SBJ/October 29-November 4, 2012/Facilities

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  • Newest NYC venue has a vibe of its own

    Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and Facilities Writer Don Muret on the opening of the new Barclay's Center.
    Barclays Center’s exterior frame of weathered steel firmly welds the new arena to Brooklyn’s industrial heritage, but the first thing that catches an observer’s eye is something new: the oculus, an age-old architectural element, updated for the digital age.
    A broad loop of steel, sweeping and curving above an outdoor plaza as it extends from the building, has built into it Barclays Center’s signature marquee, a 3,000-foot LED board that can be seen from a distance down Flatbush Avenue. It is unlike any other digital billboard at a sports facility.

    For an arena that celebrates Brooklyn’s sports and food traditions, the oculus stands out for its cutting-edge look. It’s a glimpse of the future, provided by an arena that once looked like it didn’t have one.

    For the past decade, the Nets fought several opponents to build New York’s first new arena since Madison Square Garden opened in 1968. Their foes included both neighborhood residents and businesses whose buildings would be torn down and the recession, which put the project on hold for a few years.

    Now the Nets see the oculus as a focal point for that community, providing information on arena events within a flexible space that can be used for pregame functions, said Hal Johnson, senior project director for AECOM, the sports designer that teamed with local architect SHoP to develop the arena.


    Final adjustments

    Inside the Nets’ review of opening night
    Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY

    In addition, the sign brings the arena’s founding partners to life. It is part of a “street to seat” strategy for communicating messages from the plaza to the inner bowl, said Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, parent firm of Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets.
    Brooklyn Sports officials project up to 75 percent of all fans will use the main entrance on the arena’s east side after arriving by subway and walking upstairs to the plaza. So far, with the exception of two Barbra Streisand concerts, those numbers are holding up.

    “Traffic and transportation has been a non-issue,” said Fred Mangione, the Brooklyn Nets’ executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “The only issue we’ve had so far was Barbra. There were so many black cars around the arena, it was just a different crowd.”

    Inside the arena, patrons can walk straight ahead to the edge of the lower bowl and take in a bird’s-eye view of the center-hung video board. Barclays Center’s grand entry is similar to NBA arenas in Charlotte and Memphis, both AECOM projects.

    Unlike those buildings, though, this arena carries a darker look. The Brooklyn arena’s grayish color scheme speaks to the “gritty, bold, strong look and feel that we’ve tried to project here throughout the building,” Yormark said.


    Size restrictions at the site required a tight seating bowl.
    Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
    At the same time, the arena’s high level of finishes — terrazzo floors on both the lower and upper concourses, full ceilings in the suites with no exposed pipes — speaks to Brooklyn’s vision for also developing a higher-end building.

    The conservative look extends to the sponsor zones, subtly branded throughout the arena. Projection lighting on to the main concourse, a nice twist, provides additional branding for partners such as Ticketmaster, which holds naming rights to the main hallway.

    The seating bowl itself is one of the tightest in sports for a building its size (17,732 seats for basketball). It is a function of the restrictions in square footage on an urban site and the budget for an arena with hard construction costs of $500 million, Johnson said.

    As a result, the upper-deck concourse, called the MetroPCS Upper Pavilion, gets cramped during breaks in the action. The corners upstairs average 12 feet in width, and for the first preseason game, Oct. 15, there were bottlenecks at halftime as fans spilled out to the concession stands.

    The tradeoff is that fans are situated closer to the action. To date, the feedback from Nets season-ticket holders has been that “we probably undersold how great these locations are,” Mangione said.

    The arena’s first level of suites is 26 rows from the floor. To date, the Nets have sold about 80 percent of the 101 total suites and are approaching 11,000 full-season tickets sold.
    The Geico Atrium, (top) where most fans enter the building, leads to a “grand entrance” offering a view of the bowl; patrons of The Vault bunker suites have access to a champagne bar.
    Photos by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY

    Team officials feel good about those numbers, considering all the new sports venues that have opened in Greater New York over the past five years, Mangione said.

    The average price for a suite is $287,000 a year with five-, seven- and 10-year terms. The cost of a suite covers most events, including concerts, family shows and, this year alone, 25 college basketball games in a part of New York that has spawned some of the sport’s greatest stars.

    “We were out there selling at the same time when everyone was opening their building,” Mangione said. “Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, [MetLife Stadium], all that was real and tangible, and we were still selling a dream at that point.”

    “We got off to a quick start and then we slowed up a little bit between redesigns and changes,” he said. “What really helped us the last six months is when we started our programming … all the different events, that’s what really brought us home.”

