SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/Franchises

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  • Braves brand super suites for the office, bar

    The Atlanta Braves are developing two new branded super suites catering to separate audiences at Turner Field.

    The team is consolidating four regular suites midlevel beyond the right-field foul pole that often went unsold into two larger 50-person units for the 2011 season. One skybox will be marketed as a business meeting space with projection screens and other office equipment tailored for corporate use before games. The second will have a sports bar theme with a foosball table, Golden Tee and other video games, said Derek Schiller, the Braves’ executive vice president of sales and marketing.

    The club is negotiating naming rights for both premium spaces, and each sponsor will receive exclusive use of those group suites for a half-dozen games, Schiller said. Those two deals are not signed. Both super suites will be sold for single games for the remaining 75 dates.

    The cost for the business center suite is $6,000 for weekday games, $4,500 for weekend dates. The sports bar suite price is $4,800 for weekdays, $3,600 for weekends. Food and drink is an additional cost.

    In repositioning vacant suite inventory to adapt to a shifting premium market, the Braves fall in line with other MLB teams playing in ballparks built in the 1990s, when skyboxes were still a relatively new product. Some parks, such as Progressive Field in Cleveland, opened with more than 100 suites and wound up with many empty units after long-term leases expired and companies declined to renew their deals because of economic conditions, the desire to get closer to the field, or other factors.

    Turner Field, built for the 1996 Olympics and converted for baseball, has 58 suites, far fewer than other parks of the era but still too many to keep occupied in a 49,583-seat stadium, according to Schiller. The Braves saw what the Indians did to create their “fan cave” suite, a 12-person skybox with a pool table and video games that sold for $3,000 a game in 2010. For 2011, Cleveland is doubling the size of its fan cave and moving it elsewhere in the park after combining two individual suites, team officials said.

    John Cimperman, Schiller’s friend from their days working in the NHL, helped the Braves create their sports bar super suite. Ten years ago, Cimperman, now a principal with Cenergy, a Buffalo-based sports creative agency, developed a rec-room style suite at HSBC Arena modeled after Comedy Central’s “The Man Show.”

    The goal for teams is to create demand for suites by reducing supply while developing new sponsorship opportunities to get more companies to buy premium seats, Cimperman said.

    “Right now, all of them are saying, ‘We wish we had 30 less suites,’” he said.

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  • FC Dallas takes aim at 18- to 34-year-olds

    FC Dallas hopes a new ticketing strategy will help channel the club’s on-field success in 2010 into better attendance in 2011. The team, which lost to the Colorado Rapids in the 2010 MLS Cup, posted the league’s third-worst attendance numbers last season.

    FC Dallas played in last season's MLS Cup, but ranked near the bottom of the league in attendance.
    Trying to counter that, the club has developed a new ticketing approach that targets 18- to 34-year-old, hard-core soccer fans, according to Doug Quinn, president and CEO of FC Dallas.

    “All of the ingredients for success are here, we just hadn’t put it into place,” Quinn said. “We were primarily targeting the youth soccer community [for ticket sales].”

    FC Dallas is introducing two multiple-game ticket plans in February, one of them tapping into last year’s run to the MLS Cup finals. The club’s 2010 Playoff Pack includes games against the teams FC Dallas faced during the 2010 postseason — Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles Galaxy and the Rapids. Another plan, dubbed the “Darby Pack,” targets rivalry games, such as the annual Brimstone Cup match against the Chicago Fire, the Pioneer Cup game against the Columbus Crew, the El Capitan Cup against the Houston Dynamo and the Rio Grande Plate match against the Mexican club Tigres.

    “The [Darby] is taken from the European model to cater to that authentic soccer fan,” said Kris Katseanes, the team’s director of sales and services. “It’s part of the credibility that we are looking for.”

    The team has increased its ticketing division from seven to 25 employees, including six graduates from the MLS National Sales Center. The push in ticket sales comes after three seasons of steady decline. In 2007, the team’s average attendance was 15,145; last year the average was 10,815 at 21,193-seat Pizza Hut Park. It was the fourth-lowest average in the team’s 15-year history.

    Season tickets are currently being sold at 2010 prices, though they were available for a 30-40 percent discount from August to September and then a 15-20 discount during October and November. By January, FC Dallas had renewed 88 percent of its season tickets and is projecting a 300 percent increase in total ticket sales, Katseanes said.

