Giants field illustrationThe Jets played their first regular-season game in their new home (left side) one day after the Giants played theirs (right side) in this photo illustration combining shots from the two games.
    Patrick E. McCarthy (2) / Photo Illustration by Clayton Harrison

    Early in the New York Giants’ regular-season opener at New Meadowlands Stadium, the boo birds re-emerged after a winter of discontent to voice their displeasure with poor special teams performance by the Men in Blue. The next night, the same chorus could be heard over the Jets’ struggling offense.

    Old habits die hard. In both cases, it didn’t take long for Giants and Jets fans to feel at home in a facility they claim equally as their own. It’s the first NFL stadium designed to adapt to the look and feel of two teams in one market, a $1.7 billion chameleon dressed in steel and concrete.

    For the Giants, a franchise whose rich history dates back 85 years, New Meadowlands Stadium presents a tremendous upgrade over the cramped old venue that carried their name for 34 seasons. The Jets, meanwhile, AFL upstarts and redheaded stepchild at Giants Stadium since 1984, are now on equal footing after failing to get their own facility built on the west side of Manhattan. After 50 years, they finally have a building where they can apply the Gang Green brand inside and out on game days.

     The teams use different names for the stadium on their season tickets, a sign of the tensions inherent in the project, not to mention the lack of a naming-rights sponsor for now. But whether it’s New Meadowlands Stadium, “New Giants Stadium,” or “Home of the Jets,” the fact that two teams representing two distinct cultures were able to get the darn thing built will prove to be their greatest legacy, said Jets owner Woody Johnson.

    “It was a challenge because no two teams had ever done it before,” Johnson said. “I think the manual we wrote through our experience will help other teams that have to do it, and I think it will be more the rule than exception.”

    “In the big markets, you’re going to have teams sharing stadiums, Los Angeles and maybe Northern California,” Johnson said. “Stadiums of the future are going to be really expensive, and municipalities may not be willing to spend like they did in the past, so they’re going to be financed creatively. That will be the trend [in the U.S.] and worldwide.”

    Giants co-owner Steve Tisch referenced the Packers Hall of Fame at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, the roar of the crowd at Qwest Field in Seattle and the fan experience at New England’s Gillette Stadium as inspirations for developing New Meadowlands Stadium.

    The compromises necessary to create a home stadium for two teams can be a burden. For example, the stadium’s gray exterior suffers from trying to reach a happy medium for both teams. The lighting on its steel louvers, whether blue or green, is turned on only for night games, leaving a structure void of color outside for Sunday afternoons.

    But 20 video towers surrounding the stadium largely make up the difference. The Jets and Giants can program those pillars with messages tied to their respective organizations and sponsors, in addition to showing live game action. The sheer number of those screens is unique in an NFL environment.

    Both teams have their own exclusive, permanent spaces bookending the Commissioners Club. The Legacy Club is the Giants’ statement defining their place in NFL history. The Jets answered with the hip, industrial warehouse feel of the Green Room, their own little SoHo inside the stadium.

    “I often say that if you were going to build two brands from scratch for one marketplace, you would probably build the Jets and Giants because they are very different,” said Thad Sheely, the Jets’ executive vice president of finance and stadium development. “Their histories, their futures, all the characteristics and attributes that you would talk about for both teams, nothing could be truer than the way we bring our new stadium to life.”

     

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  • Trading places: From Giants to Jets

    Main photoThe heaviest lifting during the changeover occurs in the stadium's end zones.
    Patrick E. McCarthy

    One hour after the New York Giants won their regular-season opener on a rainy Sunday at New Meadowlands Stadium, a building employee struggled with a diagram for fastening a Jets-branded field wall wrap.

    Cameron Smith, creative director and a principal at Infinite Scale, the firm hired by stadium officials to develop the changeover system at the NFL’s only two-team stadium, was walking by and offered assistance. Smith, who designed the wall wraps, helped the worker sort through key codes for correctly installing the Jets banners.

