SBJ/July 16-22, 2012/Facilities

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  • Suns create ‘place of our own’ around town with Hoops Hub

    Don Muret
    The Phoenix Suns have developed the “ultimate mobile application” to extend their brand in the local market, team officials say.

    The Hoops Hub, a 30-foot-long walk-in trailer, contains a small basketball court and hoop, a replica of the Suns’ locker room at US Airways Center, a team history wall listing every Suns player over the past 45 years, and built-in televisions to play video games.

    The Suns paid BizBox, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company, a six-figure sum to develop the trailer with the vision of creating a customized fan experience that they can take on the road to destinations in Greater Phoenix, including Cactus League spring training games.

    The Hoops Hub trailer has a small court outside and several team-related activities within.
    Photo by: PHOENIX SUNS
    The team’s investment covers a one-year lease with BizBox with an option to buy the unit after the initial deal expires, Suns President Brad Casper said.

    The team has always viewed itself as an innovative, forward-thinking franchise and saw the Hoops Hub as a “perfect vehicle to bring the Suns to all parts of their fan base,” Casper said.

    The trailer also fits well with Operation Orange, the Suns’ community outreach program tied to family-friendly events and charitable causes that the team formed last year as a way to remain visible in Phoenix during the NBA lockout. During the work stoppage, the Suns organized events at shopping malls, water parks and the local zoo with appearances from former Suns players, team cheerleaders and the Gorilla, one of the NBA’s most recognizable mascots.

    Previously, those venues provided the dominant images of Operation Orange activities. The flexibility of the Hoops Hub will help the team “create a place of our own” at other entertainment destinations in town, Casper said.

    The trailer also should help the Suns generate revenue. The team plans to take orders for season tickets and single-game tickets from the Hoops Hub in addition to selling merchandise.

    As a tie-in to the team’s 45th anniversary this coming season, Adidas, the NBA’s official retail apparel partner, is producing retro Hardwood Classic jerseys for the Suns, and the Hoops Hub will help push that product when it is made available at retail by February, Casper said.

    The Suns first used the Hoops Hub in June outside US Airways Center to introduce first-round draft pick Kendall Marshall. The trailer made a second appearance over the Fourth of July holiday at the Tempe Town Lake development.

    PANTHERS’ PAYOFF: The Carolina Panthers drew favorable comments from their season-ticket holders and corporate partners after playing host to the first concert in 15 years at Bank of America Stadium, said team President Danny Morrison.

    The Kenny Chesney-Tim McGraw “Brothers of the Sun” tour stop in Charlotte grossed $3.4 million in ticket sales and drew 44,482, about 300 short of a sellout, according to Billboard Boxscore. The Panthers co-promoted the show with The Messina Group and AEG Live.

    “It was a great event for Charlotte, the region and the stadium,” Morrison said. “We heard from both the talent and [Chesney tour producer] Louis Messina how much they liked the stadium.”

    Will it be another 15 years before the next show? The Panthers will make decisions on future concerts on a case-by-case basis, Morrison said.

    After the country show, the NFL team resodded a portion of the grass field on the stadium’s north end, where the stage had been set up.

    The Panthers also will replace some turf after President Obama’s scheduled speech at the close of the Democratic National Convention accepting the party’s nomination, confirmed Scott Paul, the facility’s operations manager. That speech is set for Sept. 6 at the stadium.

    PICKUPS: Legends Sales & Marketing has hired Shawn Kuzmin to run the Florida Panthers’ Club Red project, the new center ice club at BankAtlantic Center in suburban Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Kuzmin was most recently senior vice president of sales and service for Palace Sports & Entertainment and the Detroit Pistons.

    On a related note, Bill Goren is the Pistons’ new senior director of ticket sales overseeing season tickets and premium seats at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Goren held the same title for seven of his 12 seasons with the Houston Astros.

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

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  • Will arena quest take Islanders to Brooklyn?

    With only three years left on a lease that team officials insist they will not extend, and no deal for a new arena in sight, the New York Islanders’ best option to continue playing in New York in 2015 might be in Brooklyn, at the soon-to-open Barclays Center.

