SBJ/March 26-April 1, 2012/Facilities

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  • Expansion of video boosts Penguins’ new media revenue

    Don Muret
    The Pittsburgh Penguins have seen a significant uptick in new media revenue after launching an online initiative with media sponsors Clear Channel Pittsburgh and Trib Total Media.

    The Penguins developed a new syndication program in February that provides their two media partners with an embedded Penguins video player that drops into their websites. The video player automatically plays sponsor-branded Penguins content every time a page containing a Penguins article is loaded on those two sites, said David Peart, the NHL team’s senior vice president. The mute button is on by default to make for a “positive user experience,” Peart said. The same video player is also on the Penguins’ home page.

    An embedded Penguins video player appears on team and media partner sites.
    For February, the Penguins saw about 2.6 million “video starts” on the three websites and on the team’s mobile application for iPhones and Android devices, an increase of more than 200 percent over February 2011. At that point, there were 839,000 video starts on the team’s website and a “small fraction” on mobile applications, Peart said.

    Video starts refer to partial and completed views of video content, and are the measurements the Penguins use to sell 15-second pre- and post-roll advertisements in the videos and sponsorship of the content itself, Peart said.

    Clear Channel Pittsburgh broadcasts the Penguins games on radio. Trib Total Media, whose flagship is the Tribune-Review newspaper, is a founding partner at Consol Energy Center.

    To date, the Penguins have seen an increase of 40 percent to 45 percent in revenue with the new media program over last year, which consisted then of some basic locker room interviews. Most of the team’s video content was tied to a 30-minute weekly highlight show on the Root Sports Pittsburgh RSN.

    Low ratings for the television show prompted the Penguins to discontinue the production after last season, Peart said.

    IN THE GAME: Peyton Manning’s move to the Denver Broncos should provide a big spike in business for Gameday Merchandising, the team store operator at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

    The blockbuster signing of Manning, coupled with Nike taking over as the NFL’s official retail supplier, could have Gameday’s cash registers at the stadium ringing consistently during the offseason, said Gameday President Alan Fey.

    Last Monday, one day before the star quarterback officially signed with the Broncos, Fey was busy contacting licensees such as Nike and Majestic to line up new retail products tied to Manning’s arrival in Denver. Gameday officials expected to have a limited number of authentic Manning jerseys for sale last Wednesday. Those jerseys were leftovers from Reebok, the NFL’s outgoing retail partner, with Gameday completing the marks, according to Fey.

    Reebok’s deal expires at the end of March, said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. Nike’s agreement with the NFL does not take effect until next month, with a launch date of April 26 for Nike replica jerseys, the first day of the 2012 NFL draft, Fey said.

    Elsewhere for Gameday, three of its four NBA clients are headed for the playoffs, and the Florida Panthers, its lone NHL account, were in first place last week. Throw in the Manning factor, and “for us, it could be a phenomenal second quarter,” Fey said.

    ON HIS OWN: Veteran sports architect Dan Meis has split from Populous, 18 months after he joined the firm in September 2010.

    Meis has formed his own practice, called Meis, and will continue to be based in Los Angeles. Meis continues to work on the Sports City complex in Qatar, which includes a stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He also remains involved in Majestic Realty’s proposed $800 million NFL stadium in suburban Los Angeles.

    Meis declined to comment on his departure from Populous but said he could still partner with his former employer on future sports projects.

    In a statement, Populous senior principal Joe Spear said, “Over the course of Dan’s 18 months at Populous there was a gradual realization on Dan’s part that his career interests were not fully aligned with the firm’s direction [and he] concluded that a separate path is best for all concerned. We … look forward to opportunities for collaboration.”

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

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  • Clean and classy, Orioles’ spring home provides a blueprint for future refurb projects



    The Baltimore Orioles changed the course of ballpark development at Camden Yards, and now they have done the same thing in Florida.

    Two years after the Orioles moved their spring training operation to Sarasota from Fort Lauderdale, the team has put the finishing touches on $40 million in renovations to Ed Smith Stadium, the club’s administration/clubhouse building next door and its minor league complex.

    The Orioles transformed a tired-looking ballpark …
    Photo by: BALTIMORE ORIOLES
    The same elegance and richness of design the Orioles applied to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, MLB’s first retro ballpark, is evident at their cozy, 7,500-seat ballpark, which originally opened in 1989 for the Chicago White Sox and was later home to the Cincinnati Reds.

    In the process, the Orioles have established a model for what other Grapefruit League clubs can do to refurbish their parks, including the Minnesota Twins, a team working with Lee County officials to improve 21-year-old Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers (see story).

