SBJ/Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2011/Facilities

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  • Dispenser offers faster pours, sponsorship opportunities

    A unique beer dispenser that pours a lightning-quick draft and comes with a built-in sponsorship opportunity is starting to flow more freely into major league facilities.

    Bottoms Up, the name of the system, is the idea of Josh Springer, a 28-year-old Washington state entrepreneur. Springer developed the dispenser in March 2008, formed his own company called GrinOn Industries and signed a deal with a local manufacturer to produce the system.

    The Bottoms Up system uses
    magnets at the bottom of cups that can feature corporate logos.
    The technology works like this: A special cup with a hole in the bottom filled by a circular magnet is placed on top of the dispenser. The magnet flips up while the cup is filled with beer. The weight of the liquid forces the magnet back down to seal the cup, where it attaches to a metal rim at the cup’s base. The entire process takes two seconds.
    For teams, facilities and concessionaires, that means faster service, plus less foam and spillage, providing higher yields.

    GrinOn has placed the portable dispensers in about 20 arenas and stadiums, including the 10 NFL facilities where Centerplate operates concessions. The dispensers can cost up to $5,000, and the cups are priced about 45 cents, much higher than the 10-cent cost of regular cups. But the magnets, which pop off the cup and can go home with fans as souvenirs, can also help seal the deal for facilities by generating sponsorship revenue to offset the higher costs.

    Springer’s product got a big boost after Anheuser-Busch signed a one-year deal with GrinOn for the exclusive rights to put its beer brands on the magnets in 2011. For vendors that have partnerships with the brewer, the sponsorship effectively reduces the Bottoms Up cup cost to 12 to 14 cents.

    Anheuser-Busch officials did not return e-mails for comment.

    Last week, Aramark began using its Bud Light-branded dispenser on the main concourse during a Flyers game at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. It poured 15 near-perfect beers in one minute compared with six to eight drafts on a regular beer system, with less margin for error than other quick-pour dispensers on the market, said Sean Hennessey, Aramark’s on-site general manager.

    In Philly and St. Louis, where Delaware North Sportservice tested Bottoms Up at Busch Stadium during the second half of the 2010 MLB season, Anheuser-Busch provided the beer dispensers free in return for brand exposure. Sportservice put the Cardinals’ logo on the magnet, turning it into a collectible, said Dan Fetcho, the vendor’s general manager. He charged $8.75 for a 16-ounce Bottoms Up cup, the same price for a 20-ounce beer served in a regular cup. Officials plan to roll it out again this coming season. “It’s a cool invention. … Fans enjoyed the look and the buzz it created,” Fetcho said. “It became a destination point.”

    Two concessionaires that helped Springer get his product into sports facilities the past two years are firm believers in the system and worked on their own deals to brand the cup magnets to offset their costs.

    Before the Anheuser-Busch deal was signed, Joe Carter, in-house food and beverage director at UNLV, signed magnet deals with Coors and Tecate Light for National Finals Rodeo and the Professional Bull Riders tour at Thomas & Mack Center, in addition to team-branded magnets for football games at Sam Boyd Stadium. Carter sells a 20-ounce “fast-pour” beer for $7, one dollar more than the same-size regular beer, and has seen those magnets adorn home refrigerators. “It enhances peoples’ experience,” he said.

    In Jacksonville, Ovations Food Services and the Jaguars developed a four-player series of collectible cup magnets at three Bottoms Up dispensers spread over two locations at EverBank Field.

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  • Ten years later, these arenas are still inspiring new designs

    Nationwide Arena and Xcel Energy Center debuted in September 2000 for the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. Since then, virtually every big league winter sports team has traveled a well-worn path to visit the buildings when planning new venues.

    Talk to officials with the Coyotes, Devils and Penguins, and executives with the Rockets, Grizzlies, Bobcats and Magic, and they will tell you how Nationwide and Xcel, celebrating 10-year anniversaries this season, influenced their individual projects. Those seven teams opened new facilities from 2003 to 2010, and took bits and pieces from the best of what the two arenas had to offer, whether it was Xcel's focus on team branding revolving around its "State of Hockey" and outdoor recreation themes or Nationwide's suite towers and overall mix of midpriced premium seats.

    Nationwide Arena anchors a successful entertainment district in Columbus

    "Here we are now 10 years after the fact and when people look into building a new arena now, this is still one of the top models they go to," said George Heinlein, one of the design architects in Columbus.

