SBJ/June 18-24, 2012/Facilities

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  • Nationals consider joining trend of remaking suites into club

    Don Muret
    The Washington Nationals are considering whether to create a new all-inclusive club by consolidating several unsold suites at Nationals Park.

    If the project were to proceed, the new development would take shape over the next 12 to 18 months, said Andy Feffer, the
    Nationals’ chief operating officer.

    The Nationals are exploring where to build the new club inside the 5-year-old facility, but it would most likely be at the end of one of the three suite levels, Feffer said.

    “We have done some preliminary work to see what potential sponsors would be out there, how many suites we would configure with that, the price points and what the club would be themed as,” he said.

    Six to 10 empty suites could be eliminated if the project goes forward, Feffer said. The ballpark opened in 2008 with 78 suites priced at $150,000 to $475,000 annually, tied to five-, seven- and 10-year contracts.

    If the plans are adopted, Nationals Park would get a new all-inclusive club.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The Nationals will research what other MLB teams have done with premium seat retrofits, Feffer said. There are plenty of examples to choose from across sports as teams convert vacant suites into a customized space that can generate revenue.

    In baseball alone during the past five years, the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs have combined four and eight suites down the left-field line, respectively, into all-inclusive clubs at Miller Park and Wrigley Field.

    In Milwaukee, the 9,000-square-foot Gehl Club is sold as a group space for up to 240 people. Ticket prices are $80 to $112 a game depending on the opponent. The Brewers project to sell 97 percent of the club this season, said Rick Schlesinger, the team’s chief operating officer.

    At Wrigley, the PNC Club of Chicago, a much smaller space in an older park, is sold as a $300-a-game season ticket with beer, wine and liquor included in the ticket price. Its 71 seats are effectively sold out this year, with a few individual seats for sale to club members, said Colin Faulkner, the Cubs’ vice president of ticket sales and service.

    In the NFL, Cowboys Stadium is another model to pursue in Washington, Feffer said. “They just didn’t fill it with all suites. They integrated clubs throughout the facility,” he said.

    WE’RE NO. 1: FanOne Marketing, a company that provides digital marketing tools to help sports teams sell more tickets, has worked with six NFL teams in the past several months to improve season-ticket renewals for the 2012 season.

    The Comcast-Spectacor subsidiary met with NFL officials in August to discuss how FanOne could provide more teams with assistance after originally signing a deal with the Oakland Raiders last summer.

    The NFL then set up a framework that gave all 32 teams the option to work individually with FanOne, said Brian Lafemina, the league’s vice president of club business development.

    “This is the first time we have done it,” Lafemina said. “The idea behind this is, in these economic times, to be innovative and for teams to create a deeper understanding with their fans.”

    In addition to the Raiders, FanOne signed deals with the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams The cost per team is less than $15,000, said Jen Zick, FanOne’s senior director of strategy and business development.

    The tools FanOne provides include personalized URLs that can be customized with emails sent to every season-ticket holder with their name, seat location, birthday mentions, favorite player, interactive videos and a link to a live chat with a team sales representative.

    The ability to form greater one-on-one communication online with season-ticket holders by developing content “specific to their tastes and passions” drove the decision to make FanOne available leaguewide, said Laura Lefton, the NFL’s director of club business development.

    In addition to the personalized emails, the Jaguars and Vikings used a FanOne survey component to find more leads by capturing data tied to seat holders attending the games but not involved in the season-ticket transaction.

    The NFL will compile results of the digital marketing initiative in the next month, Lafemina said. In general, the six clubs have seen the number of phone calls tied to renewing season tickets decrease with more fans renewing online because of the personalized URLs, Lefton said.

    In Oakland, the Raiders have doubled the number of renewals made online and saved money by reducing paperwork costs, Zick said.

    The savings has been 20 percent to 30 percent thanks to greater efficiency compared with having to process renewals through “snail mail,” said Mark Shearer, the Raiders’ director of business development. It has freed up the team’s sales staff to ultimately sell more tickets, Shearer said.

