SBJ/April 14-20, 2014/Facilities

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  • Seven-year push paves way for Auto Club Speedway sellout

    Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker gets a daily email detailing ticket availability before the track’s annual Sprint Cup race. When she scanned the email on the Saturday morning before this year’s race, she was surprised to see that fewer than a half-dozen tickets remained available at prices ranging from $40 to $120.

    “Guys, we have a problem, and I’ve never had to deal with this before,” Zucker said to her direct report, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood, who was in California for the race.

    The track reached out to Hispanics, youths and the military.

    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    “What is it?” Chitwood asked.

    “I think we ran out of tickets,” she said.

    Later that afternoon, Auto Club announced its first sellout of a Sprint Cup race in a decade. The next day, March 23, the 70,000-seat facility was full for the first time in years. It was only the second sellout for a Sprint Cup race at an International Speedway Corp. track since the recession, and the first at a track that had reduced its capacity significantly, from 90,000 in 2005 to 70,000 today. (ISC-owned Phoenix also sold out a race last year.)

    The sellout was the result of a seven-year marketing push by Auto Club Speedway to diversify its fan base and attract new spectators. It developed programs targeting Hispanics, youth, military personnel and first responders, and it increased total ticket purchases across those groups by more than 10,000 units collectively.

    Zucker and her staff traveled to Daytona last week to present those efforts to executives at ISC, which owns Auto Club Speedway and 11 other tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

    The track’s biggest success came in the Hispanic demographic. Seven years ago, Auto Club Speedway developed a family four-pack of tickets that it promoted through Hispanic radio stations. It sold just 50 packs that first year, 200 tickets total, but it didn’t abandon the program. Instead, it looked for ways to improve it.

    “The goal with any of our programs is to generate 500 units [of tickets sold],” Zucker said. “When we find something that does that, we build on it.”

    Over the last few years, the track partnered with Cardenas Market, a leading Hispanic retailer, and King Taco, a local quick-service restaurant, to develop promotions and programs targeting Hispanics. Cardenas sponsors a Hispanic music festival at the speedway every year that attracts 70,000-plus spectators, and King Taco placed promotional materials in stores and sponsored a science and math program that brought 600 students to the race.

    The track also built out experiences to cater to Hispanic spectators when they arrive, adding food options and Latino music, and it has brought in Lucha Libre wrestlers to entertain spectators. All of it has combined to help attract more than 25,000 Hispanic spectators for the Sprint Cup race.

    “[The Lucha Libre has] become so popular that we need to move them because the crowds are too big where they’re located,” Zucker said.

    To attract more children to races, Auto Club developed a reading program for elementary schools. Teachers determine the number of books or chapters students must read in order to advance on a racetrack and complete a lap. Children who complete a lap get a free ticket for a parent to attend the Saturday Nationwide Series race at Auto Club. The student gets in free.

    The program had 14 schools participate when it began in 2008. That total rose to 200 schools this year, and 120,000 students completed their laps. Close to 5,000 students and their parents redeemed tickets.

    Racetracks have always done well in selling tickets to military personnel, but Auto Club didn’t have much success in that area despite there being 30 military bases nearby. It developed a program offering 50 percent off tickets to military personnel who purchased tickets at bases like the Marines’ Camp Pendleton, and it sold 25,000 to 30,000 tickets to military personnel this year.

    The speedway complemented the military program with a first-responder initiative it borrowed from Dover International Speedway. It developed a special ticket for police, firefighters and EMTs that included access to a hospitality area at the track with food and beverage included. They sold more than 1,000 of those tickets.

    Not everything Auto Club tried has worked. It launched a program aimed at Asian residents in Southern California by partnering with a brand called Hot Import Nights, which hosted a car show at the speedway. It attracted Asian spectators, but they weren’t able to convert them to NASCAR ticket buyers. Zucker said they haven’t given up on that segment and will continue to look for ways to reach that demographic.

    “Sellouts are not as common as they used to be,” Zucker said. “My hope is that this is a clear sign of what’s going to be coming across the country for NASCAR.”


