SBJ/May 27-June 2, 2013/Colleges

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  • Big survey generates responses, sales at A&M

    When Texas A&M took on the massive redevelopment of Kyle Field, it looked to Aggies fans to help determine the premium seating mix. They delivered.

    The school did some of the most extensive research in sports facility development, project officials say, to find the right funding model for the $450 million project, which to date is the most costly construction project in college football.

    It distributed 275,000 surveys online to former students and others with ties to the school, and more than 24,000, about 9 percent, completed the questionnaires. Respondents were shown images of suites, club seats or loge boxes, depending on their preference, and views to the field, and were asked what amenities they would like to see.

    The survey was set up so that after potential buyers expressed interest in a product, they were not asked questions about lower-priced inventory. In that respect, the survey was different from past sports facility research, said Earl Santee, Populous’ senior principal in charge of the project.

    Populous, the architect designing the
    Renderings (from top) of a redeveloped Kyle Field show the 12th Man Club, the view of the seating bowl from one of the Founders Suites, and the Founders Parlor.
    Photo by: POPULOUS (3)
    renovation, teamed with CSL International and The Innovation Group, a Denver firm, to administer the survey, which was conducted in late summer 2012.

    The purpose of the survey was to make sure people understood what the products were and to find out whether they were likely to buy and at what price, said Sam Torn, chair-elect of the 12th Man Foundation, the nonprofit responsible for funding the school’s athletic programs and facilities.

    It led to Populous developing a plan to build 114 new suites, 7,800 club seats and three locations for loge boxes. All told, the stadium will grow by about 20,000 seats to 102,500 and become the biggest stadium in the Southeastern Conference after construction is completed in fall 2015.

    The survey did more than help set plans for premium seating. It also helped sell the seats.

    In the 10 weeks after the survey was completed, Texas A&M received commitments for 11 of the 12 high-end Founders Suites and for most of the 102 traditional suites, Torn said. The marketing of club seats starts in early June, he said.

    The 28-seat Founders Suites, to be built on the stadium’s west side, carry capital gifts of $5 million to $15 million with 20-year terms. At 960 square feet, those skyboxes, extending from the 50-yard line to the 20-yard line, are some of the largest luxury spaces in sports, Santee said.

    The Innovation Group typically works with casinos on hospitality research, said Erika Meeske, the firm’s manager of research and analytics.

    Excitement over Texas A&M’s move last year to the Southeastern Conference and Aggie Nation’s desire to have the football team compete in an upgraded facility, drove a high response rate to the survey, Meeske said.

    “We are also fortunate to be in a location within three hours of 20 million people, with a robust economy to really generate a lot of revenue from premium seat sales,” Torn said.

    CSL had done research for Texas A&M in 2008 to develop new premium seat inventory, which gave officials a head start on where they needed to go with the survey, said Bill Rhoda, a principal with the Plano, Texas, firm.

    The survey followed extensive meetings on campus with groups of 30 to 40 as project officials met with everybody from students to the chairman of the school’s board of regents to get a better idea of how to tell the design story and get people to invest financially in the renovation.

    It touched everyone from the wealthiest donors committing to buy the Founders Suites to the budget-minded father with two sons donating $25 a seat plus an annual seat license of $50 to $75 for an upper deck location, Torn said.

    “The goal was to find every revenue source possible. Whether it was under a pebble or a boulder, it didn’t matter,” Santee said. “We talked about what they aspired this stadium to be. We didn’t discriminate.”

    There was big demand for loge boxes, the hybrid between a suite and club seat. The product is common in many arenas and stadiums but no sports facilities in Dallas and Houston now have them, Rhoda said.

    Field-level suites, by comparison, were the least desirable of the surveyed products, Santee said.

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  • Paciolan, Ballena help colleges as more reseat fans based on donor levels, renovations

    More colleges are reseating their fans annually or every few years to ensure that the best donors are sitting in the best seats. It can be time-consuming and labor intensive for schools that don’t have the personnel to quickly move through the seating adjustments.

    Paciolan, the ticketing software firm that services 105 college clients, is working with a 3-D imaging company, Ballena Technologies, to make the process faster and more efficient.

    3-D imaging, like this for Michigan State’s stadium, helps fans quickly “try out” other seats.
    Image: PACIOLAN
    While Paciolan and Ballena have been working together for close to four years, they’ve seen schools adopt the 3-D seating technology more in the last year as the trend of reseating and seat adjustments has picked up in the college space.

    Ballena’s 3-D seating gives potential buyers a view of the stadium from a particular seat, as well as an overhead view that shows where the seat is in relation to the stadium or arena.

    “When you start moving people from one seat to another, it can be a sensitive and emotional process,” said Wendy Brown, Michigan State’s assistant athletic director for ticket operations. “We’re reseating based on donor levels. With this 3-D technology, we’re able to let the buyers see exactly where their seats will be, and that gives them a chance to look at the view from other seats if they move.”

    Schools can reseat their fans for any number of reasons. They might want to give donors who have increased their giving the opportunity to improve their seats. Schools also reseat when a facility like the football stadium or basketball arena has undergone a renovation and changed the seating configuration. It was an effective tool for TCU when the school rebuilt Amon G. Carter Stadium for $164 million.

    For some schools such as Tennessee, which has not done a full reseating in football or basketball, Ballena’s 3-D technology allows the school to market its unused ticket inventory to potential buyers.