    OVERHEARD: Dimensional Innovations, a maker of interactive video displays, is keeping busy with college projects at Baylor, Kansas State and Michigan. In Ann Arbor, the Kansas City firm designed a series of 17 touch-screen wall units circling the concourse of Crisler Arena that tell the story of Wolverine athletics as part of the facility’s $72 million renovation. The high-tech displays provide schools with a “top secret weapon” to distinguish themselves on the recruiting trail, said Justin Wood, the company’s vice president of business development. … The field at Michigan Stadium will be painted with the #GoBlue Twitter hashtag this coming football season after a successful test at the Big House during the spring game. … The Miami Dolphins are using tech vendor Crowd Twist to power their new digital fan loyalty program this year. The Fins are Crowd Twist’s first sports client. … AT&T is installing a distributed antenna system at Heinz Field to improve coverage for mobile devices. The average project cost is $7 million for an NFL stadium, said Chad Townes, AT&T’s vice president of the antenna solutions group. … Australian Football League umpires’ jerseys are sponsored by OPSM, a leading eye care company Down Under.

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


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  • Eagles plan big Linc refurb

    The Philadelphia Eagles are planning major changes at Lincoln Financial Field, including adding seats and building new field-level suites to generate more revenue from the 10-year-old stadium and improve the fan experience.

    A proposal issued in mid-May by the Eagles for preconstruction manager services and obtained by SportsBusiness Journal lists the potential improvements for a project spanning the next two offseasons.

    Lincoln Financial Field has ample space for field-level suites, says its lead designer.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Tim McDermott, the team’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, confirmed that the Eagles have hired Gensler as the project architect. Otherwise, McDermott would not discuss project details because the team has not finalized the elements of construction.

    “There will be some fan enhancements tied to the game experience and new products that generate revenue,” he said. “We are several weeks away from determining what are those
    final products.”

    The project’s total cost could be in the range of $60 million to $100 million, according to industry sources familiar with the Eagles’ intentions. It is not clear who would pay for renovating the city-owned stadium, and McDermott would not comment on the funding issue.

    The preconstruction RFP states that after 10 years of use, the stadium renovation will “improve video technology to current HD standards and update guest amenities in response to feedback received from longstanding season ticket holders, premium partners and sponsors.”

    In order of importance, the document lists the priorities as video board replacements, seating bowl fill-ins in the northeast and southwest corners, new field-level clubs, renovations to clubs on the east and west sides, suite improvements and gate entry upgrades.

    The Linc’s facelift would be the most costly renovation to date among a group of nine NFL stadiums built during the past 10 years. That number excludes extensive renovations of Arrowhead Stadium and Lambeau Field, a restoration of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the reconstruction of Soldier Field, all older facilities. Some other high-dollar changes are under way or being considered around the league (see box).

    The 69,000-seat Lincoln Financial Field is known for strong sight lines, well-designed clubs and a seating layout with distinct neighborhoods so fans in those areas have their own identity. The team’s success with six playoff appearances since the stadium opened in 2003 has made it one of the higher-generating buildings in the league, but the Eagles obviously feel they need more high-end spaces. The stadium has 172 suites, 10,800 club seats and two large sideline lounges, but the proposal lists the addition of a new club in the south end zone and “Field Suites” at both ends.

    Should the Eagles build suites at the event level, the stadium would fall in line with four other NFL facilities built over the past decade, where customers pay six figures annually for an ultra-premium experience that in most cases includes seats up in the bowl to watch the game.

    REDEVELOPMENT ZONE

    Other current and potential projects around the NFL:

    * Construction is under way in Green Bay for a $143 million expansion of the south end zone at Lambeau Field, financed in large part through a public stock sale. The stadium opened in 1957 and completed a $295 million makeover in 2003, the same year Lincoln Financial Field opened.

    * The Buffalo Bills are staring at a potential $200 million renovation of 39-year-old Ralph Wilson Stadium after Populous completed a study on how to improve the facility. Much of the total would go to infrastructure upgrades, and financing is still up in the air.

