SBJ/August 1-7, 2011/Facilities

Suns converting eight suites to theater boxes

The Phoenix Suns are splitting eight suites into 16 theater boxes at US Airways Center, becoming the fourth NBA team to carve traditional skyboxes into a smaller, more affordable premium product.

Theater boxes contain four to eight seats inside the bowl with a bar, a dining table and lounge space in the back. The boxes are generally tied to an all-inclusive package that covers tickets to most events and the cost to buy food and drink.

United Center introduced 32 theater boxes in 2009 on the arena’s penthouse suite level. The idea was to reposition unsold suites and reduce their capacity so that they could meet a need for companies that want a suite experience without being forced to buy 12 to 14 seats, according to Steve Schanwald, United Center’s senior vice president of marketing.

Bradley Center in Milwaukee followed suit and built 10 theater boxes prior to last season that sell for about $60,000 a year.

MONUMENTAL SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., designed the boxes shown in the rendering above. Now the Phoenix Suns are joining the trend of offering smaller, more affordable premium products.
And Verizon Center has developed eight theater boxes in Washington, D.C., for the coming season. Five are sold, ranging in price from $125,000 to $150,000 annually with one- and three-year terms, according to Sheila Francis, spokeswoman for Monument Sports and Entertainment, parent company of the Capitals and Wizards.

In Phoenix, the Suns went ahead with their project after seeing the success of theater boxes at United Center and Bradley Center, said team President Rick Welts. The Suns will charge $65,000 annually for theater boxes with one- and three-year terms, a little less than half the price of a regular suite at US Airways Center. The cost covers tickets to all arena events, plus all food, beer and wine. Hard liquor is a separate cost.

The new theater boxes are located on the lower of two suite levels, directly opposite the stage, so the Suns could market those units for concerts, Welts said. Some of the eight suites that are being turned into theater boxes were sold, and those premium patrons were relocated. Some of those suites had been reserved for single-game rentals.

The midpriced boxes should help the Suns generate incremental revenue in a market saturated with “way too much suite inventory,” between US Airways Center and Chase Field across the street, University of Phoenix Stadium and Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, and Arizona State University’s football and basketball facilities in Tempe, Welts said. “On the NBA ticket side, we have a very high average ticket price, yet it’s a below-average market for suite revenue,” he said. “The reason for that is just the number of venues that we have here.”

The project cost is about $750,000. Flatline Architects, a local firm, is designing the theater boxes. The Suns have not begun selling the boxes but have seen strong interest from customers, Welts said.

“We just finished the engineering portion of it, and funding, so we’re full speed ahead in having that ready for the beginning of our season,” he said.

In the NHL, the Florida Panthers plan to build several four-seat theater boxes over the next few years at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.

GOOD QUESTION: Phoenix Coyotes executive Jim Foss provided unique insight into the daily operations of the financially troubled NHL team during an IAVM session on the future of the sports venue business. When asked how corporate advertising is going, Foss, the club’s senior vice president and the general manager of Jobing.com Arena, did not flinch.

“It’s a challenge,” Foss said. “Right now, with our corporate sponsors, when we enter a room, the first question out of their mouth is, ‘Are you guys going to be here next year? Are you going to Winnipeg?’ That was last year. This year, it’s Quebec City.”

The team’s success on the ice during the last two seasons, with consecutive playoff appearances, leads Foss to believe the Coyotes will find a long-term solution, one he thinks will keep the team in Phoenix.

“When a city invests $180 million in an arena and you have a league that’s motivated to keep the team here and you have an NBC contract … as part of the deal to believe in this town, when this all flushes out from our standpoint, our sponsorship opportunities are going to be great,” he said. “It may be a little rough right now, but it’s nothing more than filling in a pothole, because long term, this [market] is going to work for us.”

JBL / HARMAN
The Staples Center is installing a new sound system valued at $3.4 million.
SOUND OFF: AEG is installing a new state-of-the-art JBL sound system at Staples Center. The upgrade, valued at $3.4 million, will improve acoustics in an arena with almost 1 million square feet, especially in the upper deck, where the sound was often muddled for concerts, said Lee Zeidman, the venue’s senior vice president and general manager.

Staples Center officials worked directly with JBL to design the system and select the components, Zeidman said. Touring acts that bring their own sound equipment will be able to “plug and play” into the arena’s system to enhance their productions.

“For sports, it is going to be a tremendous asset to our game presentation,” he said. “The Kings alone have really dialed up their presentation, and this new system will increase the intelligence of the video and music. It will get everybody more into the game.”

The installation is tied to JBL’s founding partnership with AEG, which covers Staples Center, as well as Nokia Plaza and Nokia Theatre across the street at L.A. Live. The deal, struck by AEG Global Partnerships, will extend to future sound system upgrades at other AEG-managed properties, Zeidman said.

The Staples Center project should be completed by late August and ready to go live for a WNBA Sparks game.

ADAM STREUT
The Red Sky Music Festival attracted big crowds to Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park.
TIDBITS: Despite rumors to the contrary, one UFL coach has told his stadium manager that there will be football played this fall at TD Ameritrade Park. Mounting debt forced UFL officials to push the start of training camp back 30 days to mid-August and to move the start of the regular season to mid-September. Joe Moglia, head coach of the Omaha Nighthawks, is also chairman of TD Ameritrade, the company that holds naming rights to the 24,000-seat facility and the new home of the College World Series. “He thinks we’re going to play, even though he sent the players home,” said Roger Dixon, president and CEO of the stadium operator, the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority. The Nighthawks’ first scheduled home game is Sept. 30, according to Dixon. As of last week, the UFL website had not posted an updated game schedule for its five teams. … Separately in Omaha, the first Red Sky Music Festival drew more than 80,000 people for four days of live music inside and outside the new ballpark. Headliners Jason Aldean (20,000 fans), Zac Brown (19,300) and Kid Rock (18,000) drew the biggest crowds. The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority partnered with concert promoter Live Nation. The intent is to make the festival an annual event, Dixon said. … Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA guard now spearheading the city’s effort to build a new arena for the Kings, is part of the opening night panel at the inaugural Green Sports Alliance Summit, which will be held today through Wednesday at the Portland World Trade Center. Officials with the Seattle Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Vancouver Canucks formed the grassroots group and organized the event to share best practices for sustainability at arenas and stadiums. … SMG, operator of five NFL stadiums, is developing a new smartphone application to meet customer service needs. The new app will provide game-day traffic updates, stadium diagrams, ticket-buying and concession stand information, and details of upcoming events, said Doug Thornton, SMG’s senior vice president of arenas and stadiums. It should be ready within the first quarter of the NFL season, Thornton said. … In Oakland, FanOne Marketing has signed a database marketing deal with the Raiders to increase season-ticket sales and boost single-game ticket and suite sales. The deal extends to social media, where the Raiders will serve as a beta client for FanOne’s new technology tied to Facebook and Twitter connectors. … Aecom will design an estimated $60 million renovation of Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium in Manhattan. … Ovations Food Services, the retail provider at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the new spring training facility for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, is working with building management to develop additional lines of apparel branded after the complex. The T-shirts, polos and caps sporting the Salt River logo, a combination of the Diamondbacks’ snake and the Rockies’ mountain peaks, proved to be a hot commodity during the facility’s first year of operation, said David Dunne, manager of spring training operations. … In Barclays Center news, Levy Restaurants selected Julie Margolin to be the general manager of food service at the Brooklyn facility.

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