SBJ/April 18-24, 2011/Facilities

Heinz Field to host music festival, 3 national concert tours

Don Muret
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ aggressive nature on the football field extends to booking events at Heinz Field, putting the NFL team one step ahead of other clubs during the owners’ lockout.

PSSI Stadium Corp., the Steelers’ stadium management division, has four concerts scheduled this summer: the inaugural Steelers Country Music Festival with Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and Darius Rucker on May 28; Taylor Swift on June 18; Kenny Chesney on July 2; and U2 on July 26, the final U.S. stop on the group’s record-breaking world tour. The four shows are the most the Steelers have had in a summer at Heinz Field since the building opened 10 years ago, said Jimmie Sacco, executive director of stadium management.

NFL teams do not have to share concert revenue with other clubs, but the lockout did not drive the Steelers’ intent to drive more business to Heinz Field. Their goal has always been to program the building as much as possible in addition to scheduling 10 NFL games plus University of Pittsburgh and high school games. For concerts, the team prefers to take financial risk to buy concerts directly from the agencies representing the acts. Doing so gives them a much better chance at securing a date than if they were to wait for a promoter to come knocking on their door with an offer to rent the building.

“I think that has a lot to do with it … us lobbying for these shows,” Sacco said.

This year, the Steelers expect to reap the benefits after going without a concert on the field in 2010. They are the promoter for the first three shows, with Live Nation promoting U2’s “360 Tour” in Pittsburgh. Sacco expects sellouts for Swift and Chesney, whom he calls the team’s “cornerstone” act, making his fifth appearance at Heinz Field. Big crowds are also expected for Paisley/Shelton and U2, a show that could potentially pack 60,000 into the stadium with its midfield stage setup, Sacco said.

Considering there could be no NFL football this fall, the Steelers’ timing could not have been better to land U2. The rock group’s 2010 tour of North American stadiums was postponed until this year after lead singer Bono had emergency back surgery last May. Heinz Field was not on the band’s 2010 route because the Steelers could not find an early fall date to fit within their home schedule. This year, U2’s North American dates are set for May through July, making it easier for the Steelers to find room on their calendar.

“That’s huge,” Sacco said last Monday. That same day, April 11, Billboard.biz reported that U2 now holds the record for the top-grossing concert tour of all time. By the time it wraps at the end of July, the tour is expected to have generated more than $700 million in ticket sales.

All told, U2 will play nine NFL stadiums this summer, counting Pittsburgh. The others are Invesco Field, Qwest Field, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, M&T Bank Stadium, Sun Life Stadium, Soldier Field, Lincoln Financial Field and New Meadowlands Stadium.

The Broncos, Seahawks, Dolphins, Eagles and Jets/Giants operate their respective facilities. SMG manages the Raiders’ and Bears’ stadiums and the Maryland Stadium Authority runs the Ravens’ building.

The Steelers also generate revenue from two yearly festivals at Heinz Field. One is tied to the city’s Fourth of July celebration. The other is a Labor Day rib fest with national musical acts and football.

BILL ERVIN PHOTOGRAPHY
Creighton will play Nebraska on Tuesday in the opening game at TD Ameritrade Park.
ON TAP: TD Ameritrade Park
, the new home of the College World Series, is restricted to selling beer in the suites for that event per NCAA rules. Outside of those 10 to 11 days in June, expect the suds to flow freely for college baseball games in public areas at a stadium where MillerCoors is the facility’s official beer partner.

Starting Tuesday Creighton University, TD Ameritrade Park’s other primary tenant, plays the first of its 12 remaining home games this year at the stadium. Beer will be sold at those games as well as the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

For the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, the stadium’s operator, and concessionaire Levy Restaurants, alcohol is big business for Creighton basketball games at Qwest Center Omaha, the arena next door to the ballpark. For those events, beer, wine and liquor sales account for 60 percent to 70 percent of total food and beverage revenue, higher than normal for an arena operation, said Roger Dixon, the group’s president and CEO. The authority also runs the arena and officials expect that trend to continue in baseball, Dixon said.

Those numbers should increase to about 90 percent for the Red Sky Music Festival at TD Ameritrade Park, a six-day event in July. As part of its ballpark deal, MillerCoors has naming rights to one of two ancillary stages outside the stadium.

Kid Rock is one act booked for the main stage on the field inside the 24,300-seat facility, Dixon said.

The downtown venues, separate from the Creighton campus, are both owned by the city of Omaha.

BOWLING FOR DOLLARS: The group responsible for selling premium seats tied to the Rose Bowl’s renovation developed a marketing center on a shoestring budget that project officials say has the sizzle necessary to close deals on suites and club seats priced up to $125,000 annually.

Legends Premium Sales took the $100,000 available to convert two large trailers in a stadium parking lot into a marketing center designed almost as a “gallery artwalk” through memory lane, said Mike Amaya, one of the center’s two principal designers.

Inside are images of UCLA football greats Jackie Robinson, Troy Aikman and Kenny Easley and other graphic displays commemorating great moments from games and concerts that took place at the 89-year-old stadium.

As prospects walk through the trailers they are shown video presentations of the suite and club seat products. The celebratory themes and UCLA blue walls are dialed down to a neutral beige color in the last room, where customers are asked to sign suite deals.

“It’s more about a warm, comforting light” to get people in the mood to buy skyboxes, Amaya said.

Two weeks after the marketing center opened, Legends had sold four suites at $80,000 a year, and six loge boxes at $24,000 annually, said Jason Gonella, Legends’ vice president of sales. All were 10-year deals. All told, Legends had sold 25 of 55 new suites, a total that covers Rose Bowl suite holders who renewed before the marketing center opened, Gonella said.

The Rose Bowl renovation is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

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

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