SBJ/January 23-29, 2012/Facilities

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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