    Nationwide is a particular draw for teams looking to integrate arenas into urban districts. The Edmonton Oilers, attempting to build a $400 million downtown venue with accompanying retail and entertainment developments, toured both facilities but paid special attention to Columbus' Arena District, one of the few successful mixed-use developments tied to a sports facility. The
    Xcel Energy Center, like Nationwide, drew some design pinciples from ballparks.

    same is true for Pittsburgh, where the Penguins own the rights to develop land across from their new arena, Consol Energy Center.

    In addition to their individual strengths, Nationwide and Xcel share some traits that have kept prospective arena developers coming back to pick up ideas. Oddly enough for arenas, a couple of those sprang from MLB ballparks.

    Both Ray Chandler, a veteran of the old HOK Sport who was the Wild's project director for Xcel, and Brad Schrock, Heinlein's partner on the Columbus design, point to Coors Field in Denver and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore as chief influences for planning Nationwide and Xcel. (The pair had worked together on Coors, where Chandler was HOK's principal-in-charge and hired Schrock as lead designer.)

    Other innovations that have helped set these 10-year-old arenas apart:

    The Fishing Lodge club destination carries the arena's theming.

    » The sweaters of 200 Minnesota high school hockey teams make up the Wells Fargo Jersey Wall on the club level. Prudential Center and Consol Energy Center developed similar displays.

    » The facility's food destinations celebrate Minnesota's hunting and fishing culture. The Headwaters Bistro restaurant on the club level and the Fishing Lodge, exclusive to the 190 season-ticket holders with front-row seats facing the glass, carry that theme.

    » Four elevated platforms in the upper corners are reserved for sponsor activation and game presentation. Fox Sports North uses one crow's nest during its broadcasts; another supports a faux lighthouse that comes alive with a foghorn, lights and fog after a Wild goal.

    The party towers are prominent in the arena's bowl.
    » The Blue Jackets' loge boxes and terrace tables, a hybrid between a club seat and suite, were the first premium seats to sell out when the arena opened in 2000. Most NHL and NBA arenas built since then have incorporated them.

    » Two 80-foot-tall party towers anchor the arena's west side. Toyota sponsors the northwest tower. The southwest tower's top two floors are branded as the Miller Lite Power Play Suite and can accommodate up to 48 people.

    » The development has grown to include 500 apartments, more than 200 condominiums, a theater, concert venue and Huntington Park, new home of the Columbus Clippers.

    — Don Muret
    Nationwide Realty Investors President Brian Ellis, whose company was the private developer financing 90 percent of Nationwide Arena, selected Heinlein Schrock as the architect, pairing it with NBBJ's local office. Ellis saw an opportunity for the venue to fit into the urban core the way that Camden Yards did in Baltimore, Schrock said. Coors Field was the model for ancillary development.

    Ellis wanted to replicate the energy that the ballparks created, both inside and outside.

    "It was a little bit different taking cues from baseball stadiums than arenas, but we felt we could achieve that energy," Ellis said. "Ten years after we opened, I think we have developed a very successful district."

    Open concourses and the views they create, concepts borrowed from the ballparks, are vital to both arenas.

    In Minnesota, the curved glass wall that spans 23,000 square feet at the front of the arena provides unique views of a historic cathedral and the state Capitol. At night in the upper deck, fans can follow the trail of street lights from Seventh Street all the way to the airport. It was the city's mandate to provide those visual connections to other landmarks in town, Chandler said.

    In Columbus, where Nationwide Realty Investors' vision was to use the arena as a catalyst to drive other development, the idea was to provide views into the building for Arena District residents and other pedestrians walking by.

    "We spent a ton of time paying attention to making the building transparent enough that you can see in it and also [dividing] the seating bowl in a way that when the lights are on in the arena and you're at the front door, you can look all the way through and see the center-hung scoreboard," Heinlein said. "I don't think anybody thought of that before."

    Nationwide and Xcel are also both known for seating bowls with great sight lines for hockey, thanks to designs that pull the roofline closer to the ice floor.

    At Xcel, the bowl was developed for patrons on all levels to walk down to their seats. Psychologically, that part of facility design makes the fans feel like they're moving closer to the action to sit in a better seat, even in the upper deck, said Jack Larson, the arena's vice president and general manager. "You never walk up. You are always looking down," Larson said.

