SBJ/May 21-27, 2012/Facilities

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  • Dynamo home redefines ‘close to the action’

    Minutes before NBC opened the broadcast of the Houston Dynamo’s first game at its new stadium, an errant soccer ball flew past the anchor desk in the south end zone’s Heineken Terrace.

    The wild kick during pregame warmups didn’t hurt anyone, but it won’t be the last time fans yell “Heads up!” at BBVA Compass Stadium, a cozy, single-concourse facility where all 22,000 spectators sit close to the action.

    For the Dynamo, that intimacy defines a smartly developed facility built on a tight budget with hard construction costs of $65 million. AEG, the team’s co-owner and the stadium’s operator, financed the stadium, and
    BBVA Compass Stadium seats 22,000, and roof canopies shade many from the afternoon sun. The aluminum mesh skin (left) is the stadium’s signature feature.
    All photos by: DON MURET
    the city and county covered infrastructure costs.

    After five seasons playing soccer at Robertson Stadium, built 70 years ago for college football, the Dynamo has brought a new form of energy to its new home on the east edge of downtown Houston in a building splashed in bright orange. In a city where the other major league stadiums, the cavernous Minute Maid Park and Reliant Stadium, both have retractable roofs, the Dynamo now plays in an open-air setting that carries the feel of a large outdoor arena.

    There is roof cover for most seats along the sidelines, but with no air conditioning in the bowl, the humid Gulf Coast climate can make for a sweaty experience, especially on a late Saturday afternoon in mid-May.

    The trade-off is a building “where you feel like you can touch the last row,” said Tim Leiweke, AEG’s president and CEO, attending the game with his boss, AEG Chairman Phil Anschutz. “This is as intimate an experience in MLS as I have seen anywhere around the country.”

    Those fans sitting in the last row up top enjoy the benefit of the breeze that blows through the aluminum mesh skin of the stadium’s facade and into the seating bowl. The exterior’s steely, futuristic look, the stadium’s signature feature, pays homage to Houston’s old industrial district and expresses the muscularity of the game of soccer, said Jeff Spear, an associate principal at Populous, the stadium’s architect.

    Inside the facility, the metal wrap provides shade cover on the concourse, which helps cool the stadium, said Bruce Beahm, Populous’ associate principal for the project.

    “We wanted to have a complete enclosure around the building,” Beahm said. “The skin does a lot of things. It’s working hard.”

    Said Spear: “Take it off, and there’s really not much here. The
    skin adds that uniqueness and a diamond-like quality to the place.”

    BBVA Compass Stadium also stands out for its suites, startlingly close to event level: Its outdoor seats start at Row 9, closest to the pitch in Major League Soccer. The Dynamo made 31 of 36 suites available for long-term leases and sold the final one a few days before the May 12 home opener.
    From top: Pregame dining at the West Side Club; the closest suites to the pitch in MLS; enjoying the shade on the Heineken Terrace in the south end zone; having a go at the BBVA Compass soccer display in the sponsor village outside the stadium.
    Terms are $50,000 to $60,000 annually tied to three-year deals with 14 tickets for each game and 10 outdoor chairs. The cost covers all events, including Texas Southern University football games. The Southwestern Athletic Conference school is a tenant at the stadium.

    In MLS, where other teams are having to consolidate blocks of unsold suites into larger club spaces, the location of the suites low in the bowl was a prime selling point, said Dynamo President Chris Canetti.

    “We fully expect to lose a piece of glass this year with a corner kick or a side kick gone wide,” said Doug Hall, AEG Facilities’ general manager of the stadium. “There will definitely be a plate of nachos go in somebody’s lap if they’re not paying attention.”

    There was also high demand for the President’s Club, the black-and-orange cushioned seats on the second level, midfield on the stadium’s west side. Those 214 seats, supported by the stadium’s club restaurant, sold out for $3,500 a year with a two-year commitment.

    The cost covers all Dynamo games plus 10 other events, including this year’s El Salvador-New Zealand soccer match, USA-Italy rugby and a Sugarland concert.

    “We had people with $99 five-game plans at Robertson that bought four President’s seats here, spending $28,000 over two years, Canetti said. “It wasn’t because people didn’t have the money. They just didn’t see the value in the building.”

    The 120 field-side seats and 100 club seats on the east side of the building are protected by a roof canopy but still face the setting sun. Those patrons have access to a small air-conditioned
    Top: The Houston Chronicle’s sponsorship of the press box is announced by a colorful timeline outside the room on the concourse. Above: New Dynamo sponsor Mazda has a model on the concourse, along with a branded parking lot.
    space with a bar and grab-and-go foods to escape the heat and humidity.

    “Our fans have become savvy and they don’t want to sit on the east side even though our studies show that with a 7:30 kickoff, there is very little time spent in the sun,” Canetti said. “The perception is still there, so we created this indoor bar and those seats sold out.”

    All told, almost all of the 7,000 seats in the lower bowl have been sold as season tickets.

