SBJ/November 19-25, 2012/In Depth

Five approaches to premium

Here’s how venues are developing new premium experiences that can get deals done in a belt-tightening economy

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Extreme VIP treatment

Sports facility developers are always thinking of new ways to create the ultimate VIP experience as premium customers demand more than the standard amenities of a suite and a club seat. Event-level suites and clubs fulfill those needs.

These high-end spaces cross paths with players walking to and from locker rooms, such as at Cowboys Stadium and Amway Center, and taking their cuts in batting cages at Marlins Park and Nationals Park. One sideline field-level club at MetLife Stadium provides members with exclusive access to coaches’ postgame news conferences.

Planned Gridiron Club, Davis Wade Stadium.
Rendering by: 360 Architecture
The concept originated 15 to 20 years ago with dugout suites at major league ballparks. Over time, event-level access for premium patrons has evolved into a big selling point for renewing accounts and securing new business.

Now, the concept is trickling down to the college level. At Mississippi State, 360 Architecture has designed the Gridiron Club at Davis Wade Stadium, part of a $75 million expansion set to open in 2014. Season-ticket holders, regardless of seat location, can buy memberships to a field-level club in the north end zone. The cost is $750, a separate fee from season tickets, with room in the club for 700 people. At any point before and during the game, club members can walk down to the lounge, buy a drink and walk outside to view the action from a platform slightly above field level.

“It’s a visceral experience where they actually come into the coaches and athletes’ world,” said Nate Appleman, the project’s principal designer with 360 Architecture. “In a sense, we’re pulling the field into the club.”



One big happy family

Entertaining guests in a traditional suite is no longer restricted to being isolated in a private box with catered food and drink.

Taking a cue from European soccer stadiums, more North American sports facilities are developing smaller suites that
Livestrong Signature Suites, Shield Club.
Photo by: Populous
spill out into a larger hospitality space that features a buffet-style food setup. The focus is not on the suite itself, but the social gathering outside, where guests can network in a club-like setting.

The Commissioner’s Club and its $1 million-a-year suites at MetLife Stadium, home of the Jets and Giants, and Livestrong Sporting Park’s Signature Suites, the first skyboxes to sell out at the MLS facility, are two examples.

The design trend “breaks the boundaries” of the suite experience by forging a connection with skybox owners and their neighbors down the hall, said Brian Mirakian, an associate principal with Populous, Livestrong Park’s architect.



Outside looking in

The success of Champions Square, an outdoor tailgate zone next to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, has sports architect AECOM pitching other NFL teams on how to cash in on pregame spaces without having to share revenue with other teams.

In New Orleans, where AECOM designed the dome’s post-Katrina upgrades, the Saints, stadium manager SMG and concessionaire Centerplate are stakeholders in Club 44, a premium indoor lounge and an extension of Champions Square
Club 44, Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Photo by: Pat Garin
behind the stage where live bands perform. Both areas are open only on game days.

The square itself is a public space; those who desire a higher-end pregame experience can buy a ticket for Club 44, a retrofit of an old Macy’s department store. Originally, access was sold as an all-inclusive ticket for $45 that covered all-you-can-eat food and drink. This year, however, the club rolled back the price of the ticket to $10, which covers one gratis drink. All other food and drink purchases are on a cash basis.

In Seattle, AECOM, the architect of CenturyLink Field, is in talks with the Seahawks for developing a similar pop-up exterior tailgate zone.

“The question I’m asking teams is what is the end goal?” said AECOM principal Jon Niemuth. “Suites are the greatest cost [for teams to build]. Where else can you generate hospitality-related revenue with the least amount of cost?”



Downsizing to a perfect fit

Regardless of the description, teams are transforming unsold suites into smaller sections of premium seats supported by a group dining space. In some cases, they are upgrading club seats and regular seats with no amenities into an all-inclusive product to meet the needs of small businesses and individual ticket buyers.

Madison Square Garden, Xcel Energy Center and Bridgestone Arena are three recent examples of arenas now marketing two-, four- and six-seat packages in their facilities. In Nashville, the Predators created the 501 Club on the club level,
501 Club, Bridgestone Arena.
Photo by: Nashville Predators
driven by the need to develop more business-to-business opportunities for corporate customers, said Sean Henry, the NHL club’s president and chief operating officer.

At MSG, the new 174-seat Madison Club, situated at stage end in the lower bowl, is sold as a sports-only product, covering Rangers, Knicks, college basketball, boxing and tennis. Prices start at $42,500 a seat per year. The midpriced premium seats cater to smaller companies that still wish to entertain clients without spending six figures annually to buy a suite.

In St. Paul, the Minnesota Wild saw the need to develop a midpriced premium product 12 years after opening its arena. Before this season, team officials had nothing to offer between a suite and a club seat. The 24 new, four-person terrace loge boxes are in the arena’s west end. The all-inclusive loges, priced at $48,000 to $53,000 annually, cover tickets to all Wild games and most other events.



It’s the altitude

The upper deck has typically posed challenges for teams to consistently fill in their buildings and the same is true for upper suite levels. Clubs with empty inventory at the highest point of premium seating are making adjustments to occupy those spaces.

At the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Detroit Pistons eliminated 16 suites on the penthouse level to develop Club 300, a flexible group space with 192 fixed seats and standing room for 108 on the arena’s third level. Early in the season, officials are testing the club as an all-inclusive dining option for NBA games and other events to get feedback from
Club 300, Palace of Auburn Hills.
Photo by: Detroit Pistons / Dan Lippitt
users, said Charlie Metzger, the Pistons’ executive vice president, chief marketing and communications officer. A Super Bowl watch party on Feb. 3, tied to the Pistons’ home game against the Lakers, and a Valentine’s Day package for a Maroon 5 concert, are two examples of how Palace officials are experimenting with Club 300 before developing a full marketing plan.

In general, Club 300 tickets cost $30 to $100 depending on the event and the food and drink package, said Chris Quinn, the Pistons’ vice president of business development and premium seating. For the Super Bowl, club patrons can watch the Pistons game and hang around afterward to watch the NFL title game on 16 televisions inside the space. Ticket prices and the menu have not been set but will probably be a little more than $100, Quinn said. The same is true for Maroon 5, with tickets about $250 per couple for a buffet dinner, a rose and a glass of champagne.

In Dallas, Center Operating Co., manager of American Airlines Center, developed the new SeasonPass program that is tied to 20 skyboxes that had been reserved for single-game sales. Those suites now carry one-year deals with tickets to Mavericks and Stars games only, a departure from the standard multiyear terms typically required. The cost is $125,000 for the season; those suites were previously $225,000 a year for all events, with a three-year commitment.

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