    Nationwide has no traditional suites at stage end, a design requirement tied to maximizing revenue for concerts in a building with only 52 suites, the second-smallest number in the NHL behind Nassau Coliseum. What that did was allow Heinlein and Schrock to pull a portion of upper-deck seats opposite stage end closer to the ice. The two four-level, sponsored suite towers in the arena's northwest and southwest corners, flanking stage end, fill the gap for the change in geometry on both ends of the arena, Schrock said.

    Both arenas have not spent a tremendous amount of money on renovations since they opened, which speaks to the advance planning for both arenas. The Blue Jackets, among other upgrades, added 10 four-person terrace tables in 2003 to meet market demand and expanded the Time Warner Cable HD Lounge, the arena's full-service restaurant at event level. The Wild added more themed elements such as the Phillips Old Time Hockey Lounge on the upper concourse and more Hockey Lodge retail locations.

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  • D.C. to celebrate RFK Stadium's 50th anniversary

    Washington, D.C., officials are developing an extended public celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary this fall of RFK Stadium.

    Specific elements of the commemoration remain in formative stages, but district leaders are seeking to create a multi-month run of events for this summer and fall that would include a concert, fan celebration, formal dinner and other functions to celebrate the venerable, multipurpose facility. Historical video vignettes are also being produced to run on the video board during stadium events.

    “We’re still just getting started with putting the whole program together, but we’re definitely envisioning a major series of commemorative events,” said Greg O’Dell, chief executive of the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, which owns and manages the stadium. “This is one of the great, old stadiums out there, and it has seen a ton of great history over the years.”

    RFK Stadium opened Oct. 1, 1961, and over its ongoing run has been home to the Washington Redskins (1961-96), the second iteration of the Washington Senators (1962-71), Washington Nationals (2005-07), D.C. United (1996-present), FIFA World Cup and Olympic soccer matches, and myriad now-defunct teams from entities such as the U.S. Football League, North American Soccer League and Women’s United Soccer Association.

    For the past three years, the stadium has played host to a college football bowl game, drawing more than 38,000 for its most recent game in December between Maryland and East Carolina. RFK Stadium also has been a major concert venue over the years, drawing acts such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and U2.

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  • Drop in ticket sales weakens earnings at ISC

    Declining ticket sales depressed year-end earnings results for International Speedway Corp.

    The company last week reported net income for the year ending Nov. 30, 2010, excluding discontinued operations, was approximately $73.2 million, or $1.52 per share. That was down from $90.7 million, or $1.86 per share, for fiscal year 2009.

    ISC said it faced challenges in consumer spending, as ticket revenue fell 18 percent.
    Ticket sales revenue in 2010 dropped to $160.4 million, an 18 percent decrease from the $195.5 million generated from tickets in 2009. Motorsports-related revenue declined by 2.6 percent to $420.9 million, and concession and merchandise revenue declined by 6.9 percent to $52.5 million in 2010.

    ISC President John Saunders said advance ticket sales for Sprint Cup races in 2011 are down 5 and 6 percent from 2010 sales in volume and revenue, respectively. The season-ticket retention rate at ISC’s 12 tracks is in the low 50 percent range.

    “We are pleased that in light of the continued macroeconomic headwinds we still ended this year with solid results,” Saunders said. “Going into the 2011 season, we are still seeing challenges in consumer spending but remain encouraged by many corporate spending trends.”

    ISC has five race title sponsorships open or not announced for Sprint Cup races this year and four for Nationwide Series races. It had four and three open or not announced for those series, respectively, in 2010.

    Saunders said sponsorship prices would be flat with 2010 and cautioned that corporate budgets hadn’t returned to pre-recession levels.

    “We have a lot of confidence these entitlements will get sold,” Saunders said.

    ISC plans to spend $65 million to $75 million on its facilities in 2011. Saunders said the company is focused on the guest experience at racetracks and plans to improve seating by widening seats and adding new fan amenities such as improved track scoreboards.

    The company also plans to accelerate its use of social media platforms and mobile websites to improve the at-track experience for fans. Saunders said research shows that first-time attendees to NASCAR events are intimidated by the logistics of parking and moving about a racetrack for the first time. He hopes social media enhancements will relieve some of that unease and help tracks attract new customers.

    ISC anticipates total revenue in 2011 to be between $635 million and $650 million. It reported total revenue of $645.4 million for 2010.

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