SBJ/July 28-Aug. 3, 2014/Events and Attractions

Canton puts up some Hall of Fame numbers

The Pro Football Hall of Fame revels in its annual spotlight this weekend, with its enshrinement ceremony and the first preseason game of the NFL season. But the hall has other reasons to celebrate as well: It is in the midst of one of the most financially successful years ever for a sports museum, with revenue hitting up to $20 million this year, according to hall President David Baker.

In addition, ESPN this week is expected to announce that it has signed a new seven-year deal to televise the hall’s annual induction ceremony through 2020, the league’s 100th anniversary season.

ESPN this week is expected to announce a new deal to televise induction ceremonies.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

“Besides training camps, this is a really prestigious ceremony that acts as kickoff for the season,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president, programming acquisitions, who added that the network is paying the hall a rights fee for the coverage. As of 2012, the hall had no TV income.

ESPN shares the ceremony coverage with NFL Network, which renewed its deal for the enshrinement program last year.

NFL Network on Friday also will begin a seven-year run of televising the hall’s Gold Jacket Dinner, which is attended by 4,500 guests and honors both the new and past hall of famers. That too carries a rights fee, said Baker, who assumed his position earlier this year.

The hall’s revenue comes from its museum (which has about 200,000 paid visitors annually); the Hall of Fame Game Sunday night, which is the NFL’s first preseason contest of the year; merchandise and licensing; and traveling road shows and fan fests.

Baker, the former Arena Football League commissioner, has grand visions. His ideas include a retail and corporate village around the hall in Canton, Ohio; an officiating and coaching academy; a youth football tournament that is akin to the Little League World Series; and a corporate retreat business.

“Disney has an institute of excellence, and all they have is a cartoon mouse,” he said.

Ten years ago, the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a relatively small enterprise, registering $4.1 million in revenue in 2004. By contrast, the National Baseball Hall of Fame rung up $9.2 million in revenue that year. Baseball’s revenue has fluctuated since then, as it had $8.3 million in 2012, the most recent year for which information was publicly available. More pointedly, baseball’s hall has lost money in eight of its previous 10 years.

The football hall has not lost money in the same reporting years and certainly appears to be riding the popularity of the NFL.

“There was a time when baseball was America’s pastime,” Baker said, clearly suggesting that is no more.
The NFL also has invested its own capital in the hall, which recently completed a $28 million overhaul. Baker is overseeing a $20 million renovation, funded through public and private sources, of Fawcett Stadium in Canton, where Sunday’s Hall of Fame game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills is scheduled to be played. The renovation, which will target safety improvements and fan amenities, is set to begin after next year’s Hall of Fame Game.

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