    Infinite Scale partners with teams, leagues and events to create branded displays for sports facilities. New Meadowlands Stadium presented the perfect blend of the permanent and temporary themes in which the firm specializes, company principals said.

    The company counted the Jets, the Giants and the joint venture operating the stadium each as a client, helping ensure a consistent program for converting the building from Giants blue to Jets green, said Molly Mazzolini, a partner in the firm.

    The joint venture hired Infinite Scale to coordinate the stadium’s universal signage system and hardware containing those signs. The Giants, meanwhile, developed their own displays in-house and used the company for production only, Mazzolini said. The Jets went one step further, trusting Infinite Scale to come up a new design theme for the club. The resulting image, contrails of smoke similar to a commercial airliner streaking across the sky, is used on all Jets banners, video screens and the huge tri-vision board greeting fans at the stadium’s west gate.

    All told, the stadium changeover took about 12 hours to complete, with 46 people involved in the conversion, stadium officials said.

    The physical piece of the changeover ranges from pushing a button to change 2,607 electronic signs for ticket windows, wayfinding displays and team store lighting, to operating heavy machinery for removing 40 trays of FieldTurf in the end zones featuring Giants and Jets marks.

    New Meadowlands Stadium is the first NFL venue to take apart its end zones in such a manner, officials said. Each tray measures 112 square feet and weighs 1,500 pounds, said Mark Lamping, the joint venture’s president and CEO.

    The stadium has a third, neutral-color end zone system for college football games that can be painted to match the colors of Rutgers and Syracuse, two schools contracted to play games at the venue.

    Infinite Scale also developed a flexible system with removable panels to accommodate a ring of honor high up in both end zones for both teams to recognize their greatest players. The Jets had their ring of honor in place for their Monday night debut game. The Giants should have theirs ready sometime in October, after they make a final decision on design, Smith said.

    Those displays change depending on which team is playing, and for special events, the stadium can go with a blank face or install panels with the facility’s name, said Smith, whose work is now done at New Meadowlands Stadium.

    The stadium’s conversion process can perhaps best be seen in the team store, operated by Delaware North Sportservice. Overnight between the Giants’ game Sept. 12 and the Jets’ game the next evening, the store changed from all Giants to all Jets retail thanks in large part to clothing racks that can flip around with the press of a foot pedal. Additional panels installed on the sides cover apparel tied to the team not playing that day, said Donna Genesky, Sportservice’s director of retail.

    Those racks, developed by Opto International, are an upgrade over a similar display Sportservice uses to sell Bruins and Celtics merchandise at TD Garden in Boston, an arena owned and operated by Delaware North Cos., the concessionaire’s parent firm, Genesky said.

    It took just a few hours to turn the store over after the Giants game, she said.

    “You can’t believe how many customers came up in line and talked about flipping the store, [asking] is this really going to be 100 percent Jets tomorrow?” Genesky said.

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  • Track's video board will be biggest

    Charlotte Motor Speedway plans to install the largest LED video board in U.S. sports this spring — a colossal, 80-foot-tall by 200-foot-wide Panasonic LED board.

    The single-screen board will face the track on the backstretch and is a first of its kind at a speedway. Its screen size is larger than the biggest screen on the four-sided, center-hung video board at Cowboys Stadium, which measures 72 feet high and 160 feet wide.

    The Panasonic screen will be installed at a time when sports facilities nationwide have begun to view the couch and HDTV as their primary competition for ticket buyers. The installation represents the latest example of a facility trying to overcome that by improving the quality of content it provides spectators attending sporting events.

    “Our company is known for breaking ground and the barriers for what happens at a speedway,” said Speedway Motorsports Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Marcus Smith. “This will revolutionize the track experience for fans.”

    SMI, which owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Panasonic are expected to unveil details of the board at a press event this week. The parties negotiated the deal over the last 10 months.

    Neither side would disclose the cost of the board, but it is expected to be in the eight figures. The Cowboys paid $40 million for their video board.