    Paciolan said 11 of its college clients signed up for the service in the last year. In all, a full third of Paciolan’s 105 college clients are now using Ballena’s 3-D seating technology. Some schools also are using the 3-D imaging to show ticket buyers where their parking will be.

    “This just makes it easy for the donor to select a new seat or a parking space,” said Craig Ricks, Paciolan’s vice president of marketing. “You don’t have to go down to the stadium and look at the seats. You can see everything on your screen at home. We’ve had a relationship with Ballena for about four years, but we’ve seen it really take off here of late. It’s a much more sophisticated way for people to buy tickets, and it’s a much better experience.”

    The schools already using Paciolan pay an additional programming fee that’s typically a couple thousand dollars to incorporate the Ballena 3-D imaging.

    During Michigan State’s most recent reseating in football, 87 percent of season-ticket holders were eligible to upgrade their seat and half of them logged into the 3-D seating program. The numbers were even higher in basketball, where 91 percent of the season-ticket holders were eligible to change seats and 53 percent used the system.

    “The reseating — or seating adjustment, as we call it — is absolutely a trend that we’re seeing across the country,” Michigan State’s Brown said. “For us, it’s not really about generating more revenue as it is customer retention. This is a great tool for keeping people happy with their seats.”

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  • Apparel partners dress up athletic complexes

    A walk through the University of Southern California’s John McKay Center reveals more than the Trojans’ rich athletic history. It also tells the visitor a lot about USC’s association with Nike.

    The same holds at Maryland, where photos of former Terrapin basketball greats share wall space in the Comcast Center with Under Armour jerseys and shoes in an area that looks more like a department store than an athletic department.

    The school and its apparel partner have always been intertwined, but now, with uniforms representing a school’s brand like never before (thanks, Oregon and Nike), schools are designing the interior of their facilities to reflect a greater emphasis on the apparel partner, and the gear it provides to student athletes.

    Design firm Advent created an 80-foot-long Nike interactive digital space in the McKay Center.
    Photo by: CLAUDIO SANTINI
    It’s a critical component of the recruiting process. When recruits came to visit Southern Cal, the school used to put folded jerseys and other Nike gear on a banquet table for them to see. Now the Trojans — one of a handful of Nike flagship schools along with Oregon, Florida, Texas and North Carolina — have an 80-foot-long Nike interactive digital space in the McKay Center with uniforms displayed on mannequins.

    A recruit touches the video screen and inputs gender and sport. Models come to life on the screen wearing game-day gear, workout gear, travel apparel, shoes and anything else an athlete receives in that sport at USC. It’s become one of the most important aspects of a recruit’s visit, said Mark Jackson, senior associate athletic director at Southern Cal.

    “The whole display is like the front face of Niketown,” Jackson said. “We know that this kind of thing is driving the decisions of 17- and 18-year-olds now.”

    The company behind many of these interior projects is Advent, a small, private Nashville-based design firm with three dozen employees. Advent was long known for creating catchy graphics for exhibitors at trade shows until it moved into the college space a few years ago.

    It was during a graphics project for a Texas A&M facility that John Roberson, the company’s president, started to realize there might be a real niche for interior design in the athletic facility space. That niche has become a core of Advent’s work with more than 400 projects in the college space across more than 200 campuses. The firm has roughly a dozen design projects going at any given time.

    Among its most recent projects are an overhaul of the branding on Mississippi State’s athletic facilities, a redesign of Notre Dame’s football meeting rooms and a new look for BYU’s football lobby and hallways.

    While Roberson wouldn’t reveal the company’s financials, he said annual growth has averaged about 35 percent, with college athletics a prime source for that growth. Advent’s competition in the design space can come from any direction — a local sign shop, a graphic designer, an architectural firm.

    “These kids are highly stimulated these days,” Roberson said. “They’re also extraordinarily sophisticated. They’ve grown up in the age of Apple and Android and the best design and graphics and packaging. They understand the theatrics used to showcase a brand.”

    A typical design project costs 4 percent to 5 percent of the total construction cost of a facility. USC has contracted with Advent to handle interior design for about $50 million worth of total construction projects, making the spend with Advent about $200,000 to $250,000.

    Advent also handled the work at Maryland’s Comcast Center.
    Photo by: LEE LOVE
    Most of Advent’s projects are like the one at Maryland earlier this year, where Advent was brought in to give the interior walls of the Comcast Center a makeover. Some hallways of the Comcast Center, which opened in 2001, were literally blank and beige, with none of the stimulant required to hold the attention of a teenager, or to inspire an alum who might be a potential donor. The Under Armour display was part of the redesign inside Comcast.

    Advent used lighting, graphics and photos of past players to dress up the place and “tell the school’s story,” as Roberson loves to say. The impression that design makes on a recruit can sometimes be as important as the coach or the school’s history, Roberson tells his clients.

    Dustin Clark, Maryland’s director of basketball operations, said the project gave the Comcast halls a “pop” they didn’t have before. The Under Armour gear display with mannequins wearing uniforms and a dozen shoe combinations is about 20 feet in length near the Terps’ locker room. It has emerged as one of the most popular facets of a recruit’s visit, Clark said.

    “We’re hearing from more and more people about how they want to portray their gear, sort of following in the footsteps of those other schools like USC and Maryland,” Roberson said. “Even when you think about ‘Ironman,’ you think about the battle armor and you realize that there’s a lot of drama and panache and intricacy in the gear.”

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