SBJ/Nov. 1, 2010/SBJ In-Depth

‘Fan cave’ catches on quickly with Tribe fans

The Cleveland Indians are searching for answers to resolve a tremendous amount of excess suite inventory at Progressive Field, a ballpark that opened in 1994 with 130 skyboxes on three levels.

Newer MLB facilities opened with less than half that total. Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, combined, have 105 skyboxes tied to long-term leases. Target Field, the Minnesota Twins’ new park and a facility the Indians have toured for new premium seat ideas, has 54 suites.

“Look at the last four to five buildings that have been built,” said Vic Gregovits, the Indians’ senior vice president of sales and marketing. “In the mid-90s, there was more luxury, more suites and more club seats. That’s what it was all about because we didn’t have premium” to that point.

Sixteen years later, corporate hospitality has done a 180. The recession didn’t do teams any favors, crushing companies’ marketing budgets. The Indians converted some suites to party areas and reduced the total to 116, although Gregovits declined to say how many remain unsold.

“We have looked to reinvent the areas down the foul lines,” he said. “Idealistically, in the future, we want the suites to be in more prime locations. In a perfect world, we would like to keep them all between first and third base.”

The Cleveland Indians took one of their suites off
the market and made it into a group hangout.

For the past several years, the Tribe has offered one-year deals to keep suites occupied, compared with the three-, five- and seven-year leases offered when the stadium opened. Team officials see more shared suites, with two to four companies teaming up to pay for those units.

This past season, the Indians redeveloped a 12-person unit between home plate and first base into a “fan cave” group space featuring a pool table, Nintendo Wii and vintage arcade games. The $3,000 cost per game covered food, soft drinks and beer. The bookings for the 12-person space were strong enough that the Indians plan to build a second, larger one for the 2011 season, Gregovits said.

“We used the first one for sweepstakes and contest winners and as a seat upgrade at the park,” he said. “We started off thinking it was a knockoff of the ‘man cave,’ but we also found it was very popular with the tweener age segment. With the video games and coolness of the area, kids were all over it.”

Six years ago, the Indians changed the business model for the park’s 2,000 club seats to include the cost of food and drinks in the ticket price. Those seats cost $65 to $100, based on whether they’re purchased in advance or on the day of the game. The all-inclusive model has helped with retention and new sales, Gregovits said.

For next season, the Indians have waived the $500 to $900 annual fees for full-season ticket holders to access the Stadium Club, the park’s fine dining facility. The move reflects a big drop in demand for entertaining clients in a “white tablecloth” environment, Gregovits said. Team officials are also developing a separate level of membership with more direct benefits for fans who do not have full-season plans.

“We want to keep it active and also add value for our customers,” he said. “It’s a beautiful room but enclosed. What you’re hearing from the fans these days is, they want to be outside, they want to be on a patio and they want to have a view to the field to feel like they’re part of the action.”

The Indians are also thinking of building a hybrid product, a cross between a suite and club seat similar to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Cambria Club at PNC Park. They have visited seven MLB venues, seen the popular loge boxes at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, and toured the Palace of Auburn Hills.

“We have gone to several parks to see what is innovative,” Gregovits said. “We are really in the research and gathering information mode right now.”

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