SBJ/October 3-9, 2011/Franchises

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  • Lightning carves out corners as ‘a welcoming space’ at arena

    The Tampa Bay Lightning has committed two of its biggest partners to sponsor new quadrants at the St. Pete Times Forum.

    As part of the arena’s $40 million renovation, the NHL team reached agreements with the St. Petersburg Times and Dex Imaging to brand two of the four quadrants in the corners of the promenade level in the lower bowl. Both deals are valued at seven figures annually.

    SCOTT AUDETTE / TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
    Workmen ready one of the quadrants at St. Pete Times Forum.
    The southwest quadrant deal with the local newspaper is folded into its original 12-year, $30 million arena naming-rights contract. That deal expires in 2014 and did not include much exposure inside the building, said Steve Griggs, the Lightning’s chief operating officer.

    Dex Imaging, the Lightning’s practice jersey sponsor, upgraded the value of its initial five-year deal announced in August 2010 to cover activation of the northeast quadrant. The original terms were six figures annually, the club said.

    Pending a signed contract, Bright House Networks, another team sponsor, holds the rights to the northwest quadrant. The Lightning is in talks with firms in the automotive, banking and technology categories to sponsor the southeast quadrant, Griggs said. The goal is to have all four quadrants sold by Oct. 17, the Lightning’s first regular-season game.

    The Lightning, teaming with architects Generator Studio and Kiku Obata & Co., developed the quadrants by eliminating eight suites in the lower bowl, two in each corner. Doing so opened about 4,000 square feet of standing-room space in each quadrant with drink rails. The areas extend from the concourse to the edge of the lower bowl with views to the ice and are open to all ticket holders.

    Each corner has a media wall with multiple screens. In addition, Daktronics is producing large, oval-shaped LED ribbon boards to hang from the ceiling. Those structures, about a foot high and 100 feet long, can be seen from inside the seating bowl, said sports architect Ray Chandler, the Lightning’s vice president of design and construction.

    “The idea was to create branding opportunities for the team’s corporate sponsors and a place for people to gather,” Chandler said. “Most important, it was done for the fans to better understand where they are in relation to the ice and the action.”

    It’s about “creating a soul for the building, a welcoming space,” Griggs said. “You can stand there and have a beer while looking into the bowl. It gives the arena a sense of purpose and activity.”


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  • Tickets.com signs up Mets for seven years

    The New York Mets have signed a seven-year ticketing deal with Tickets.com, consolidating their baseball and special-event business at Citi Field.

    The Mets switch to Tickets.com, owned by MLB Advanced Media, after spending the past seven seasons with Paciolan.

    Mets fans will continue to buy tickets for games at Citi Field through Mets.com. Tickets for concerts and other non-baseball events at Citi Field will be sold through Tickets.com and linked through Mets.com.

    Previously, tickets for all non-baseball events, such as Paul McCartney, were sold through 507TIXX.com, a site tied to the Mets’ ticket sales telephone number, said Dave Howard, executive vice president of business operations.

    Those terms, under which the league’s digital arm did not share in ticket revenue for non-baseball events, led to a “point of tension with MLBAM,” Howard said.

    The Tickets.com deal brings the Mets closer to the league in its ticketing initiatives. Similar to the Mets’ old deal, MLBAM does not get a piece of revenue for non-baseball events sold through Tickets.com. But Tickets.com gets a share, which ultimately benefits its parent company.

    “Now it is one partnership,” Howard said.

    The deal extends to ticketing for Mets Class A farm team the Brooklyn Cyclones, owned by Mets owner Fred Wilpon, plus Mets spring training games in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

    In addition, the Tickets.com platform enables the Mets to use that technology outside of baseball as a regional ticketing firm, selling its services as a ticketer for smaller venues and colleges. The Mets did not have that option with Paciolan, Howard said.

    The Mets are focused on making the change to the new system for the Mets and Cyclones, but signing some of those deals is something the team could pursue, Howard said.

    Tickets.com has 14 MLB clients, 10 of whom use ProVenue, the firm’s latest ticketing software system. Last year, the Florida Marlins signed a four-deal with Tickets.com for their $515 million ballpark that will open in April.

    None of those 10 teams has pursued regional ticketing but the option is available, said John Walker, the company’s president and CEO. Outside of MLB, six regional ticketing groups in smaller markets use Tickets.com’s platform across multiple facilities.