    … into a Grapefruit League gem.
    Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
    In Sarasota County, the Orioles took a tired-looking park and transformed it into a classy venue. It reflects the clean look that the Angelos family, the team’s owner, believes a ballpark should project.

    Give credit for the masterful renovation to Janet Marie Smith, the developer for both Camden Yards and upgrades to Fenway Park, and now Ed Smith Stadium. Orioles executives John and Lou Angelos, sons of team Chairman and CEO Peter Angelos, also played key roles in the project.

    More from the tour
    Fenway takes flight in Florida.
    Smith, rehired by the Orioles in 2009 as vice president of planning and development, met with local historians in Sarasota and studied the city’s architecture, most notably the Ringling Museum of Art. (Sarasota is the winter home of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus).

    Architect David Schwarz, part of a group that planned The Ballpark at Arlington as well as some museums and federal projects in Washington, D.C., designed the new stucco facade. It is a stunning re-creation of a spring training facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

    The building’s exterior, with its arched window frames, decorative tiles and red thatched roof, is reminiscent of a 19th-century Spanish-American church. The grand design gives the facility a lush look within its Florida surroundings.
    Inside the park, fans will not see advertising clutter. The Orioles consolidated their sponsors, the hotels, restaurants and arts and attractions in Sarasota, and created “partner walls” on the main concourse for each
    of those three categories.

    The sponsors have told the Orioles that the exposure in one dedicated space is an effective marketing tool.

    “It draws more attention to them, and to these walls, than if they had just some little banner somewhere,” said Laura Williams, the Orioles’ director of Florida operations.
    Developer Janet Marie Smith met with local historians and studied the city's architecture to come up with the stadium's redesign.
    Photos by: DON MURET / STAFF (3)

    The club expanded the park’s pathways, adding an upper concourse to give their fans more space to move around. The left-field pavilion, a popular hangout featuring bistro-style tables and drink rails, gives fans a true feel for the Florida spring training experience.

    The park has two air-conditioned rooms open to the public — Cafe 54 and the team store — for fans to escape the hot Florida sun. Cafe 54, a sit-down deli that added Chick-fil-A products this year, is a luxury not seen at many spring training facilities.

    The Orioles’ rebranding inside Ed Smith Stadium starts at the Home Plate Gate. Just past the turnstiles hangs the team’s “championship chandelier” made of Louisville Slugger P72 bats, the model used by Baltimore hall of famer Cal Ripken Jr.

    The life-size bobblehead in the right-field corner is a popular attraction.
    Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
    The life-size Oriole mascot bobblehead in the right-field corner came from Oriole Park and is one of Ed Smith’s most popular attractions. The big bird underwent a “nose job” in the offseason, necessary because kids like to smack its beak to see it bobble, Williams said.

    New this year are the finished interiors for the three World Series suites themed for the 1966, 1970 and 1983 championship teams. Each suite comes with 30 tickets and costs $1,200 to $1,500 a game depending on the opponent.

    For Williams, a Baltimore native, the 1970 World Series suite and the large photograph of Brooks Robinson jumping for joy bring back memories of her childhood rooting for the home team. The suite enhancements bring extra color to what were mostly blank walls last season.

    “We were so close to the wire last year [with completing the renovation] that we were renting furniture for the suites,” Williams said. “Now fans that saw the park last year are seeing a new ballpark this year because so much of what we had last year was temporary.”

    Season-ticket holders at Ed Smith Stadium can upgrade their seats for about $20 to cover a buffet meal inside the Home Plate Suite. The homemade pies from Troyer’s Dutch Heritage, a local restaurant, are a big hit with the natives and visitors from Baltimore, Williams said.

    As part of the renovation, the bullpens were relocated from outside the outfield fences, giving fans the opportunity to see pitchers warming up. Getting close to the players is a key difference between spring training and the regular season, Williams said.

    The left-field pavilion gives off such a great vibe that many season-ticket holders moved their seats there from behind home plate. The pavilion was revamped late in the design, tripled in size with a higher elevation, John Angelos said.

    The pavilion and other parts of Ed Smith Stadium give fans more elbow room without sacrificing the building’s intimate feel.

    “Even in the midst of our sellout games with the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies, the park is alive but you don’t feel like someone is on top of you; fans can still walk freely through the park and enjoy it,” Williams said.

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  • JetBlue Park: Fenway takes flight in Florida



    Larry Lucchino walks outside to his office balcony above first base at JetBlue Park for a closer view of mini-Fenway.