    The party decks in both end zones, sponsored by Budweiser and Heineken, fill a growing need for corporate groups as the Dynamo competes for that market segment with the MLB Astros, its neighbor down the street. The cost is $80 a person and includes Levy Restaurants’ food buffet and access to a cash bar in the ticket price. At the opener, the Heineken Terrace — on the north end and, with room for 150 people, the larger of the two decks — carried a banner with its Tecate beer brand. Still, Heineken wall graphics and a beer stand set up on the terrace frame the space.

    “A lot of companies are interested in coming to soccer games but they are not soccer fans to the point where they are going to buy a block of 40 seats and sit in the stands, so there has to be some sort of hospitality for it,” Canetti said.

    The stadium’s eight founding partners signed deals valued at $300,000 to $600,000 annually, most of them three-year contracts. Of the eight, Mazda and Kroger supermarkets are new sponsors. Methodist Hospital and Statoil, a fast-growing Norwegian oil company doing business in Houston, sponsor the northwest and northeast gates, respectively.

    The stadium’s two gates on the south side are available for sponsorship as well as the West Side Club and Center Circle Lounge. Panasonic, an AEG corporate partner, supplied the stadium’s video screen and LED ribbon boards, including the field-level video boards.

    The Houston Chronicle sponsors the press box with a floor-to-ceiling wall display outside the room featuring newspaper covers documenting Dynamo milestone victories. The graphic plays a key role in developing a stadium that tells the Dynamo’s story.

    “That’s why everything is orange,” Canetti said.

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  • Vikings’ long road provided plenty of practice for architects

    Don Muret
    Expect the competition to design a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings to be a three-horse race between AECOM, HKS and Populous.

    Over the past 10 years, those three architects have done the most design work on a new stadium for the Vikings and retrofits at the Metrodome. A $975 million facility will be built on the dome site after Gov. Mark Dayton’s signing of a stadium finance bill last week.

    In 2009, HKS, designer of Cowboys Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium, completed the “Metrodome Next” study for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission for a $954 million project state lawmakers then killed the following year.
    AECOM and Populous, respectively, completed design work in the past for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, operator of the Metrodome, and the Vikings.

    AECOM, formerly Ellerbe Becket, designed CenturyLink Field in Seattle and renovations to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Lambeau Field, two projects tied to premium-seat upgrades that have helped the Saints and Packers generate more revenue in smaller markets.

    Populous’ most recent NFL projects include University of Phoenix Stadium, a $375 million makeover of Arrowhead Stadium, master plans to improve Bank of America Stadium and Ralph Wilson Stadium, and a study in Atlanta to build a $948 million stadium for the Falcons.

    HNTB and 360 Architecture are two other national firms with NFL experience that could bid for the Vikings job.
    On the construction side, Minnesota builder Mortenson, general contractor for the MLB Twins and University of Minnesota stadiums, is the prohibitive favorite.

    Three years ago, Hunt Construction and Turner Construction, builders of multiple NFL facilities, partnered with Kraus-Anderson, a Minneapolis contractor, to compete for the Metrodome Next deal. The commission selected Mortenson to team with HKS for the study.

    Turner has not made a decision on a potential joint venture in Minnesota, said Dale Koger, vice president and general manager of Turner’s sports group. The same is true for Skanska USA, said Tom Tingle, Skanska’s senior vice president and national sports director.

    As part of the stadium bill, a new Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority will be formed to run the new stadium. The authority and the Vikings will jointly select the stadium’s designer and builder.

    ON TARGET: The Minnesota stadium bill was a blessing in disguise for AEG, the developer of Farmers Field in Los Angeles, where the Vikings were a candidate for relocation before getting their financing deal done.

    The bill contains millions in public funding to pay for a renovation of city-owned Target Center, which AEG Facilities operates for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    AEG was always pushing for the Vikings to remain in Minnesota due to the firm’s vested interest in the state’s major league sports facilities, said Tim Leiweke, AEG’s president and CEO.

    The city is using hospitality taxes to pay for arena upgrades that could cost $150 million. “My guess is there is going to be some equity contribution needed out of the Timberwolves … and out of us,” Leiweke said.

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

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  • ‘Aggressive’ Indy shows revenue strength

    A combination of new assets and new sales packages has put Indianapolis Motor Speedway on track to deliver its strongest revenue in four years, according to speedway executives.

    NTB’s sign at Turn 1 is among the new inventory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
    IMS PHOTO BY JIM HAINES
    The speedway, which will host the Indianapolis 500 this weekend, already has exceeded its sponsorship sales total for 2011, and it’s only the second quarter. IMS senior executives estimate the track will finish the year with 5 to 10 percent more revenue than last year.

    The sales success has been driven in large part by creating new inventory and restructuring sales offerings to include hospitality and other elements. For the first time, the Indy 500 will have retaining wall signage in turns 3 and 4, and signage on the back of its video board. It also will have signage in the grass inside Turn 1.