    Under terms of the agreement, Panasonic will become the official technology partner of Charlotte Motor Speedway. The partners will hire a third-party agency to help sell founding partnerships for the video board and advertising on the screen during events. Sales will be managed by Panasonic’s motorsports agency, Wunderman, a division of Young & Rubicam, and will be split 60-40 between Panasonic and SMI.

    “It’s a revolutionary deal for Panasonic,” said Lesley Poch, group director of marketing at Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, a division of the company that specializes in LED boards, security systems and other facility technology. “If it’s as successful as we think it will be, I can see us moving forward [on future deals] that way.”

    The board will be used to enhance not only the race-day experience, but Charlotte Motor Speedway officials also have discussed using it for movie premieres or as a backdrop for concerts and other events.

    “If it brings the suite experience to the larger grandstand audience, it’s a good thing,” said Just Marketing International’s Zak Brown. “The only potential downside would be if they can’t monetize it.”

    In addition to the speedway partnership, Panasonic has a multiyear alliance with SMI that makes it the motorsports company’s supplier for technology enhancements at SMI’s eight speedways. It already worked on solar panels at SMI’s Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and there are plans to develop a new scoring tower at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

    The deals are part of an aggressive push by Panasonic into sports and entertainment venues. Its Panasonic Enterprise Solutions division developed LED displays at Red Bull Arena and the Beijing Olympics. It also introduced its first center-hung scoreboard at a big league arena last weekend at the Staples Center.

    Panasonic officials hope the speedway screen leads to additional motorsports business, Poch said. She added, “We’d love to see everyone jump on the bandwagon and do something cool like this with us.”

    The board is the third Panasonic screen to be installed at a NASCAR track. Last spring, Richmond International Raceway, which is owned by International Speedway Corp., installed a 153-foot-tall tower with four LED video screens measuring 38 feet wide by 24 feet high. A similar tower was installed at ISC-owned Homestead-Miami Speedway this year.

    Staff writer Don Muret contributed to this report.

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  • TV contract, weather, have USTA once again talking roof

    Rain delay at US OpenRain at the U.S. Open has forced the delay of three consecutive men's finals.
    Getty Images

    Following the controversial, rain-delayed end of this year’s U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the event’s owner, the U.S. Tennis Association, says it will strongly consider building a roof to avoid in the future the ratings downfall that has hit the tournament.

    The move marks a shift for the USTA in its position on adding a covering to the Open’s home, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It also comes as the USTA is entering contract renewal talks with CBS Sports, which sources said has become unhappy not just with the rain delays, but also declining ratings and the lack of Americans at the top of the sport.

    As a result, CBS, the sources said, may now move to decrease the $21 million annually it currently pays the USTA for the Open rights, as well as insist on compensation for rain delays. The broadcast contract expires after the 2011 tournament.

    Overall ratings for CBS’s tournament coverage this year were down 6 percent. The network is providing make-goods to Open advertisers in other sports programming because the tourney failed to meet CBS’s ratings expectations.

    “The event fits extremely well in our overall sports portfolio. We just have to make sure we make a reasonable deal for the corporation,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS News and CBS Sports.

    McManus declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations, which have begun and are expected to conclude in the coming months. He did, however, say a roof would be welcome, so he was happy to hear that the USTA may be changing its tune on that matter.

    “We have a responsibility to present the matches on a timely basis,” said Lucy Garvin, the USTA president. “We have to recognize that this is not simple for the media, that we provide a product and we need to make sure we deliver it. To say a roof is not in the picture is not accurate. It is when we will do it.”

    That is a change from the USTA’s previous position that the cost of a roof, believed to be well north of $150 million, is not justified because rain only affects a small part of the event and the money would be better spent on grassroots tennis. But Garvin described the rain delays as hurting the promotional value of the Open, the financial engine of the USTA.

    Three consecutive men’s finals have now been delayed after decades of few major interruptions from the elements. CBS lost last year’s women’s final altogether, with rain pushing the match to Sunday night and an ESPN2 broadcast.