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  • HKS putting its Final Four experience to work in Minneapolis

    Don Muret
    The same architect that the NCAA uses as a Final Four consultant is designing the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium, something that could give local officials an edge competing for the event over the next six years.

    Dallas-based HKS developed the midfield setup for the men’s Final Four in stadiums, a layout dating to Ford Field in 2009, and it has been principally involved in the city of Minneapolis’ bid for the event.

    In January, the NCAA announced Minneapolis was among eight finalists for Final Fours to be held in 2017 through 2020.

    Winning bids will be announced in November after individual presentations are completed earlier in the fall.

    Separately, the architect is helping city and state officials prepare their bid for the 2018 Super Bowl, said Bryan Trubey, a principal with HKS and director of the firm’s sports and entertainment practice.

    HKS, which helped make AT&T Stadium Final Four-ready, is doing the same for the Vikings
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    In the Twin Cities, where the old Metrodome played host to a Super Bowl and two Final Fours, HKS is designing the same flexibility to accommodate both events at the Vikings’ new facility.

    HKS designed AT&T Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium, two NFL facilities designed with the Super Bowl and Final Four in mind, Trubey said.

    In Minneapolis, HKS has applied the same formulas to program the additional back-of-house space and premium amenities required for both events, but with design tweaks to improve upon Arlington and Indianapolis. Similar to the other two stadiums, the Vikings’ 31 field-level suites built along the south sideline and east end zone will not have a view to the court, but they should still be in demand for the NCAA’s corporate partners, Trubey said.

    “There is a greater potential for premium down low, about the same as Cowboys,” he said.

    AT&T Stadium, site of the 2014 Final Four, was filled with 79,444 fans for the Saturday semifinals, which set an attendance record for college basketball. The Vikings’ stadium, smaller than the Cowboys’, could reach 72,000 for Final Four, Trubey said.

    “We add so much capacity when we do the seating in the lower bowl,” he said. “It’s always a different number in each venue, but we don’t go into the end zones and add seats like we do for Super Bowl. We do all the adds down where the premium seats are.”

    > WAKE UP THE ECHOES: Kansas City-based Dimensional Innovations won the job to provide graphic design services for the $400 million expansion of Notre Dame Stadium.

    The firm’s work over the next two years will focus on the theming of three new buildings tied to the Campus Crossroads Project, the school’s largest capital works venture. The project includes developing new and flexible spaces to meet the academic and social needs of students as well as the football program (SportsBusiness Journal, Feb. 3-9).

    Dimensional Innovations has extensive college experience, including work done at football stadiums at Kansas State and Kentucky, Michigan’s Schembechler Hall and Marshall’s hall of fame, said Justin Wood, the firm’s vice president and sports practice director.

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


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  • Australian deal is a first for Sporting Innovations, its Fan360

    Sporting Innovations has signed a five-year deal with the Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust to install its Fan360 platform at two stadiums in Sydney, Australia’s largest market.

    The deal is the first international agreement for Sporting Innovations, a spinoff of MLS’s Sporting Kansas City. Sporting KC and the Utah Jazz have integrated the Fan360 platform into their facilities.

    The tech additions are part of Sydney Cricket Ground upgrades.

    Photo by: SYDNEY CRICKET & SPORTS GROUND TRUST
    The Fan360 software system is designed to improve the fan experience by providing discounts for concessions, on-demand video replays and live streaming video on mobile devices. It generates revenue for teams by linking their sponsors to Fan360’s interactive features, and captures valuable customer data tied to the concessions and ticketing features.

    The platform was to be in use at Sydney Cricket Ground for the April 13 home opener of the Sydney Swans, an Australian rules football team.

    The technology upgrades are part of about $800 million in renovations planned for the two facilities over the next 10 years, including the cricket ground, a 48,000-seat stadium that originally opened in 1848.

    The cricket ground recently replaced one of its three grandstands, a $150 million project. The two remaining grandstands, both built more than 100 years ago, will be upgraded in the future, said Paul Yeomans, a consultant working on the tech upgrades.

    The second building, Allianz Stadium, opened in 1988. Allianz Stadium is scheduled to undergo a complete refurbishment in the coming years, said Phil Heads, a spokesman for the trust, the entity operating both venues.

