SBJ/August 6-12, 2012/In Depth

Patriots bet right on premium inventory

The New England Patriots — on their own dime — smartly developed a 68,756-seat stadium that’s held up nicely over the past 10 years without their having to make dramatic changes to the seating bowl.

All seats at Gillette Stadium are angled toward the 50-yard line, and open concourses keep fans connected to the game. The setup is a complete reversal from old Foxboro Stadium, the Patriots’ former home, whose site Gillette now occupies.

At Foxboro Stadium, “the concourses were so confined … you had no idea where you were,” said Jim Nolan, the team’s senior vice president of finance, administration and operations.

The Kraft family, owner of the Patriots, privately funded the $325 million stadium construction project, while the state paid $72 million toward the infrastructure. That made it critical for the team to hit the right numbers for premium seats without wasting money on inventory they could not sell.

Gillette Stadium is now flanked by Patriot Place, a mix of retail, restaurants and theaters built to create year-round activity.
Photo by: New England Patriots
The 6,000 club seats built between the 20-yard lines sell for $525 to $800 a game. The Patriots decided against selling personal seat licenses to help pay for the building.

Gillette Stadium opened with 80 suites, a modest number compared with Detroit’s Ford Field and Houston’s Reliant Stadium, two buildings that opened the same year with more than 130 skyboxes. Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field opened a year later with 172 suites. The Patriots’ suites start at $175,000 a year tied to long-term deals, team officials said.

The Boston market could have supported more suites at the time Gillette Stadium opened, but the Patriots thought they could reach the same revenue projections with fewer skyboxes, said Dennis Wellner, a senior principal with Populous who worked on the project.

As a result, the Patriots were able to double square footage in the suites relative to what teams in other NFL markets were doing, said Wellner, a designer of 15 NFL stadiums. In addition, Gillette Stadium’s clubs were 30 percent larger when compared with those of other stadiums.

“Building enough space for their premium patrons was important,” Wellner said. “Those decisions carried them well, and today they do not have excess product. There is no clamor for redoing seating done originally.”

Soon after Gillette Stadium opened, the Patriots discovered a need to develop a premium group product to sell for single games and corporate meetings. For the 2003 season, the team built two 100-person super suites that sell for $50,000 to $75,000 a game. Around that same time, the Patriots added nine more suites, giving them a total of 89 skyboxes.

Last year, the team extended its naming-rights deal with Gillette to 2032 and signed an agreement with Putnam Investments to brand the club level as part of a redesign to give the area a fresh look and more space. The revamp
included six new video walls and new bars. This year, Putnam Club patrons will enjoy new seats, a wider chair with a higher back for lumbar support.

To further illustrate how large the gap was between the Patriots’ old and new facilities, Gillette Stadium’s two end zone video boards cost $6 million to install in 2002, a sum greater than the cost to build the entire Foxboro Stadium in 1971, Nolan said.

“We were told those boards would be a 20-year asset but we found ourselves eight years later saying they weren’t state of the art,” Nolan said. “We went out and installed two new Daktronics boards [in 2010], one of which has the largest footprint for an outdoor NFL stadium.”

The recent technology enhancements extend to wireless upgrades, with three distributed antenna systems improving coverage for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon customers. This year, Gillette Stadium is one of five NFL facilities testing stadiumwide Wi-Fi access. The Patriots signed a deal with Enterasys, a New England tech firm, to equip the stadium for the pilot program. The same company wired Lucas Oil Stadium for the 2012 Super Bowl, Nolan said.

Putman Investments signed a deal last year to brand the stadium’s club area.
Photo by: New England Patriots
On the concessions side, the Patriots, one of three NFL teams running food service in-house, have consolidated five food stands in the south end zone into the new Champions Brewpub with local craft beers, wings and fries.

Changes at the stadium site have not been restricted to the venue itself. A side benefit of owning the stadium and the 700 acres surrounding it has been the development of Patriot Place, a project that made its debut five years ago.

The Krafts invested $350 million to develop the shops, restaurants and theaters to supplement the game-day experience and create year-round activity in Foxboro, which is about 30 miles south of Boston. Patriot Place’s newest addition, Trader Joe’s, opens in early September.



Recalling the bid to send the Pats to Connecticut

Gillette Stadium almost was the one that got away.

In November 1998, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft signed a deal that called for the team to relocate to a proposed 68,000-seat stadium in downtown Hartford and become a partner in the $1 billion redevelopment of that city’s Adriaen’s Landing section.

To woo the Patriots, Rowland committed the state to spend $375 million for site acquisition and stadium construction. The Patriots were to retain all of the revenue generated at the stadium, and the state guaranteed Kraft the sale of at least $13 million a year in premium seating and millions in stadium improvements during the 30-year lease, according to published reports.

In exchange, Kraft was to provide $75 million in private investment on the site, including $50 million to build a hotel, $20 million for a sports and entertainment pavilion, and $5 million for a fitness center.

The stadium faced several hurdles that likely would have delayed construction. So, after securing $150 million through the NFL’s G3 loan program, and $72 million in infrastructure guarantees from the state of Massachusetts for a new stadium in Foxboro, Kraft scuttled the relocation and built Gillette Stadium.

— David Broughton


GILLETTE STADIUM
ORIGINAL COST: $397 MILLION

  2002 2012
Luxury suites 80 89
Luxury suite seats 2,000 2,300
Club seats 6,000 6,000
Club lounges 2 2
General concessionaire In-house In-house
Premium caterer In-house In-house
Concessions points-of-sale 350+ 500+
Permanent novelty stands 15 15
Team store (square feet) 7,200 16,000
Soda pouring rights Pepsi Pepsi
Parking spaces 14,400 16,000
Video screens 2 Daktronics HD LED Added 2 Daktronics LED ribbon boards
Size of video screens 48 feet x 27 feet 41.5 feet x 164 feet and 45 feet x 100 feet
TV monitors 1,000+ 2,000+
Playing surface Natural grass FieldTurf
Mixed-use development (square feet) None Patriot Place (1 million+)
Hall of fame building (square feet) None Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon (36,000)

Note: Every preseason, regular-season and postseason game at Gillette Stadium has sold out, extending a streak that stands at 193 consecutive games, dating to 1994 when Robert Kraft bought the club.

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