    * The Carolina Panthers hired Populous in October to develop a 10-year master plan to improve Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, which opened in 1996. At this time, there are no updates on the project, Panthers President Danny Morrison said.

    — Don Muret
    Lucas Oil Stadium, Cowboys Stadium, MetLife Stadium and CenturyLink Field, which the Seattle Seahawks opened in 2002, one year before the Linc, were all designed with field-level premium spaces. At Cowboys Stadium, 48 field-level suites sell for $200,000 to $240,000 annually.

    The Eagles would be the first to build field-level suites in a stadium retrofit. Populous competed for the job in Philadelphia and considered some similar ideas for event-level seats, said Dan Meis, who worked at the firm for 18 months before leaving earlier this year to restart his own practice.

    Meis was NBBJ’s lead designer for Lincoln Financial Field and knows the building well. Ron Turner, his old partner at NBBJ, is now a principal at Gensler, the Eagles’ designer moving forward. Gensler is also the architect for AEG’s proposed Farmers Field in Los Angeles.

    “Lincoln Financial has the advantage that there is ample available space [to build field-level suites], so it isn’t particularly difficult and they would be highly valuable,” Meis said.

    A brewpub, which would be a free-standing building, also is proposed for the HeadHouse Plaza, a 100,000-square-foot area outside the stadium now used for interactive zones and corporate tailgating before Eagles games, college football and other special events.

    The Eagles are selecting a general contractor for the renovation. Contractors had until June 1 to submit proposals, according to the document.

    The team of Turner Construction, Keating Building and McKissack Group built Lincoln Financial Field at a cost of $512 million.

    The Eagles’ consultant leading the renovation is Bill Senn, a sports facility developer and owner’s representative who worked on MetLife Stadium, home of the Jets and Giants.

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  • Texans bookending upper deck with second club

    The Houston Texans are building a second all-inclusive club in the upper deck of Reliant Stadium.

    The Chairmans Club, the name of the newly developed space, covers about 500 seats upstairs in the south end, supported by a 12,000-square-foot lounge that was previously part of the upper-level concourse.

    Season-ticket prices for the new club are $140 a game plus a $1,000 seat license fee. The ticket price covers a buffet meal served until halftime plus soft drinks and bottled water, said John Schriever, the Texans’ vice president of ticketing and event management.

    Hot dogs and nachos will be served throughout the game at the Chairmans Club. Alcohol is a separate cost, and cash bars will be set up inside the lounge, Schriever said.

    Last season, those seats cost $35 a game as a season ticket, he said.

    The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, the Texans’ co-tenant at Reliant Stadium, is a partner in the project. Together, they are sharing the investment of more than $1 million to build the Chairmans Club, Schriever said.

    The retrofit involves carpet, marble bars, sofas, cocktail tables, rest room upgrades and the addition of 32 televisions dispersed throughout the club. Twenty 50-inch screens will hang in the lounge, Schriever said.

    As of last week, the Texans had sold 100 seats in 10 days as team officials contact fans on a waiting list for season tickets. The team relocated 85 people with season tickets in that area last season. No one with existing seats upgraded to the new club, Schriever said.

    When it opens in August, the Chairmans Club will serve as a “bookend” to the existing Directors Club in the north end zone. That club opened in 2007 and has about the same number of seats. Those season tickets are also $140 a game, Schriever said.

    The past five years, the Directors Club has generated incremental net revenue of $150,000 to $170,000 a season after the Texans subtract staffing costs and the catering fees they pay Aramark, the stadium’s concessionaire.

    The Texans are designing the new club in-house. Manhattan Construction, the same general contractor that built Reliant Stadium, is constructing the space.

    The Chairmans Club comes four years after the team first considered adding the second upper-deck club. At that time funding was an issue, and the rodeo and Harris County, the stadium’s owner, were not ready to move ahead with construction, Schriever said.

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