SBJ/November 12-18, 2012/Facilities

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  • Tales from the high-tech venue: ‘The only certainty is that bandwidth is no longer an amenity’

    With the proliferation of high-def flat screens in the homes of sports fans, making the experience at the venue equal or better is now a paramount concern for venue and team marketers. Bob Jordan, recently hired by Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment as senior vice president, has been doing that for years, at his own consultancy, as vice president of design and construction at MetLife Stadium, and as director of operations at American Airlines Center.

    Jordan, who is also assisting MLB Advanced Media with its 30-ballpark Wi-Fi initiative, discussed the changing definition of the “state of the art stadium” with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Terry Lefton.

    How much have venue technology costs changed in your time?

    When we started work on the American Airlines Center in Dallas in the late ’90s, we were struggling to distribute a high-def TV signal. We’d allocate between 3 and 6 percent of the construction budget to low-voltage networking stuff. Those same things now start at 10 to 15 percent of the construction budget and they’re going up. There are more space and distance restrictions than ever and they all impact cost and performance.

    How do you forecast bandwidth requirements for a new stadium when things are changing so quickly?

    The only certainty is that bandwidth is no longer an amenity, it’s a requirement. You try to figure on smartphone penetration, which is extensive, and try to figure out how many would be active users during a game. But it’s a Catch-22, because the more content you provide in a stadium, the more use you will get. Still, giving fans at an NFL game the ability to watch RedZone seems like something that’s way beyond nice to have. And there’s such a communal aspect of going to games, certainly we should want the social media to work as well as it can.

    And the use patterns at venues are different, right?

    Bandwidth demands at a stadium are unique. You go from 120 percent of capacity during game days to averaging maybe 5 percent the rest of the time. Balancing that out on a cost/benefit is very difficult. We’re dealing with a lot of unknowns in terms of new hardware, software and user requirements that can change so quickly. Adoption of 5K Wi-Fi was scattered and slow, then the iPhone 5 came on the market and since 5 million of them sold within a week or so, everyone wanted 5K right away.

    So, the question of how much to budget simply for bandwidth requirements isn’t an easy one.

    In a recent conversation with an NFL owner, he told me, “If everything else is equal, I don’t want a person staying home because he or she can’t stay connected at the game or call their baby sitter at home.” I have to provide enough connectivity for him so that decision never happens. At its best, technology changes the way things have always been done. We have the technology to do things very differently for fans. We could eliminate most of the lines at concessions with the right technology, but it has to be a focus.

    There seems to be a built-in conflict between wireless sponsors at stadiums and the desire to offer universal connectivity within those venues.

    It is probably not in your fans’ best interests to do an exclusive with any one carrier. … There are as many questions every day on how to monetize the second or third screen at venues as there are on giving fans enough bandwidth. Right now, we don’t have that many compelling apps at venue, because we don’t have the bandwidth yet. Another compelling question is whether once we have that infrastructure, will sports fans pay a premium beyond their ticket price for that. Teams have tried all different types of revenue models there. There does seem to be a lot of reticence by fans to pay for any type of wireless service once they have already bought what can be a fairly pricey ticket.

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  • Jordan shoes help Bobcats’ store hit the ground running

    Don Muret
    The lure of free sneakers resulted in a record night for the Charlotte Bobcats’ team store at Time Warner Cable Arena.

    As part of the Bobcats’ effort to fill the arena for their NBA regular-season home opener, the first 100 fans who spent $150 on merchandise in the team store got a complimentary pair of Jordan Retro 1 basketball shoes, a $100 value.

    The retail promotion produced total sales of about $100,000 for the Bobcats, the highest-grossing night ever at the 7-year-old facility, according to Pete Guelli, the team’s executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

    The store gave away Jordan Retro 1 basketball shoes to the first 100 people who spent $150 at the home opener.
    Photo by: SEAN PHALER
    The Nov. 2 game against the Indiana Pacers was the first opportunity for fans to buy the Bobcats’ new-look home jersey in the team store. The new logo says “Cats” with the color blue more prominent in the team marks than it has been in past seasons.
    In addition, the Bobcats have stocked the team store with more co-branded Jordan Brand/Bobcats apparel to capitalize on the relationship between team owner Michael Jordan and the Nike line of apparel named for him, Guelli said.
    “It’s something no other team in the NBA can do,” he said. “It’s really a Jordan boutique.”

    Outside the team store, the Bobcats, in conjunction with Levy Restaurants, their food provider, cut prices in half for concessions, including beer and wine. Levy’s per cap was $7.50, an average spend tied to $143,430 in gross sales from an announced crowd of 19,124.

