SBJ/January 23-29, 2012/Facilities

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  • Legends selling premium at Austin F1 track

    Legends Sales and Marketing has agreed to a two-year deal to sell premium seats and PSLs for the new Formula One racetrack in Austin, Texas, as the $350 million project pushes to open in November for a Grand Prix event.

    Legends and track principals for Circuit of the Americas were negotiating final details late last week. The track would pay Legends’ staff expenses plus a bonus plan for reaching sales thresholds, said Chad Estis, president of Legends’ sales division.

    Photo by: TILKE / MIRO RIVERA
    Circuit of the Americas, a complex covering a 3.4-mile track, a 20,000-seat amphitheater and a conference center, had been stuck under a cloud of uncertainty because of financing issues and the question of whether F1 would grant Austin a Grand Prix race. Construction shut down several times in 2011 before project investors, including former San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs, paid F1 millions of dollars to book a Nov. 16-18
    Premium inventory at Circuit of the Americas, shown in renderings, includes 29 suites and temporary chalets. PSLs are being sold for 8,000 grandstand seats.
    Photo by: TILKE GMBH
    Grand Prix event, according to local reports. F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone confirmed soon afterward that F1 and Circuit of the Americas had a signed a 10-year contract for the race.

    Ten months out, Legends must fast-track a marketing campaign to sell 29 suites and seat licenses for 8,000 seats in the main grandstand by the start and finish lines. Projected suite prices are $100,000 to $200,000 annually for 24- and 30-seat units, and $1,000 to $5,000 for PSLs. The terms of the seat licenses have not been determined, Estis said. Legends will also sell temporary suites set up along the racetrack’s 20 turns, similar to the chalets set up at PGA Tour events. The portable units will seat 40 to 100 people.

    Operating with a short window presents Legends with a major challenge to move premium inventory. Typically, sports marketers have up to three years to sell suites and club seats before a new major league arena or stadium opens.

    “At this point two to three years ago, the project was a glimmer in the eye of the investors,” said Geoff Moore, the track’s chief marketing officer and the former executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Dallas Stars. “We needed to have someone smart enough and intuitive enough to work with us to get this done.”

    Compounding the issue is the international component. The sport attracts thousands of spectators from overseas, and track officials expect 40,000 of the 120,000 race-day attendees will come from other countries.

    The marketing effort starts in earnest today with a relaunch of the track’s website and a press release announcing the process to buy tickets for the F1 race. Those interested in attending the race must place a $100 deposit to be put on a “select seating” wait list for all premium and general seating, and that money can be used toward their purchase, Moore said.

    That list will be combined with a separate list of prospects generated from the track’s old website, whittled from a database that grew to 96,000 names over the past several months, 30 percent of which came from Texas. The individuals and companies on the initial list signed up to receive ticketing information before the public, as well as project updates. They were to be sent an email Sunday morning outlining the official ticketing process and a live link to place their deposits for first crack to get on the wait list. Those on the older list will continue to receive information on the track, and it will become Legends’ database for future announcements.

    For both lists, ticket priority will be determined by the time and date when the deposit was made, track officials said.

    Since early January, Legends’ Todd Fleming, the project’s vice president of sales, and Nick Gebru, his sales manager, who moved over from the Dallas Cowboys, have been in Austin managing the sales effort. By March, they will be joined by 21 more sales representatives. Six senior sales consultants will concentrate on selling suites and report directly to Fleming. The remaining 15 will focus on selling PSLs and the portable suites.

    Many of those sales reps will be fluent in foreign languages, to help in targeting F1’s many fans outside the United States. Legends officials also believe the suites will be a regional draw for companies from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico, buying skyboxes for race weekends.

    In addition to F1, the track has a five-year deal signed with V8 Supercars. The first event is in 2013, but no date has been set. A MotoGP motorcycle race previously announced for 2013 remains under negotiation and is not confirmed, Moore said. The track’s goal is to be active 300 days a year with races, concerts and festivals, and bicycle and foot races.

    Legends’ efforts will use the same digital sales collateral stored on iPads and proprietary CRM system Legends has in place for the San Francisco 49ers’ project and the Rose Bowl Stadium renovation, both Legends clients. A marketing center is in development in downtown Austin, and officials plan to build a temporary suite as a model on the track’s highest point, a hill at Turn 1.