    Together, they host about 100 events a year, drawing 1.5 million people to watch several local and national teams play cricket, rugby, Australian Rules Football and Twenty20, a shortened form of cricket. Baseball has been played there, too. Last month, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks played a two-game series at the cricket ground. Both games drew more than 38,000 fans.

    For the native sports such as rugby and cricket, though, it can be a tough road drawing fans to events, and the spotty connections they have experienced on their mobile devices made it even more difficult to fill the stands, officials said. They hope Fan360’s features, powered by a new Cisco high-density wireless network, will resolve some of those issues.

    Stadium sponsors Coca-Cola and Carlton & United Breweries have their brands connected to concession specials and mobile ordering as part of the Fan360 system, Heads said. Telstra, a communications partner, brands the MatchDay Live components tied to the platform.

    The cost of the Fan360 platform will run in the seven figures. All the tech upgrades, including the installation of the Cisco network, will total about $8 million.


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  • TD Garden ties LinkedIn into new B2B program

    TD Garden this week is debuting a business-to-business program that features the integration of LinkedIn for business leaders and other fans in the arena’s premium-seating areas.

    The program was slated to be announced last Thursday, timed for this week’s start of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Boston Bruins.

    The TD Garden Business Network will be open to fans in the arena’s premium areas. 

    Photo by: BRIAN BABINEAU / TD GARDEN
    Membership in the program, called the TD Garden Business Network, will be complimentary for partners and sponsors of TD Garden, the Bruins and the NBA Celtics. It will provide those representatives with the opportunity to attend meet-ups in the newly designated LinkedIn Lounge in The Premium Club at TD Garden.

    The arena also plans to host networking events with local and national business leaders as part of the new program.

    For LinkedIn, the group’s legal counsel approved the use of the brand’s marks for the arena’s business network, but no sponsorship dollars are involved at this time. Instead, organizers said, TD Garden is leveraging the social channel for in-arena purposes, and the platform gets the bonus of the exposure and promotion.

    The Premium Club at TD Garden comprises the arena’s exclusive, members-only areas that include the venue’s premium-seating and hospitality spaces. The new LinkedIn Lounge area is debuting as a temporary, casual-meeting space, built out in one of the main quadrants of The Premium Club with capacity for 100 people.

    Building it out as a more permanent space could follow if the program is popular enough among members not only through the NHL playoffs but also for events at the arena during the summer months.

    With the program, members of the TD Garden Business Network will be able to access a targeted area of an in-arena app that’s available to all in-house fans. That feature will let those members see which of their LinkedIn contacts and fellow network members are in attendance at that particular event.

    The service is available via iPhone and Android devices.

    Organizers expect that with a few thousand fans using the app on any given game night, a few hundred will access the private, LinkedIn/networking features of the offering.

    “There are so many ways for partners and prospective partners to connect digitally, but this is a way to bring people face to face when they’re at our games and events,” said TD Garden President Amy Latimer. “Our events often bring out a ‘who’s who’ of Boston business. This gives them the opportunity to get together.”

    While group membership will be limited to the arena’s Premium Club clients and corporate partners, select invitations will be sent to senior Boston business and community leaders, as well, even if they may not necessarily be Premium Club members.

    Latimer said the business network was created by the arena’s marketing department, which is led by Jen Compton, vice president of marketing. The mobile app was developed by B3 Connect, which has created other apps for the Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres and the Colorado Avalanche, among other NHL teams. The arena’s other partners in the business network project are Umbel (data analytics), Cisco (Wi-Fi infrastructure) and Activate Sports & Entertainment (digital strategy and implementation).

    “It’s the best of both worlds,” Compton said. “The network gives us more ways to communicate with our partners and ways for our partners to connect with each other.”

    According to Activate President Jim Delaney, the program’s LinkedIn integration is “the first in the sports industry doing anything this extensive with LinkedIn and B2B audiences.”

    Delaney said the groups involved are exploring the potential of a more official partnership with LinkedIn if they were to move forward with a permanent lounge location for the concept in the fall.


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