    The 11 suites inside the Vault, the arena’s bunker suite area at event level, sell for $550,000 a year. Seven of the nine Vault suites available for long-term lease have been sold, Mangione said.

    The remaining two suites are reserved for team use. The same is true for the Chairman’s Room, a Vault space sponsored by High Point Solutions, where Nets ownership can entertain senior-level executives with Frank Sinatra’s velvet tones wafting in the background.

    The lounge inside the Vault’s common area has a champagne bar, and those patrons can buy fine jewelry inside a small room off to the side of the space. American Brilliance, a New
    The Honda Club (top) sits at one end of the arena; projection lighting on the main concourse provides additional branding for Ticketmaster.
    Photos by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
    York jeweler, signed a 10-year lease with the arena.

    The Nets had no problem marketing the arena’s 40 loge boxes, groups of four seats at stage end with counter space and small televisions. The average ticket price of $185 a seat per game covers the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages. The loges sold out in three weeks, Mangione said.

    “We priced it right,” he said. “We sent out one direct-mail piece, but we had such a big database of people who were either interested in high-end products or got shut out of some of the better floor seats.”

    Outside of Barclays, the bank holding the arena’s naming rights, Calvin Klein has the greatest exposure among founding partners. The luxury apparel maker sponsors the VIP entrance.

    From there, whether it’s Woody Allen, Sting and Michael Douglas attending the Streisand show or one of the 700 courtside seat holders, they take the Calvin Klein elevator down to event level for dinner and drinks at the Calvin Klein Courtside Club.

    Similar to other NBA arenas, a floor-to-ceiling glass wall in the club provides a view of the Nets players as they walk to and from the court.

    On the technology front, Barclays Center stamped Cisco’s StadiumVision IPTV product with its own brand called BCTV. For every event, the arena runs a half-hour program distributing content tied to all events at the facility with advertising wrapping those images.

    The Nets Shop by Adidas, the first team store in the club’s 45-year history, overflowed with customers for the first home preseason game. The Nets, with their new black-and-white look, have become a lifestyle brand in part because of the ties with entertainer Jay-Z, a Nets minority owner, Mangione said.

    “That was the ultimate goal, and we think we nailed it from that perspective,” he said. The store, run by Adidas, is open seven days a week.

    The arena’s retail component extends to storefronts occupied by Rocawear, MetroPCS, Starbucks and Elbow Room, a macaroni and cheese eatery. It’s another brand the Nets want to build up with more retail deals to be announced soon, Yormark said.

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  • Final adjustments: Inside the Nets’ review of opening night

    Three hours before the Brooklyn Nets took the floor for their first game at Barclays Center, Brett Yormark took a brisk walk-through and did not like what he saw. He spotted a dirty rug leading to the arena’s $550,000-a-year bunker suites, streaks on the stainless-steel walls of the Calvin Klein-sponsored elevator leading to the courtside club, a burned-out light fixture in the TicketsNow Club.

    The next day, it was time to talk about it.

    Department heads brought their observations to the 30-minute meeting, run by CEO Yormark.
    Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
    Yormark, the hard-driving CEO of the team and the arena, sat down on the morning of Oct. 16 and led his Barclays Center business team through a post-event review of the Oct. 15 exhibition game against the Washington Wizards. The 30-minute critique, held in a conference room around a long rectangular table at the Nets’ team offices a few blocks from the arena, drew 10 department heads to discuss operations, guest services, food and beverage, box office, marketing, tickets and suites, in-arena sponsorship elements, game entertainment and media.

    It’s a common step for a team to take, especially one opening a new building, but the Nets provided SportsBusiness Journal with exclusive access to the meeting to hear what went right and what went wrong. Executives discussed the adjustments that the team and AEG Facilities, the arena’s operator, had in mind for preseason games Oct. 18 and 19, the arena’s final NBA dress rehearsals before the Nets’ regular-season home opener Thursday against the crosstown Knicks.

    For Yormark, maintaining a spotless Barclays Center was top of mind and he kicked off the meeting with those remarks.
    “I wasn’t happy with the cleanliness of the building when I went on my walkaround,” he said. “We need to hire a housekeeping manager to really have oversight of that day-to-day [who] reports to management, who truly knows what we’re looking for.” One week later, the new position was filled.

    Making ushers more knowledgeable about arena seating, especially in the premium areas, was another concern after Yormark discovered four people sitting in his seats in Section 24, Row 3 in the lower bowl.

    “When customers are paying a large sum of money, we can’t do that,” he said. “I understand it was our first crack at it but that needs to get better.”