    The Islanders’ lease with Nassau County to play in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum expires in 2015. Team owner Charles Wang has maintained that the Islanders will not play another game in the antiquated arena, which opened in 1972, after the expiration of the lease. The Isles are the only one of 11 major league sports franchises in the New York metropolitan area that does not play in a new or recently updated facility.

    The Isles say they won’t play at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum after 2015.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Asked whether his arena would welcome the Islanders when the lease in Nassau runs out, Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner said, “I would hope that’s possible.”

    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, however, believes the Islanders are not yet at the point of no return when it comes to Nassau.

    “There’s still time to effectuate a plan,” Bettman said recently. “It’s beyond question that they need a new arena, it’s beyond question they they’re not going to stay in Nassau Coliseum, so Charles will explore the alternatives. We hope the alternatives continue to be on Long Island so Islanders fans, who are many and loyal, can see their team.”

    Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano last week posted a Request for Qualifications for a “master developer” to develop the Coliseum and surrounding property. The chosen developer would have to negotiate with Wang on a deal for the Islanders at the site. A source familiar with the Islanders’ desires, however, called Mangano’s plan “a nonstarter” because Wang, as a tenant, would not have enough revenue streams for the Islanders to be profitable.

    The Islanders declined to comment.

    Wang, who has owned the team since April 2000, has met resistance from local politicians on a pair of plans: one in 2010 for a renovated Coliseum with major development of the surrounding property, the other for a new arena built in part with public funding. Wang declared himself a free agent last Aug. 1 after a public referendum for a new Coliseum was rejected by Nassau County taxpayers.

    In the New York area, only Brooklyn has a completed, state-of-the-art arena that could be available for the Islanders. Barclays Center opens in September and will be home to the NBA Nets. The Islanders are scheduled to play the New Jersey Devils in an exhibition game at the arena on Oct. 2.

    Asked last week about the possibility of the Islanders moving into his building in 2015, Barclays Center and Nets CEO Brett Yorkmark said, “We are interested in bringing NHL hockey to Brooklyn. We feel very strongly about Brooklyn as a hockey market and know we can accommodate it from a building perspective.” Yormark also said he looks forward to “continued dialogue” about the Islanders’ playing more games at Barclays Center.

    But even Brooklyn is an imperfect solution for the Islanders. Barclays Center was designed as a showcase for the Nets, with ideal sight lines for basketball. Capacity for hockey at Barclays Center also is just 14,500, which would make it the smallest arena in the NHL.

    Brooklyn does offer advantages, though. Unlike the Coliseum, fans can reach Barclays Center via mass transit. As one of New York’s five boroughs, Brooklyn also would ignite increased Manhattan media attention.

    Wang is waiting to hear from another pair of local options: Queens; and Suffolk, in Eastern Long Island, which has undeveloped property suitable for a new arena. If Wang, who contends he has lost at least $20 million each season he has owned the Islanders, decides he has no alternative but to leave New York, he will have suitors in Ontario, Quebec City and Seattle, among other municipalities.

    Bettman previously has played down Brooklyn as an alternative for the Islanders, concerned that Brooklyn was not central to the location of the bulk of the team’s fan base, but he has softened his stance since visiting Barclays Center last month.

    Asked whether he now has an opinion on Brooklyn for the Islanders, Bettman paused thoughtfully before answering.
    “I’m not sure yet,” he said. “It’s something we’d have to look at.”

    Staff writer Don Muret contributed to this report.

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  • With new plan, Pistons resume drive to keep Palace updated

    The Detroit Pistons, historically aggressive in keeping the Palace of Auburn Hills current with newer arenas, have more upgrades in the works after last week’s announcement of a $15 million, privately financed renovation.

    Palace Sports & Entertainment, which owns the team and owns and operates the NBA venue, unveiled the first phase of a three- to five-year master plan under Tom Gores, who bought the Pistons a year ago. The biggest change is eliminating 16 suites at the top of the arena to build a new open-air lounge with views to the court.

    The first phase of Palace upgrades will include a makeover for the Club West area.
    Photo by: ROSSETTI
    The concept of the new club is still under consideration as Palace Sports moves forward on the project with Rossetti, the architect hired to develop the improvements. Rossetti designed the Palace and $117 million in improvements after the arena opened in 1988.

