SBJ/June 18-24, 2012/Facilities

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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