    Moving around the table, each department head gave a brief summary of their experiences at the game. David Anderson, Barclays Center’s general manager, retold a story he heard from Jason Sandoval, his director of guest services. It was the arena’s first Nets game after a string of eight Jay-Z concerts, two Barbra Streisand performances, the Harlem Globetrotters and a gospel show.

    “Jason was talking to an usher last night and asked her how was it to finally work a basketball game after all the concerts, and she’s like, ‘This is the first game I’ve ever been to in my life!’”

    “It’s a learning process,” Anderson said, “and the one thing about our employees and what we’re seeing is that there isn’t that [job] turnover we thought there was going to be.”

    Anderson pointed out his staff was still learning the makeup of Nets fans and asked for the team’s help in that regard. Case in point is Bruce Reznick, a lawyer who has followed the team for 15 years and is known as “Mr. Whammy” for putting the hex on opposing free-throw shooters during home games.

    “You guys need to make sure you let us know about some of the fans you’ve brought over [from New Jersey], especially Mr. Whammy behind the basket,” Anderson said. “We didn’t know Mr. Whammy existed, so our security officer was trying to tell Mr. Whammy to stay in his seat.”

    After a brief discussion between AEG and the Nets, Mr. Whammy was “back in business,” Anderson said.

    For the Oct. 19 exhibition, Reznick relocated to another position in the lower bowl after the 76ers complained he was blocking an emergency exit. Regardless of his perch, the superfan now wears a Brooklyn Nets jersey, courtesy of Yormark, to replace his red New Jersey Nets attire.

    “He’s too visible to be wearing an old jersey,” Yormark said. “Please put it on my account. Do what you need to do, I’m fine with that.”

    There were also some functional elements of the building that needed to be addressed.

    Two hours before tipoff, arena workers were still busy installing retractable seats in both end zones, a situation reported on by two New York newspapers the day after the game, an issue that got under Yormark’s skin. For the next two exhibitions, AEG used additional manpower for a quicker changeover.

    “The Daily News picked up on that and so did the Post,” Yormark said. “It was a secondary story, [but] that’s just not something you want to read about, especially since we were working at it all day. We have to work closer together and figure out how to mitigate it.”

    Several issues revolved around the All Access program, the Nets’ all-inclusive package tied to 4,400 club seats in the lower bowl. The cost of food and drink is included in the ticket price, but many patrons weren’t sure what was covered, which slowed the lines at concession stands, said Julie Margolin, director of operations for Levy Restaurants, the arena’s food provider. For a portion of the All Access audience, tickets for the preseason game were handed down to other individuals unfamiliar with the program, part of the reason for the slowdown, Margolin said.

    To clear up confusion over All Access, Yormark suggested providing additional information distributed with the tickets so all guests know what amenities are included. Margolin agreed that greater communication was required for the program.

    Margolin shared her best anecdote of the night: The daughter of a loge box owner was impressed with the Brooklyn mozzarella bar. “Dad,” Margolin heard the girl say, “this place is better than Disneyland!”

    Chief Communications Officer Barry Baum, in charge of the media, said the beat writers’ primary complaint was that a wall divider in the media work room was built too low, making them feel uncomfortable. A week later, adjusting the setup remained a work in progress, Baum said.

    “They don’t want to see each other?” Anderson asked. Yes, “they don’t want to see each other,” Baum confirmed, producing a rare Yormark grin.

    “The Wi-Fi worked great,” Baum continued. “In the upper bowl, power didn’t work in the media area, so there were some issues there. No complaints on the sight lines.”

    The opposite was true for YES Network, whose Nets broadcasters, Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel, were temporarily relegated to Row 2 off the court. After an exchange of late-night emails, the Nets cleared space for YES with a permanent spot at the scorer’s table. “We knew that was coming,” Yormark said.

    On the sponsorship front, Chris Brahe, senior vice president of partnership sales and marketing, was to review the broadcast to see how well partners’ brands showed up on TV and what could be done for better presentation. Some logos “popped” well on TV; others did not, Brahe said.

    Stolichnaya vodka’s sign, for example, was “very white,” Yormark said, making it difficult to see the founding partner’s brand on television.

    The box office had a walkup crowd of 400 to 500 fans buying day-of-game tickets, said Leo Ehrline, executive vice president and chief administrative and relationship officer. For the Nets, who drew poorly for several seasons at two arenas in New Jersey, it was unexpected but nothing they couldn’t handle.

    “That [walkup] was for a preseason game,” Yormark said. “We haven’t seen that obviously in our last eight years, which is OK. That’s why we’re in Brooklyn, but we need to plan for that. Once the regular season comes, it’s going to be a different dynamic for us.”

    Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
    Anderson said most of the 14,219 fans in attendance entered Barclays Center through the main entrance off Flatbush and Atlantic streets, where 11 subway lines converge at a New York transit hub that spills into a large outdoor plaza leading to the arena’s front door.

    “We’re seeing that front atrium is going to get hit hard; people don’t want to walk around to the other side, so we have to prepare for that being a heavy entrance, there’s no way around it,” he said.

    It is a “good problem” to have, Yormark said, considering many fans took mass transportation to an arena with very little public parking.

    The Nets Shop, to the right of the main entrance, got slammed with the spillover, and Adidas, the team store operator, planned to supply employees with iPads to sell merchandise to expedite the process, said Fred Mangione, the Nets’ executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

    “Kind of like when you go to the Apple store, so they’re going to be active on the floor now moving forward,” he said. “It was a decent crowd. I can’t even imagine what it will be for a regular game. We’re going to revitalize how we do that and get ready.”

    Yormark wrapped up the meeting by stating that the game provided a great first step, but with improvements to be made across the board, nobody in the room could afford to be satisfied.

    “The papers were overwhelmingly positive and fans love it, they are chanting ‘Brooklyn’ already,” he said. “It was probably a better game last night from fan interaction than I’ve experienced the last four years, and it was only a preseason game. So I think we’re on the right track.”

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  • Packing the Mansion: Churchill Downs space filling up quickly

    Don Muret
    The Mansion is nearing 100 percent occupancy at Churchill Downs, three months after the track announced the development of the new ultra-premium space at the historic racetrack.

    Legends Sales and Marketing, the firm selling the Mansion, has five of 32 tables remaining to sell for the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks, the only two races for which the new club will be open, said Mike Ondrejko, Legends’ chief operating officer.

    The tables, packaged with four, eight and 16 seats, are priced at $9,000 to $12,000 annually tied to multiple-year commitments. The tables remaining to sell all have four seats, Ondrejko said.

    Project officials did not have to stray far from the Louisville track to find a major buyer for about half the property in the Mansion. Local businessman Junior Bridgeman, the former NBA player and the owner of about 300 Wendy’s and Chili’s franchises, bought 150 of the 322 total seats in a $1.5 million transaction, said a source familiar with the deal. Bridgeman was recently appointed to the Churchill Downs board of directors.

    Both Ondrejko and Churchill Downs officials declined to discuss the Bridgeman deal and whether it was tied to his board appointment.

    “We, as a matter of policy, don’t discuss issues involving patrons,” track spokesman John Asher said.

    In Arlington, Texas, Legends, co-owned by the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, set up a cocktail reception as a sales event at Cowboys Stadium’s Crown Royal Club before a “Monday Night Football” game there in early October.
    It produced about $250,000 in seat sales for the Mansion from a group of 45 local residents, including some Cowboys season-ticket holders, Ondrejko said.

    In New York, Legends sent 500 direct-mail pieces to officials at the city’s top companies, along with a “key” to the Mansion. It served as a catalyst for setting up face-to-face presentations with key decision makers in New York, Ondrejko said.

    > NATIONAL DEAL: The Potomac Nationals have signed Front Row Marketing to sell naming rights for a proposed 7,000-seat ballpark. The stadium would anchor a $70 million public-private development with retail, office and residential components built adjacent to Interstate 95 in Woodbridge, Va.

    Team owner Art Silber has committed to privately financing the $25 million ballpark. The project was announced in July and requires local approvals before construction starts.

    The Nationals play at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, a 28-year-old facility damaged by fire in June as a result of a gas leak.

    Potomac is a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals and a member of the Carolina League.

    About half of the 59 Class A parks in Minor League Baseball have naming rights, with an average annual value of $212,000, according to SportsBusiness Journal research.

    BROADCAST NEWS: The Florida Panthers have developed several grassroots programs to keep their fans engaged during the NHL lockout.

    One initiative is a broadcasting school reserved for the children of Panthers’ season-ticket holders and corporate partners, said Michael Yormark, president of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the team and BB&T Center, its arena.

    Panthers broadcasters Randy Moller, Steve Goldstein, Bill Lindsay and Kevin Rogers will serve as instructors Nov. 7 for a two-hour night class at the arena’s Chairman’s Club.

    Students ages 12 and up are eligible to participate in the class, covering Panthers television and radio productions, social media and game presentation. The free class is limited to 30 students. Depending on the demand, a second class could be added, Panthers officials said.

    They will have opportunities to direct simulated live broadcasts on FS Florida and WQAM, the club’s television and radio partners, and interview a former Panthers player.

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

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