    The broadcast of this year’s men’s final, between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, was split between CBS and ESPN2 after the match was further delayed on Monday because of rain. At 2.17 million viewers, viewership of the match was down 36 percent from last year and was only two-fifths of the 5.36 million viewers who tuned in for the last final to be held on a Sunday, in 2007.

    But a TV source said it was not just the rain but the overall tournament that left CBS disappointed. Other than a thrilling semifinal match between Djokovic and Roger Federer, this source said, the event did not deliver the ratings CBS had promised to advertisers.

    Sources also said CBS may look to end the Saturday night women’s final, a staging that is now a decade old and was created at a time when the Williams sisters were routinely playing in finals. The ratings more recently have been poor, and the latest mark was the worst yet, with Kim Clijsters’ easy win in this year’s final bringing a 1.7 rating.

    ESPN2, in its second year as the Open’s cable broadcaster, said ratings were flat at 0.7, but that was only after adding in the bonus of being able to carry the second half of the men’s final.

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  • Panasonic scoreboard taking center stage at Staples Center

    Staples Center scoreboardFour LED screens beneath the board point toward the first 15 rows of the lower bowl.
    Getty Images

    Staples Center will introduce Panasonic’s first center-hung scoreboard in a big league arena.

    Panasonic is one of 10 founding partners at the Los Angeles arena. The electronics giant signed its deal in 2009 and has its video screens on display at L.A. Live, the retail and entertainment district across the street from the arena. AEG owns and operates Staples Center and helped develop L.A. Live.

    At Staples Center, the $11 million investment also covers a new control room to operate the full high-definition board, said Lee Zeidman, Staples Center’s senior vice president and general manager.

    The board’s retail value would have been $15 million without the founding partner sponsorship deal between Panasonic and AEG, Zeidman said.

    The center-hung unit is thought to be the first in the NBA and NHL to have four LED screens nestled underneath the board with a view exclusive to patrons sitting in the first 15 rows of the lower bowl, according to Zeidman. For the early portion of hockey and basketball seasons, those four screens will be limited to showing images during stoppages in play because of the possibility they might distract players on the ice and the court. AEG needs the approval of the leagues before it can show live game action on the screens, and Zeidman should know by January whether it can remove the restrictions.

    AEG first talked with Panasonic about the board during the NBA Finals and did not have the luxury of getting both leagues to sign off on the design before placing its order in time for the coming seasons, Zeidman said.

    The upgraded board, six feet deeper and three feet greater in circumference than the old unit, presents additional revenue opportunities for the NBA Lakers and Clippers and NHL Kings. The three clubs are marketing the new addition, he said.

    The Panasonic product ties in with Daktronics’ scoring package and LED ribbon boards. Daktronics, in conjunction with Mitsubishi, made Staples Center’s old center-hung board, which had been in place since the arena opened in 1999.

    Panasonic’s two other major league sports installations are the scoreboards for Red Bull Arena and PPL Park, the two newest MLS stadiums.

    The new board was slated to make its debut on a limited basis during the Shane Mosley-Sergio Mora fight scheduled for this past Saturday. It is expected to be fully operational for Thursday’s Kings preseason game with Phoenix, Zeidman said.

    IN AND OUT: The Charlotte Bobcats are considering running the team store at Time Warner Cable Arena in-house this coming season after the franchise’s former vendor moved from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

    XP Events, the Bobcats’ merchandise provider the past five seasons, voluntarily agreed to the move to Chapter 7 on Sept. 3, according to documents filed in federal bankruptcy court in Denver. A Chapter 7 filing usually leads to liquidation.

    The Bobcats are now running the team store themselves, confirmed Fred Whitfield, the club’s president and chief operating officer, but have not ruled out hiring a third party.

    In an agreement filed in court Aug. 11, the Bobcats agreed to pay XP Events $90,000 to buy the remaining team store inventory, furniture, fixtures and equipment in exchange for XP’s exit from a contract that had four years remaining. XP Events owed the Bobcats $391,114, according to the original Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last Sept. 30. The court had not approved the deal as of last week, and Whitfield declined to comment on it until the issue is resolved in court.

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

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