SBJ/May 27-June 2, 2013/Colleges

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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