    The club also introduced a $486 “All You Can Eat” season-ticket package that included unlimited concessions, and sold out all 550 seats.

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  • Amid negotiations, Pistons bid price hovers at $350 million

    The bidding price for the Detroit Pistons is expected to range around the $350 million mark, below the previously estimated $400 million-plus price floated when the team began looking for buyers this past summer.

    According to sources, the latest bids for the franchise are in the mid-$300 million range, as Tom Gores, owner of Platinum Equity, reportedly is in the middle of a 30-day exclusive negotiating period to buy the team from owner Karen Davidson.

    Gores is the second bidder to be awarded an exclusive negotiating window. He follows Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who failed to make a deal to buy the Pistons. The sale of the franchise to Ilitch was expected in November, but Ilitch reportedly reduced his offer during his 30-day exclusive window after finding that Pistons revenue was lower than anticipated.

    Now, it is Gores’ opportunity to complete a deal.

    Citigroup is representing Davidson in the deal, and Pistons officials would not comment on the sale.

    A drop in the team’s price points to a decline in the value of the franchise that just a few years ago was considered a model NBA team ranking near or at the top of the league in average attendance. But the battered local economy and instability of the front office following the death of owner William Davidson has clearly taken a financial toll of the team.

    Gores attended Michigan State University and is chairman of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Platinum Equity. The company flirted with buying the old Arena Football League before the league filed for bankruptcy and in December bought Schutt Sports out of bankruptcy.

    Should Gores make a deal for the Pistons, it would end a protracted sales effort given that Ilitch said in August that he was looking to buy the franchise.

    Even if a sales agreement is reached in the immediate future, Gores would likely meet with NBA owners at the All-Star Game and then owners would have to vote to approve the deal at a later date.

    “Davidson wants to sell but this is not like the sale of the New Orleans Hornets to the league,” said one source referring to the league stepping in last month to buy the Hornets for more than $300 million after George Shinn could not find a buyer to take over the team with mounting financial losses.

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  • Rangers refashion executive team

    The Texas Rangers’ hire last week of former Boston Red Sox executive Joe Januszewski to be executive vice president for business partnerships and development completed a dramatic executive reshaping that owner Chuck Greenberg believes will help transform the club.

    Januszewski, whose eight-year run in Boston coincided with the growth of that franchise, remaking of Fenway Park and acquisition of Liverpool FC, follows recent Rangers hires of Rick George from the PGA Tour, Todd Taylor from the Milwaukee Brewers and Jay Miller from Ryan-Sanders Baseball.

    George will be COO for the Rangers, Taylor will work as executive vice president for ticket sales and marketing, and Miller assumes a role as senior vice president.

    Greenberg, along with co-owner and team President Nolan Ryan and their other partners, received formal approval last August from MLB to acquire the team from debt-strapped Tom Hicks.

    “We had a situation where we inherited not only some very talented people in place already, but also some senior positions that needed to be filled,” Greenberg said. “So what we’ve done to help achieve our vision of what this franchise can be and all the potential it has is go after proven performers who are really dynamic, really skilled at what they do. We’ve purposely been patient and methodical about it. But with Rick, Joe, Todd and Jay now on board, we’re now done [with senior-level hires] and we couldn’t be more pleased.

    Greenberg said he reviewed enough résumés, both solicited and unsolicited, “to fill 10 front offices.” He also sought permission from each of the quartet’s former employers before making the hires.

    “This is a franchise that a lot of us look at as a sleeping giant,” said Januszewski, who went to the University of Texas and has personal and professional ties in the state. “Chuck and Nolan are forward thinkers, and there’s no question there are parallels to where the Rangers are now to where the Red Sox were in 2002,” when John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino arrived.

    With the Rangers entering their first full season under Greenberg-Ryan control as defending American League champions, the team is projecting upward spikes in ticket sales, total revenue and player payroll for 2011. Ticket sales in particular, which reached just 7,500 full-season equivalents in 2010, are already above 10,000 with more than two months of selling remaining before Opening Day.

    “We’ll make an enormous amount of progress this year,” Greenberg said. “I’m less fixated hitting specific numbers than doing all the things we need to do in terms of customer service, being competitive and so forth. But if we do those things, the results will take care of themselves.”

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