    In general, the Pistons want to build a full-service club on the penthouse level at the top of the arena with the flexibility to accommodate all game-day ticket holders, but a space that specifically attracts younger NBA fans tuned in to social media, said Rossetti principal Jim Renne.

    The lounge’s working title, Innovation Club, reflects a theme that could incorporate social media components, Renne said. In that respect, it would fall in line with the social media hub at Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils, among other big league arenas.

    “We haven’t started the full design phase, but [the Pistons] really want to appeal to a different demographic,” Renne said.

    The Pistons “will test a number of concepts and get a feel for what the trends are,” said Dennis Mannion, Palace Sports’ president and CEO. “There is a lot of potential for social spaces.”

    As the team considers cutting even more of the original 80 upper-level suites, all now marketed as game-day rentals, one concept already under consideration is building opera box-style premium seats to replace traditional skyboxes.

    “I love the theater box concept at the United Center,” Mannion said.

    The Chicago arena and other NBA facilities have converted conventional suites into smaller, two- and four-seat units with shared dining space in the back that sell for a fraction of the cost compared with the six-figure expense of a 12- to 16-person suite.

    “Whether you call it the mini-suite or the opera box, it’s the crossover of the enclosed space with seats in the bowl that has intimacy and elegance,” said Rossetti principal Matt Rossetti. “It’s creating more community VIP space with less of a boundary.”

    Palace Sports will also renovate 40 suites on the arena’s first suite level. In the past, decorating the suites was left to the suite owners, but now the Pistons will take over outfitting those units by adding flat-screen TVs, new furniture, and floor and wall coverings.

    The team will not increase suite prices, Mannion said. He would not discuss pricing; four years ago, the last time such figures were available, regular suites at the Palace cost $75,000 to $300,000 annually.

    The first phase of upgrades, starting this summer, also includes renovation of Club West above the West Atrium entrance and wireless improvements.

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  • Sun Life Stadium making its mark as hot spot for soccer matches

    The Miami Dolphins are off to a strong start marketing their NFL stadium as an international soccer facility.
    For the 12-month period ending in August, Sun Life Stadium will have played host to six soccer matches, including the coming World Football Challenge game between AC Milan and Chelsea FC.

    As of last week, ticket sales were approaching 50,000 for the July 28 event, said team spokesman Jason Jenkins. Paid attendance could exceed the announced crowd of 48,327 at last month’s rainy World Soccer Masters exhibition showcasing 30 of the sport’s best players.

    The World Soccer Masters exhibition drew nearly 50,000 last month.
    Photo by: SEBASTIAN ARISTIZABAL
    The Dolphins, in conjunction with their two sister companies, RSE Ventures and Insignia, a sports marketing firm, work to book soccer at the 75,540-seat stadium. The facility was left with 81 more open dates after the MLB Marlins left for a new ballpark in Miami this season.

    Together, they take the financial risk to promote events on their own and they sign traditional rent deals with other promoters, said Todd Boyan, Sun Life Stadium’s senior vice president of operations. The Dolphins generate revenue from concessions and parking.

    “You have to feel your way through it to see how many groups are truly capable of putting it on themselves and how many have rights to teams,” Boyan said. “Our vision long term is not just putting on any and every match but to make sure they are quality matches.”

    The challenges for booking international friendlies extend to uncertainty over team rosters. The availability of stars may not be known until a few weeks before the event, said Dario Brignole, president of Shine Entertainment and the promoter for the World Soccer Masters game.

    “You may secure Real Madrid, for example, but with [Cristiano] Ronaldo, the name is more powerful than the team brand,” Brignole said. “The stadium group has to be flexible and smart and move fast with heavy investment in management and communications.”

    Shine Entertainment rented Sun Life Stadium the first time it had booked an event at the building. Brignole shared a percentage of ticket sales with the Dolphins, and the promoter generated additional revenue through sponsorships and international television rights.

    Both parties are talking about scheduling more soccer matches for next summer.

    “I was impressed with the organization and how effective they were,” Brignole said. “The event came together late and it was a multimillion-dollar operation with the fees we paid for players.”

    Brignole did not provide specifics, but said, “It was a big risk, but we did very well.”

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