SBJ/September 26-October 2, 2011/Facilities

Serving up pregame party spots both indoors and outdoors

Champions Square next to the Louisiana Superdome provides the official pregame festivities that were always missing for Saints fans in downtown New Orleans.

The 60,000-square-foot outdoor festival space and Club 44, a separate indoor lounge, are in their second season of operation.

Club 44, named for the Saints’ victory in Super Bowl XLIV, inhabits what used to be the linens section of an old Macy’s department store. The club can hold 600 people. To gain access, fans pay $55 a game for an all-you-can-eat food and drink experience in a high-end setting. It does not include a game ticket. Beer and wine are covered in the Club 44 ticket package. Hard liquor is now a separate cost after patrons “drank us dry” on the spirits side last season when the fee was $50, said Doug Thornton, senior vice president of stadiums and arenas for Superdome manager SMG, which operates Champions Square and the club with concessionaire Centerplate.

Using pipe and drape and subdued lighting inside Club 44, officials were able to develop a hip environment for less than $300,000, Thornton said.

Outside on the large plaza, admission is free with room for 10,000 fans. Local food vendors and portable beer stands hold court, and live bands perform on a stage tucked in the corner by the old mall with a large video screen overhead. Back toward the Superdome are tiered concrete benches where fans can sit down and listen to the music in an amphitheater-style setting. The setup also provides SMG with non-game-day opportunities to book ticketed concerts, Thornton said.

Zelia, the real estate company of Saints owner Tom Benson, owns Champions Square and leases the property to the Louisiana Sports and Exposition District for $2 million annually. SMG and Centerplate operate it on behalf of the state. Centerplate is paid a management fee at Champions Square under the same terms of its Superdome deal, Thornton said.

Last season, Champions Square generated $800,000 in net revenue for the state. Because Zelia owns the property apart from the Saints, it is exempt from NFL revenue-sharing requirements.

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