SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/Facilities

Hero’s welcome: Military suite wins praise for ’Canes sponsor

Don Muret
A suite holder at RBC Center is at the forefront of a military tribute that has turned into a signature moment at Carolina Hurricanes games.
ASC Volvo Construction Equipment, a maker of heavy construction machinery, entertains several members of the armed forces in its skybox during every Hurricanes home game in Raleigh.

The company, whose North American headquarters are in Charlotte, has welcomed guests from all branches of the military, as well as from the Wounded Warriors, USO and veterans groups.

They are provided free seats to watch the game and complimentary food and drink in the 12-person suite, said Rob Leavel, ASC Volvo’s regional general manager for East Carolina. The company typically donates eight tickets a game and two parking passes.

The commitment started three years ago with former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward through his “Ward’s Warriors,” according to Leavel. At that time, ASC Volvo partnered with Ward on a suite that provided free hospitality for military personnel past and present.

“We had been talking with the Hurricanes about doing something unique [with sponsorship] and the two ideas came together,” Leavel said.

Two years ago, Ward retired from the NHL and ASC Volvo made the decision to buy a suite on its own to keep the tradition going. The company renewed it this year and plans to extend the lease for the 2012-13 season.

“The big thing for us is to have our brand associated with doing something good for the community,” Leavel said. “We have had a lot of favorable response.”

ASC Volvo works closely with the Hurricanes’ community relations department to select the military groups and make sure they have tickets in hand. With about 20 military bases in the Carolinas, there is no shortage of invitees, Leavel said.

During a timeout in the second period of every game, a live shot of the military suite is displayed on the arena’s center-hung video board, leading to a standing ovation. A large red banner designating the suite’s purpose hangs above it in the bowl.

“It has got to the point where every game, everybody knows where to turn and look,” said Doug Warf, the Hurricanes’ senior director of marketing.

Other major league teams have done similar military promotions with tickets and single-game suite giveaways, but the Hurricanes think they are the only club where a suite holder reserves space for every game for the armed forces, Warf said.

ASC Volvo is talking to the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes’ American Hockey League affiliate, about doing the same thing at Time Warner Cable Arena, Leavel said.

The Cubs’ owners plan a high-end merchandise tent across from Wrigley Field.
Photo by: MICHAEL WALTERS PHOTOGRAPHY
PITCHING THEIR TENT:
The owners of the Chicago Cubs are building a 4,000-square-foot, high-end merchandise tent in the McDonald’s parking lot across the street from Wrigley Field.

The Ricketts family bought the restaurant property for $20 million in December and formed a separate company to run the tent operation, called The Cubs Store, said Dennis Culloton, a family spokesman.

The Cubs Store will stock exclusive, limited-edition Cubs items such as game-used bats and balls and player-autographed items not available at other merchandise spots and sports apparel stores around Wrigley, Culloton said.

In addition, Cubs apparel produced by Majestic, New Era, Nike and Under Armour, Cubs hats from New Era and customized Louisville Slugger bats will be available.

The store is scheduled to open April 5, the day of the Cubs’ home opener against the Nationals, and will be open seven days a week through baseball season. A decision has not been made whether it will be open during the offseason, Culloton said.

The tent will eat up a portion of parking space at McDonald’s. The restaurant will remain open for the “foreseeable future,” Culloton said. More details will be released closer to Opening Day on the future of the development, he said.

Levy Restaurants runs the Cubs’ gift shop and souvenir stands inside the ballpark.

In late February, Chicago Sports & Novelty, a company that ran a Cubs merchandise stand for about 40 years near where the new tent is situated, filed suit against the Ricketts family, according to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times. The lawsuit claims that Chicago Sports & Novelty had a deal with McDonald’s to run its stand through the 2015 season but that it was terminated after the Rickettses bought the property.

As of last week, the matter remained in litigation. The Cubs’ owners “hope the matter will be resolved quickly because they have terrific plans for the fans at that site,” Culloton said.

DOUBLE PLAY: Last week’s handshake deal to build a new $387 million arena for the Sacramento Kings was good news for Turner Construction, a national builder of sports facilities.

Sacramento city officials must still approve project financing before construction can begin. If the deal is approved, the NBA arena would be Turner’s second job building a new major league facility in California.

In the NFL, Turner is teaming with Devcon Construction to build the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara, about 120 miles southwest of Sacramento.

It would be a major triumph for Turner considering how difficult it has been for teams to develop new sports facilities in California over the past decade. Municipalities are unable to take on the debt, and clubs must adhere to the country’s strictest environmental standards for new construction.

Looking back, Staples Center in Los Angeles opened in 1999, the last new big league arena to open in California. One year later, the San Francisco Giants opened AT&T Park in 2000. Both facilities were privately financed.

Now it appears the drought could finally be over, thanks to the 49ers, Kings and San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose officials recently approved the MLS team’s $60 million stadium project, and it is expected to open for the 2013 season. Devcon is building that facility.

The first key vote in Sacramento is Tuesday when the City Council is scheduled to meet to approve the deal’s framework.

The city previously selected Turner as part of the arena development group with sports architect Populous, owner’s representative Icon Venue Group and Sacramento developer David Taylor.

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

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