    Talks between Legends and Circuit of the Americas started in June, about the time Moore was hired, and track officials began talks with CSL Sports Marketing Group to help market the project. Over the summer, CSL Dallas-based principal Bill Rhoda began negotiations to sell his company to Legends, co-owned by the Cowboys and New York Yankees, and a group headed by Dave Checketts, the new president of Legends Hospitality Management, parent firm of the sales division. Legends Hospitality bought CSL in November.

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  • Table lets fans pay attention to game and their seatmates

    Don Muret
    A company marketing premium seats for minor league ballparks has signed deals with two big league teams for the coming season.

    4Topps, a North Carolina firm, produces a semi-circular table with four swivel chairs that can be installed in new stadiums or as retrofits. The one-year-old firm recently signed deals with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Fire to put 4Topps in their venues.

    Joe Bellissimo, CEO of 4Topps, developed the product while serving as project director for BB&T Ballpark, the two-year-old home of the Class A Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash. His challenge was to find a high-end product for the park’s upper-level terrace seating behind home plate that allowed fans to watch the game and still have a face-to-face conversation with their seatmates. Through most of his research, which included a visit to the Green Monster seats at Fenway Park, Bellissimo struggled to find the right answer for BB&T Ballpark. “Nothing made sense in terms of function and comfort,” Bellissimo said.

    4Topps’ tables have been a hit in Winston-Salem, N.C.
    For two years, Bellissimo tinkered in the basement of the team’s office next to the ballpark until he came up with a model with flip-up swivel chairs and enough counter space to hold food and drink for four people.

    The result: BB&T Ballpark’s 70 4Topps tables, with 280 total seats, have sold out for the first three seasons, including 2012.

    The tables, originally priced at $120 a game, $8,400 a season, have increased this year to $148 a game, $10,360 for the season.

    4Topps sells the tables for $2,500 a unit, so the return on investment can be quick and considerable, said Steve DeLay, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Mandalay Baseball Properties, a former consultant for the Dash and a partner in 4Topps.

    The Frisco (Texas) Roughriders, a Mandalay property, installed four tables at Dr Pepper Ballpark for 2011 and had recouped their investment midway through the season, DeLay said. Those tables, tied to an all-inclusive buffet with beer, wine and soda, sell for $5,000 to $20,000 a season.

    In Chicago, the Fire bought 10 tables to put at field level near the visitor’s bench on the southeast side of Toyota Park. The tables sell for $12,000 for the season, and like Frisco, cover food, beer and wine, but no hard liquor. Five tables had sold as of last week, Fire spokesman Brendan Hannan said.

    The Indians bought two tables as a test this season to fill an open space in the left-field bleachers where the Tribe Social Deck was situated in 2010 before moving to a suite last season. The team has yet to set ticket prices for the tables, club spokesman Curtis Danburg said.

    For this season, 4Topps signed deals with five more minor league clubs. The Class AAA Lehigh Valley (Pa.) IronPigs, which led all minor league teams in attendance in 2011, are installing nine tables for a new tiki-themed pavilion and bar in left field at Coca-Cola Park.

    ON QCUE: Look for the Chicago Cubs to sign a deal soon with software firm Qcue to manage the team’s dynamic-pricing program for the roughly 5,000 bleacher seats at Wrigley Field.

    Colin Faulkner, the Cubs’ vice president of ticket sales and service, worked for the Dallas Stars a few years ago when Qcue signed the NHL team as its second client after the San Francisco Giants.

    Faulkner and Barry Kahn, Qcue’s founder and CEO, have had initial discussions, but as of last week no deal was signed.

    “Most likely we will do something with Barry,” Faulkner said. “We have also talked about doing it ourselves.”

    The Budweiser Bleachers, Budweiser Bleacher Suite and Budweiser Patio, a new group space for 2012, are part of Anheuser-Busch’s rebranding of the park’s outfield seats. Bud Light has had its name on the bleachers and the suite (the old batter’s eye lounge) since 2006.

    For Anheuser-Busch, the rebranding falls in line with what the brewer has done at other ballparks to reflect Budweiser’s current deal as MLB’s official beer, said Brad Brown, A-B’s senior director of sports marketing and entertainment.
    At Wrigley, A-B is paying the cost to build the 150-capacity Budweiser Patio, said Rich Gutierrez, group director of local media buying. In turn, A-B gets exclusive use of the patio for four Cubs games.

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

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