SBJ/September 3-9, 2012/Facilities

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  • Bears’ high-end suite renamed

    The Chicago Bears have signed a three-year deal with Zurich Insurance for naming rights to the Skyline Suite, a premium group space tied to the team’s most expensive ticket at Soldier Field.

    Chris Hibbs, the Bears’ vice president of sales and marketing, refused to disclose financial details but he did say the deal is below seven figures in annual value. Zurich’s agreement as an official Bears partner is one level below the team’s Hall of Fame category, Hibbs said.

    A ticket in the Zurich Skyline Suite at Soldier Field runs $875 a game.
    Photo by: CHICAGO BEARS
    Zurich North America’s headquarters are in Schaumburg, Ill., a northwest Chicago suburb, and the company has a 100-year history in the Chicago market. As the name implies, Zurich’s worldwide headquarters are in Switzerland.

    The company also has a strong connection to Soldier Field. Zurich insured construction of the stadium when it opened in 1924 and its $606 million reconstruction, completed in 2003. Those links are illustrated on suite wall graphics with the tag line, “We Helped Make It Happen.”

    The tie-in with Soldier Field made sense for a company that up to now “has not had a very public face in terms of a branding perspective,” said Jeremy Ahto, Zurich North America’s head of brand marketing.

    Most of its marketing focus is on charitable causes, Ahto said. In sports, Zurich has signs on a suite level at United Center, home of the Bulls and Blackhawks. In golf, it has sponsored the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a PGA Tour event, since 2005.

    At Soldier Field, the Zurich Skyline Suite puts the company’s name in front of Bears fans as a reminder of its stature as the world’s largest underwriter of construction projects, Ahto said. Elsewhere, Zurich is underwriting Madison Square Garden’s $1 billion renovation.

    Zurich, a public company, generated $4.3 billion in revenue for 2011. The company employs about 60,000 people serving customers in more than 180 countries and territories, Zurich spokeswoman Jennifer Nowacki said.

    Zurich previously bought six tickets for the Skyline Suite, where talks with the Bears on naming rights first began, Ahto said. Roughly half of the suite’s 183 patrons are corporate clients, Hibbs said. The remaining 50 percent are individual season-ticket holders.

    Those tickets cost $875 a person for each game for an all-inclusive package covering the cost of food and drink, including beer, wine and hard liquor. The suite has three rows of indoor seats with cooking stations and lounge space in a room with a total of 7,725 square feet.

    As part of the deal, Zurich receives game-day exposure on LED signs in the seating bowl and advertisements in the Bears’ game program. The company also gets use of the suite on non-event days for sales meetings, Hibbs said.

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  • Things are sweet in Sugar Land at new minor league park

    Don Muret
    Roger Clemens’ return to professional baseball last month put the cherry on top of a banner season for the Sugar Land Skeeters and Legends Hospitality Management, their food and retail provider.
    The Skeeters, owned by Opening Day Partners, are a first-year minor league team playing in the independent Atlantic League. They have struck gold in Sugar Land, an upper-middle-class suburb of 87,000 residents situated about 25 miles southwest of Houston.

    As their inaugural season begins to wind down, the Skeeters have drawn an average of 6,600 fans a game at Constellation Field, a new ballpark with 6,000 fixed seats, said Skeeters President Matt O’Brien. For Clemens’ appearance Aug. 25, the team attracted a crowd of 7,724, which included the sale of lawn seats and standing-room-only tickets. At that game, Legends reported a per cap of more than $18 for food and merchandise, said Michael Bekolay, the concessionaire’s vice president of operations.

    The food per cap alone was about $15 for the Clemens game, a slight increase over the regular-season numbers. All told, per caps hover in the $14 range for food and $2 for retail, Bekolay said.

    Those food per caps are on the high end for minor league baseball, confirmed Ken Young, president of Ovations Food Services, a Legends competitor, and owner of the Albuquerque Isotopes and Norfolk (Va.) Tides, two Class AAA teams. Those two clubs, plus Memphis, and Bowie and Frederick, both in Maryland, are all Ovations accounts and generate top-end per caps of $12.50 to $13. Providing ample points of sale and personnel and larger sizes at higher price points are key for producing $10-plus a head in fan spending, Young said.

    In Sugar Land, where Legends, the Cowboys-Yankees joint venture, signed a 10-year concessions deal, the vendor has kept most prices at a reasonable level, Bekolay said. The most expensive items are $10.50 for hot dog and burger combo meals.

    “The portions are huge,” he said. “The value is in the food and non-alcohol [items]. It’s family driven.”

    Legends serves its in-house brand Bent Buckle BBQ for Skeeters games, with beef brisket cooked in a $25,000 smoker at the park. In addition, Legends sells its own line of Chef Crafted Collection barbecue sauces, rubs and flavored ketchups at the team store.

    “The lift [in concessions revenue] was unexpected,” Bekolay said. “But if you look at the park itself [with a small waterpark in right field] it is more of a family entertainment center that also hosts a baseball game.”

    “It seems like there are more kids running around in bathing suits than hats and gloves,” he said.

    HOGS’ HEAVEN: The University of Arkansas, pending approval by the school’s board of trustees, will move ahead with three projects tied to its ambitious $300 million facilities master plan.

    A new video board is just one of the upgrades planned at Arkansas, where several projects are up for approval.
    Photo by: UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS ATHLETICS
    One piece is the construction of an indoor practice facility for baseball that also can be used by the track and field team for its throws area. The new building, estimated at $8 million to $10 million, will be adjacent to the Randal Tyson Track Center, a 12-year-old facility.

    The flexibility of the dual-sport building is something Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long believes is unique and will “put us ahead of our competitors” in baseball and track, he said. Both programs are highly ranked at the Division I level.

    A second project, a $20 million to $25 million new basketball practice facility, is sorely needed. Arkansas is the last SEC school without a separate building where its teams can practice, Long said.

    The third project is a new student-athlete academic and dining center, with a construction estimate of $18 million to $23 million. The board of trustees is to meet Thursday and Friday to approve all three deals.

    Last weekend, a $4.6 million video board made its debut at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The north end zone screen stretches 167 feet across, the widest video display in college football.

    In overall square footage, Arkansas’ new board is the second-largest at an on-campus stadium, behind Texas.

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

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