    At their new spring training park in Fort Myers, Fla., the Red Sox have created an experience drawing heavily from their 100-year-old ballpark in Boston. Lucchino, the team’s president and CEO, mentions the Green Monster wall in left field as the dominant feature.

    In the belly of the Monster: JetBlue Park’s version of the iconic wall has seating within.
    All photos by: DON MURET / STAFF
    At the bottom of the wall sits the same dented, manually operated scoreboard used at Fenway Park in the 1970s. The Red Sox plucked it out of storage a few years ago from a Daktronics warehouse in South Dakota.

    “There is an old axiom in architecture, ‘God is in the details,’ and we have tried to live by that,” Lucchino said. “When you look at the Green Monster, it just screams Fenway Park, and that’s what we were looking for.”

    Right field at JetBlue Park has its share of Fenway-related icons too: a duplicate “Pesky Pole,” the red “Ted Williams seat” commemorating the longest recorded home run hit at Fenway, and the same retired numbers that are on display in Boston.

    JetBlue Park represents more than an opportunity to clone a beloved ballpark, though. For the Red Sox, the key driver for the $78 million project was to consolidate major league and minor league baseball operations into one location for spring training, following the same path taken by other MLB clubs. Previously, the Red Sox organization was split between two facilities elsewhere in Fort Myers.

    The manually operated scoreboard once used at Fenway was pulled out of storage for JetBlue Park.
    JetBlue Park at Fenway South, the official name of the 106-acre property, has six practice fields (one designed to Fenway Park’s dimensions), 10 batting cages and a 50,000-square-foot clubhouse facility, plus the 9,900-seat stadium. “We won [two] world championships a while ago [training at City of Palms Park] so it obviously wasn’t so bad, but this is a more agreeable and efficient operation,” Lucchino said. “Having both a main park here and a practice facility mirror the peculiarities of Fenway is I think a really useful device for our players and coaches.”

    The $5 lawn seats are as much in demand as the Green Monster seats.
    JetBlue Park also carries distinct Florida themes, starting with the funky roof canopy, its signature design element. The undulating roof pattern mimics the Florida cypress tree preserve across the street, said Populous’ Mike Sabatini, lead project designer.

    The concrete block with seashells forming the stadium’s exterior brings the beach to the park, and the palm trees dotting the landscape tie back to the summer vacation homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Many years ago, Edison planted 100,000 palm trees in Fort Myers.
    The JetBlue tailfin serves as a sundial outside the ballpark.

    The roof line serves a practical purpose, protecting most fans sitting in the main grandstand from the hot Florida sun. For the seniors and snowbirds attending Red Sox spring training games, it is an amenity not to be taken lightly.

    “One of the most redeeming qualities of City of Palms Park was the amount of shade that the roof provided, so that was fundamental to the design of this park,” said Jonathan Gilula, the Red Sox’s executive vice president of business affairs and
    Party suites contain artwork from the Ted Williams Museum.
    the team official most responsible for developing JetBlue Park and Fenway Park’s renovations over the past 10 years. “If you look at the canopy, it is quite striking, but of equal importance to us is the functionality.”

    The same functionality holds true for JetBlue Park’s Green Monster. In Fort Myers, as in Boston, fans can sit atop the wall, but the Red Sox decided to cut out the middle portion of Florida’s Green Monster and build 258 covered seats, providing more shaded opportunities to watch the game. Those $35 reserved seats, protected by a wire fence attached to the wall, are among the park’s most prized tickets.

    “As much as there is a novelty to sit on top, there is a lot of interest to sit within the wall,” Gilula said. “The seats are lower so the view is flatter up here, so you lose more of the outfield [view], but what a cool place to watch the game.”

    One level above is the Green Monster Deck, with 120 swivel chairs, the same style as Fenway’s, and plenty of standing room in back with portable concessions and umbrella-covered tables.

    The deck carries a bonus in Fort Myers — an overhead view of the six practice fields behind the park. “I think fans up here can gain a true appreciation of the complex overall,” Gilula said.

    As much as the Red Sox took into consideration their older audience in Florida, they did make room for sun worshippers in right field with a lawn that can accommodate 350 people, give or take a few beach blankets.

    Two sections of metal bench seats tucked under JetBlue Park’s video screen seat about 400. At a game against the Baltimore Orioles in early March, the lawn filled up quickly with younger fans, many of whom spent spring break in the Fort Myers area.

    The $5 lawn seats, among the least expensive tickets at any MLB spring training facility, are as much in demand as the Green Monster seats, Red Sox officials say. Sometimes, minor league players grab a bench seat during games to watch their big league brothers, Gilula said.

