SBJ/Nov. 1, 2010/This Week's Issue

Toronto’s Chairman’s Suite is latest NHL arena project offering luxury for less

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment brought construction crews into Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in June to tear down the walls to 12 of the arena’s 40 platinum lounges. The demolition created a 4,100-square-foot luxury space, called the Chairman’s Suite, which officials hoped would provide more flexible buying opportunities for the club’s high-end customers.

The final bill for construction was $2.25 million, but officials think the decision paid off. While MLSE struggled to sell nearly a quarter of the 10-person platinum lounges last year, the 120-person Chairman’s Suite has sold out for the next two seasons.

“This was about tailoring our product to what the market was demanding, and it was clear that 40 platinum suites was too many,” said Tom Anselmi, executive vice president and chief operating officer of MLSE. “There is no doubt the premium-seating business has been impacted by the economy. Corporate Canada has been avoiding conspicuous consumption, and we are in the conspicuous consumption business.”

The 120-person Chairman’s Suite at Air Canada
Centre has already sold out. A two-ticket package
costs $93,000 a season.

The Chairman’s Suite provides a similar luxury experience to the platinum lounges, which range in price from $430,000 to $455,000 annually and carry multiyear commitments. A two-ticket package for the Chairman’s Suite costs $93,000 a season and requires a two-year commitment. It includes club-level seats to all home games for the Maple Leafs and Raptors, as well as all concerts. Inside, the club features dining tables, flat-screen televisions and a la carte dining. Tickets are available in packages of two, four or six.

The Chairman’s Suite is the latest NHL luxury project aimed at providing more flexible purchasing options for high-end consumers who are looking to spend less. In 2006, Boston’s TD Garden spent $3.4 million to knock down 10 luxury boxes and create the Heineken Boardroom space for its premium clients (see related story, Page 19). Regular luxury boxes at TD Garden run in the $90,000 to $250,000 a year range, however a yearlong subscription to the Boardroom costs only $17,000. Boardroom members are then charged a separate ticket fee for each game they attend. Food and beverage is included in the fee, and the facility brought on Heineken as a title sponsor of the room in 2007. In 2007, TD Garden sold 75 two-person memberships to the Boardroom and this year the room is sold out at 125.

In 2008, Chicago’s United Center converted 18 midlevel suites to create the 10,800-square-foot Harris Club. Tickets for the Harris Club range from $15,000 to $17,000 and include all Blackhawks and Bulls games, compared with the arena’s exclusive Super Suites, which sell for $12,250 to $17,000 per game.

“The motivation was simple: The manner in which people buy suites and entertain clients has changed dramatically in recent years, and we felt it was important to adjust with the times,” said Terry Savarise, senior vice president of operations at the United Center. “Our fans — including our corporate clients — have expressed a desire for more flexible and smaller options, and we wanted to provide those within the structure of our existing arena.”

Brad Lott, vice president of sales and marketing for the Tampa Bay Lightning, said the club built the 40-person Frank Crum Club and CCM Club rooms in 2008 and 2009, respectively, after seeing the success of the 140-person Brick Wall Club. All three spaces are available for single-game booking and are booked through mid-December.

“Some companies couldn’t commit for a full year,” Lott said, “they would rather do four or five big events.”

MLSE debuted the Chairman’s Suite on Sept. 20 with a small opening party. Anselmi said the facility has not sold naming rights to the room, however it is looking for a potential high-end partner. With the addition of the Chairman’s Suite and the Real Sports Bar and Grill, which is adjacent to Air Canada Centre and opened in July, Anselmi said the organization has given consumers the full spectrum of hospitality options.

“It’s a great place to watch the game,” Anselmi said. “This is about maximizing yield and repositioning inventory for changes in the market.”

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