    The per cap was similar to the food sales for a typical Bobcats game with regularly priced concessions, Guelli said.

    This year’s half-price food deal produced about a 20 percent increase in general concessions over last year’s Dec. 26 home opener, when the Bobcats ran the same promotion coming out of the NBA lockout, Guelli said.
    “I think we had a better promotional run-up,” he said. “Last year, we only had a 30-day window due to the lockout and by the time we finalized plans for the opener, less than that.”

    The Bobcats do not expect to run half-price concessions on a regular basis but could run the same promotion or a “hybrid” of the same model from time to time. “Our season-ticket holders responded well,” Guelli said.

    > SANDY AFTERMATH: MCU Park, the Brooklyn Cyclones’ minor league ballpark, suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Sandy but officials affiliated with the New York-Penn League team expect the 7,500-seat facility to be ready to go for the 2013 season.

    “The stadium, like all of Coney Island, was significantly affected by the storm, high winds and related effects,” said Dave Howard, executive vice president of business operations for the New York Mets. The Mets own the Cyclones, their short-season Class A farm club.

    “There is certainly some damage and loss of equipment,” Howard said. “The good news is the structural integrity of MCU Park was not affected. We have already begun the cleanup process [and] the parking lot is being used in the local recovery effort.”

    As of last week, officials were still assessing the damage and did not have an estimate for how much repairs will cost, Howard said.

    The city of New York owns the 11-year-old facility, which sits next to Coney Island amusement park.

    The Mets and Aramark, their concessions partner at MCU Park and Citi Field, were assisting with food distribution to residents affected by the hurricane as part of New York’s disaster relief effort. Food donors receive discounts at the Citi Field team store run by Aramark.

    There was scant information available on Sandy’s damage to Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees and a stadium on the waterfront in that borough. High winds did strip ballpark scaffolding, according to one local report.

    A group of four private investors owns the Staten Island club, a New York Yankees farm team. The city of New York also owns the Staten Island park.

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

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  • Club seats sub for suites at Georgia Tech arena

    Georgia Tech’s arena reopened as McCamish Pavilion last week after a $50 million retrofit that brings fans much closer to the action.

    The arena, formerly Alexander Memorial Coliseum, was renamed after Henry McCamish Jr., the donor who gave $15 million to help finance the renovation.

    The new seating bowl hugs the floor at the refurbished and renamed home of the Yellow Jackets.
    The centerpiece of the project, the 500-seat Callaway Club, is part of a reconfigured seating bowl that hugs the court compared with the facility’s original circular seat pattern. Fixed seating is now 8,600, down from the initial setup of 9,191 seats, school officials said; that includes a new balcony that holds about 1,700 seats.

    The arena’s 12 suites were eliminated to help clear space to build three center sections of club seats on the arena’s east side, opposite the team benches.

    The suites were added about the time the arena was converted into a boxing venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, said Brad Clark, Populous’ principal designer for the project. It was one of three additions over the years to the 56-year-old building.

    The most recent refurb posed the challenge of redoing the bowl by rotating the direction of the floor in part to build the club. “The school decided the suites were not the product they wanted to continue with, and we went ahead with a sideline club section,” Clark said.

    Keeping the 14-person suites did not make fiscal sense, said Kyle Shields, director of premium sales for the Georgia Tech Athletic Association. A half-dozen of them were producing consistent revenue, but the remaining units were tied to up-front deals that gave those donors a “suite for life” without having to make yearly payments, Shields said. Eighty percent of the old suite holders bought new club seats and new courtside seats, he said.

    The Callaway Club, named for a charitable foundation started by early 20th century philanthropist Fuller Callaway Sr., has cushioned, theater-style seats with cup holders, and those premium patrons have access to a private lounge behind the seats. Tech has sold about 450 club seats, Shields said. The cost is $2,000 a seat per year, covering the price of season tickets, food and drink, and an annual donation. No alcohol is served in the arena. At this point, unsold club seats will be used in part for single-game sales to attract more buyers, Shields said.

    Tech had no problem marketing an improved courtside seat. The 48 seats, 40 distributed along the east side and four along each baseline, were priced at $5,000 a seat per season and sold out in about an hour, Shields said.

    “We had courtside seats before but not nearly this close to the floor,” he said. Those premium seat holders also get club access.

    In addition to the premium seat upgrades, one of the best features of the renovation is the open view from the concourse to the court, which was achieved by removing a concourse wall, Shields said. Theatrical lighting is another nice touch, he said.

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