    JetBlue Park’s three party suites down the left-field line contain artwork from the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. One suite has been sold for the 18-game spring season at $3,000 a game, said Katie Haas, the team’s director of Florida business operations. Food and drink is a separate fee.

    Five suites behind home plate are reserved for the Red Sox; Lee County, JetBlue Park’s owner/operator; and naming rights holder JetBlue. JetBlue’s tailfin outside the park operates as a sundial.

    The Red Sox extend their brand on the concourse through displays of great moments in team history, the evolution of the team’s primary logo through the past century, and marks tied to the team’s seven world championships. It is a strong tradition the Red Sox would like to see extend to an eighth title, with JetBlue Park playing a key role in that pursuit.

    “We are not looking just to create beautiful ballparks,” Lucchino said. “We are looking to create beautiful ballparks that help the team practice and prepare better for the warfare that is the American League East.”

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  • Twins looking forward to putting ballpark back ahead of the pack



    When the Minnesota Twins christened Hammond Stadium, their spring training park in Fort Myers, Fla., in 1991, other teams began to use it as a model to develop their preseason facilities.

    Twenty-one years later, the Twins are playing catch-up with their big league brothers in a dated building with narrow concourses, no computerized point-of-sale system, a tiny team store and the lack of an outfield plaza, a popular feature at newer Grapefruit League ballparks.

    To upgrade Hammond Stadium to meet the standards set by other Florida spring training parks, Lee County hired Populous to complete a master plan for the ballpark and the practice fields at the Lee County Sports Complex.

    The study should be completed in the next few months. Pending financing at the county level, the Twins could see some improvements to the park over the next two years, said team President Dave St. Peter. The ballpark also is
    Hammond Stadium was a model to others; now the 21-year-old is due for improvements.
    Photos by: DON MURET / STAFF (2)
    home to the Fort Myers Miracle, a Twins farm team.

    The Twins’ wish list includes a bigger focus on retail to expand the team’s brand, a walkway around the 7,500-seat ballpark and a restaurant. The facility also needs a point-of-sale system; without one, buying food and drink is a cash-only proposition.

    The Twins play to mostly sellout crowds and there is demand to build 1,000 to 2,000 more seats, St. Peter said. In addition, Twins fans have asked the club to provide more shaded spaces, a premium amenity in Florida.

    Twins officials have seen JetBlue Park, the Boston Red Sox’s new facility down the road in Fort Myers, and have spent a lot of time looking at Bright House Field in Clearwater, spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies.

    They have also toured Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and Camelback Ranch, the two newest Cactus League facilities in Arizona.

    “There are bits and pieces out of all of those that we would like to incorporate here,” St. Peter said. Player development “used to be the driver of spring training, and now I think revenue tends to be the driver. Our goal is to have a very balanced approach.”

    The $40 million renovation of Ed Smith Stadium and its baseball complex in Sarasota, spring home of the Baltimore Orioles, is the project most similar to what the Twins are pursuing, St. Peter said. Ed Smith opened in 1989, two years before Hammond Stadium opened its doors.

    The Twins paid close attention to how well the Orioles wove their brand into the ballpark, which they moved into two years ago after the Cincinnati Reds relocated to Arizona. “There are some lessons to be learned there,” St. Peter said.

    “I think Lee County Sports Complex, in and of itself, is at a little bit better level than where [Ed Smith Stadium] was at when they started, so I would like to think we can take it one step beyond that.”

    Populous designed JetBlue Park, and ultimately the Twins would like to see Hammond Stadium renovated to a standard approaching what the Red Sox did with their new building, St. Peter said, keeping in mind cultural differences between the two teams.

    “Our fans don’t want a mini-Fenway. They want a place that is uniquely Minnesota and that celebrates the history and tradition of the Twins,” St. Peter said.

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  • Timberwolves reduce number of suites, take fresh look at premium inventory

    The Minnesota Timberwolves will decrease the number of suites in the Target Center from 56 to 40, the latest NBA team to cut its highest-priced premium seating inventory.

    The team’s move to eliminate the suites by next season comes as the Timberwolves announced the sellout of their 120-seat all-inclusive Club Cambria priced at $4,420 per season. The team also announced a sellout of its 40 loge seats that are priced at $5,289 per season.

    But the team has leases on just 32 of the Target Center’s 56 suites, and the vacancies are driving the plan to cut the number of suites to 40 by next season.

    The price of the suites ranges from $75,000 to $155,000.