    The Mets’ changeover to Tickets.com should be completed by mid-November, Howard said.

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  • Changing culture at Tampa Bay started with listening to ticket holders, CEO Leiweke says

    When Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke started with the team in July 2010, he found an outdated building with plastic seats and no food service in the upper bowl, a disenchanted fan base and a season-ticket base of about 5,000. Now, on the eve of the 2011 season, the Lightning has nearly 11,000 season-ticket holders, a powerhouse team and a renovated arena. Staff writer Fred Dreier caught up with Leiweke to discuss the team’s speedy renaissance.

    What challenges does Tampa create for a sports franchise?

    LEIWEKE: I think the economy hit this area harder than others, and that coupled with the fact that the team had been for sale caused it to lose momentum. Every market is a different opportunity, and we’re blessed with phenomenal weather. Last year the NHL did a survey and we were in the top five teams for players saying it was a great place to play. But that creates a challenge too, because on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of hockey season it can be 70 degrees and a great day to go boating.

    NEWSCOM
    Tod Leiweke has helped the Lightning double its ticket base and update its arena.
    You’ve more than doubled your season-ticket base in a little over a year. To what do you attribute that success?


    LEIWEKE: The players and fans found a lot of inspiration in [owner] Jeff Vinik and [general manager] Steve Yzerman, and we found a way to win. But of course we also modified the logo and did a $40 million privately financed construction project. We have a brand-new, 11,000-square-foot outdoor deck. We knocked down two seating sections in the end zone and built an interior stage, and on top of that sits the mother of all hockey organs.

    You also did several innovative campaigns involving the jersey and the logo. Talk to us about those.

    LEIWEKE: We decided to take a look at the logo to see if there was something that symbolized what Jeff is trying to create. So we did this thing where every season-ticket holder gets a jersey with a microchip woven into it that gives them a 25 percent discount on concessions and 35 percent discount at retail. It’s unfair that our fans paid the same price for a beer as a visiting Detroit Red Wings fan.

    Jeff Vinik worked with New England Sports Ventures, and there has been talk that he hopes to start a Fenway Sports-style business in Tampa with the AFL Storm.

    LEIWEKE: There is probably some bandwidth there, but one thing at a time. The goal right now is to become a sustainable organization. We’re not going to break even this year, we’re not there yet. We’re not sold out, we still have season tickets to sell. But all of the metrics are pointing in the right direction.

    How did you change the culture within the organization?

    LEIWEKE: The first thing you have to do is listen. A year ago we did a major survey of our suite holders and season-ticket holders. A lot of the inspiration for the renovations were triggered by that feedback. The desire to see traditions emerge from this team has manifested itself in a lot of what we do.

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  • Welts sees ‘a big upside’ for Warriors

    One of the first tasks on the list for newly hired Golden State Warriors President and COO Rick Welts is to install his own top management team as the former Phoenix Suns executive assumes operational control of the franchise with some major front-office jobs to fill.

    Prior to hiring Welts, Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob had been running the business operations of the franchise, which he and partner Peter Guber bought last July for an NBA record $450 million.

    NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
    Warriors President Rick Welts ‘was looking forward to doing some different things.’
    Since closing on the deal, Lacob and Guber have made major management changes, with Travis Stanley, senior executive vice president of marketing, and Neda Barrie, senior executive vice president of business operations, recently leaving the franchise.

    Neither have been replaced, leaving Welts to create a new front-office team.

    “We have a lot of strategic jobs to be filled right now,” said Welts, who will have full control of the team’s business.

    “[Lacob] is thrilled to not be that guy anymore,” Welts said. “They have been very clear in that they are expecting me to run the business operations.”

    Welts takes over the business operations of the Warriors after resigning as president of the Suns on Sept. 9 after nine years with the team.

    He fills the role of Robert Rowell, who resigned as president in June after 16 years with the franchise.

    Welts said he had no designs on the job after he left the Suns for personal reasons. But he changed his mind when Suns owner Robert Sarver recommended Welts to the Warriors.

    “This was not the plan,” Welts said. “I was looking forward to doing some different things.”

    Welts said the Warriors’ business operations are “in decent shape.”

    “But there is a big upside,” Welts said. “It is a rich market from a corporate base. We can take the business further, and [Lacob and Guber] are committed to providing the resources.”

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