    The inventory helped attract new sponsorship from Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka, which will have signage in Turn 3. It also was able to up-sell NTB, a national car service and retail outlet that will have signage in the grass at Turn 1, and Shell, a longtime track sponsor that will have signage on the retaining wall in Turn 4 and on the back of the video board.

    Packages that include the new signage and hospitality range in value from the high six to low seven figures.

    In addition to Fuzzy’s, IMS signed new sponsorships with Continental Tire, Nissan, Visit Florida, First National Bank of Omaha, 5-Hour Energy, Farmers Insurance, Nationwide, Banana Boat and others.

    IMS Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Mike Redlick said the new deals were largely the result of more proactive sales efforts. He has added three new sales executives in the last year and a half and pushed the sales team to find new business and create new inventory to sell on the property.

    “There’s been a change in philosophy here,” Redlick said. “While we’ve always been the premier venue for racing, we have started to look at things and ask how we can be aggressive and show partners how they can use us as a vehicle. In the past, we were very concerned about the event we put on for fans, but we have begun to make the event more friendly for our partners.”

    Strong sponsorship sales around this year’s Brickyard 400, which will be held July 29, have contributed to IMS’s sales total. The speedway expanded the NASCAR event weekend to include a Nationwide Series race and Grand-Am Series race. It then branded the race weekend as “Super Weekend” and sold the presenting sponsorship to the entire weekend to existing partner Kroger. It also brought on Crown Royal as title partner of the Sprint Cup race, which was a position the racetrack hadn’t filled in past years.

    In addition to increased sponsorship sales, IMS has seen strong demand for hospitality for this year’s Indy 500. It sold out of its hospitality for this weekend’s race, repeating the sales success it had a year ago for the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500. It also sold out of its Pagoda Hospitality even after it added another floor to its sales inventory. (It sold the third, fourth and fifth floors in 2011. It repeated that this year and added the 10th floor.)

    Redlick said the speedway’s sales team isn’t done with its sponsorship or hospitality sales. He would like to see the team sell additional grandstand signage before the Brickyard 400 and find naming-rights partners for some of the track’s landmarks.

    “We’re only limited by our imagination,” Redlick said. “There’s plenty of inventory left to sell.”

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  • Red Wings closer to new arena with pair of architects

    The Detroit Red Wings have selected an architect to design a new NHL arena in downtown Detroit, a sign the team is moving ahead with the project.

    Signs point to the Red Wings replacing Joe Louis Arena.
    GETTY IMAGES
    HKS, co-designer of American Airlines Center, will team with Chan Krieger NBBJ, a Boston architect specializing in urban developments, according to three industry sources.

    Officials with HKS in Dallas and Chan Krieger NBBJ said they could not comment on the project.

    Karen Cullen, a corporate spokeswoman for the Red Wings, said there was nothing new to report, adding “our organization has been on record saying we’d like to have a new arena in downtown Detroit.”

    The Red Wings intend to develop a new 18,000-seat facility to replace outdated Joe Louis Arena, sources said. Over the past few years, the team has considered renovating the 33-year-old, city-owned facility as well as sharing the Palace of Auburn Hills with the NBA Pistons and building a new arena for both teams.

    The team is considering a few sites for a new arena, sources said, including property behind the Fox Theatre, headquarters of Olympia Entertainment, a sports and entertainment company owned by Mike Ilitch, owner of the Red Wings.

    The Red Wings chose HKS after requesting qualifications from sports architects with experience designing major league facilities.

    AECOM; 360 Architecture; Populous, designer of Comerica Park, home of the Ilitch-owned MLB Tigers; and Rossetti, architect for the Palace and Ford Field, home of the NFL Lions, were short-listed. Chris Ilitch, CEO and president of Ilitch Holdings, interviewed the candidates in Detroit, sources said.

    HKS has not designed a major league arena since American Airlines Center opened in 2001. Since then, 11 arenas have opened at the highest level of sports. Among those, NHL-specific venues opened in Phoenix, Newark, Pittsburgh and Winnipeg.

    The firm’s recent projects cover two NFL stadiums, a pair of MLB spring training complexes in Arizona, and extensive work on new college football stadiums and renovations. HKS also designed the $78 million College Park Center, a 6,700-seat arena on the University of Texas at Arlington campus, that opened in February.

    In California, HKS is working on a $3 million study for the city of Oakland to develop a new sports and entertainment complex that could replace Oracle Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors, and O.co Coliseum, where the NFL Raiders and MLB Athletics play.

    Chan Krieger NBBJ’s work includes a West Riverfront mixed-use project in Detroit, according to its website. The project, part of a 5 1/2-mile stretch of redevelopment along the Detroit River that includes Joe Louis Arena, remains in the planning stages.

    The responsibility of architect Alex Krieger, founding principal of Chan Krieger NBBJ and a Harvard professor of urban design, is to develop an entertainment district tied to a new arena in Detroit, similar to Nationwide Arena in Columbus and Staples Center in Los Angeles, sources said.

    In 2010, Chan Krieger Sieniewicz merged with NBBJ, the firm designing Pauley Pavilion’s $136 million renovation on the UCLA campus.

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