    The team has not announced any specific plans on how it will use the space created by the suite decrease, but other teams have added clubs and lounges in retrofitting suite space.

    “We are already sold out of our Cambria Club so we are looking at expanding that space and putting three different types of offerings on the suite level,” said Chris Wright, president of the Timberwolves. “There are an awful lot of suites in this market and we are trying to find the best ways to package them.”

    The suite decrease comes as the team increases its season-ticket sales over the past season, with a full-season-ticket base reaching more than 7,000 compared with 5,000 last year. This year, the Timberwolves, who raised season-ticket prices about 6 percent for next year, have a 93 percent renewal rate.

    “[Suites] are a harder sell,” said Ryan Tanke, senior vice president of ticket sales and premium seating for the Timberwolves. “We are in the middle of putting together an aggressive strategy to relaunch the suites.”

    Though it is early in the league’s renewal process, Timberwolves officials said they currently rank at the top of the league in season-ticket renewals and in new full-season-ticket sales, with 700 sold so far.

    The Wolves also have sold most of their 220 Courtside Club seats that are priced between $5,289 and $56,330 per season. But the recent success in selling those pricey season tickets hasn’t yet moved up to the suite level.

    “We are in a most competitive suite market with Target Field, the TCF Bank Stadium and the [Xcel Energy Center] hockey arena,” Tanke said.

    The move to cut suites comes after the Detroit Pistons said they were considering a plan to eliminate half of the 178 suites at the Palace of Auburn Hills. In addition, the New York Knicks cut 71 suites from the top level of Madison Square Garden as part of the renovation and are redistributing them to other levels of the arena. When the renovation is complete, MSG will more have eight more suites, at 96, than before the project started.

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  • Loyalty counts at Fenway's new Royal Rooters Club

    The Boston Red Sox are building a new club at Fenway Park tied to the stadium’s 100th anniversary, and long-standing season-ticket holders are getting the first chance to join.

    The Royal Rooters Club and The Nation’s Archives, named in part for an early 20th-century Red Sox fan club, replaces the old Players Club restaurant in a 6,000-square-foot space on the ballpark’s second level behind the right-field seats. It will be ready for Opening Day, April 13, against Tampa Bay.

    Memberships cost $250 a ticket annually for the club, which can accommodate 350 people, said Sam Kennedy, the Red Sox’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Total membership will be in the range of 1,000, Kennedy said.
    The Red Sox began marketing the club late last week by sending email notices to their 1,000 longest-tenured season-ticket holders. The team will continue to go down the list of season-ticket holders with the most longevity until the club is sold out, and then start a waiting list.

    The Red Sox have more than 20,000 season-ticket holders, and many have informed the team over the past few years of their desire for another dedicated hospitality space, said Larry Lucchino, the team’s president and CEO.

    Fenway Park has the EMC Club and the State Street Pavilion Club behind home plate overlooking the playing field. Both clubs opened for the 2006 season, and memberships are connected to long-term contracts for club seats. Members to the new club may come from any part of the park; it’s their loyalty as season-ticket holders that will help get them in the door.

    The Royal Rooters Club is an indoor space without views to the field, but it will have televisions to provide a connection to the game, Kennedy said.

    The club will display memorabilia such as the ball Roger Clemens pitched for a record 20th strikeout in a game in 1986.
    Photo by: BOSTON RED SOX
    The new club will serve food and drink, but the unique aspect is the high-end memorabilia on display from the Red Sox archives. Many pieces have been kept under lock and key, and until now have not been made available for the public to view, Kennedy said.

    Among the rare items to be showcased: Dave Roberts’ “Stolen Base from Heaven” that helped the Red Sox overcome the Yankees in the 2004 American League playoffs on the way to a World Series title; the baseball Roger Clemens threw for his 20th strikeout when he became the first major league pitcher to record 20 K’s in a nine-inning game in 1986; and an old Ted Williams injury X-ray.

    The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and other collectors will also lend items to the Royal Rooters Club. Besides adding another amenity for season-ticket holders, the club will serve as Fenway Park’s version of a baseball museum, Kennedy said. “Non-game-day, it will be accessible to the public and it will also be part of our ballpark tour program,” he said.

    The Red Sox are working on a deal for a sponsor to have a branded area within the Royal Rooters Club, but the agreement has not been signed, Kennedy said.

    The team will not sell naming rights to the club. “We want to keep it pure,” he said.

    Fenway Park concessionaire Aramark will manage the club. The menu is still being determined. The team’s investment was in the low to mid-six figures, he said. Officials expect to recoup those costs over the next two to three years.

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