SBJ/Aug. 18-24, 2014/Facilities

Browns’ new fan decks raise branding profile for sponsors

The new fan decks at FirstEnergy Stadium will push brand exposure to a much higher level for Cleveland Browns sponsors Bud Light and Ford.

The first phase of a two-year, $120 million renovation — scheduled to be revealed this week, prior to the Browns’ first preseason home game — features two branded destinations in the end zones connected to new bars and concession stands showcasing local chefs Michael Symon and Rocco Whalen.

A rendering shows the new Ford and Bud Light fan decks at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium.
Photo by: CLEVELAND BROWNS / GENSLER

Bud Light and Ford took ownership of two of the four spaces that bookend new video boards now placed lower in the bowl compared with their old spots high above the upper deck. The other two corner spaces are unsold at this point, team officials said.

The two sponsors either renewed or extended their deals over the next five to 10 years. Both agreements are valued in the seven figures annually, said Brent Stehlik, Browns executive vice president and chief revenue officer. In each case, the dollars have increased significantly over the old deals, Stehlik said, as a result of the stadium upgrades and the greater exposure the companies receive through the use of LED boards marking their respective territories.

Another sponsor, Pepsi, also continued a significant deal with the team that includes stadium signage and other components but not one of the fan decks.

Bud Light has tied its brand to fantasy football stats displayed on a 20-by-30-foot screen placed in the stadium’s southeast corner. There are multiple televisions and bars in that corner, and the screen flashing fantasy stats is visible to fans in the seating bowl.

The Browns were still working with local beverage distributor The House of LaRose on specific activation as of last week, but the efforts most likely will include radio talk shows and ticket promotions, Stehlik said. 

For Anheuser-Busch, the fantasy football piece ties into the company’s strategy for connecting with younger fans and engaging them in a social atmosphere, said Chris Wujcik, the brewer’s director of local sports and signage.

“They want to watch their fantasy football team as much as the home team, and this space will give them a haven to do so,” Wujcik said.

The end zone destinations are tied to new food stands.
Photo by: RICHARDSON DESIGN

Ford had a few years remaining on its deal but tore up its existing contract for an extension covering new real estate in the stadium’s northeast corner, Stehlik said. 

Behind the two primary video boards are new food stands branded for the two acclaimed chefs, Symon and Whalen, as they expand their operations beyond the club level. Symon’s B Spot burger stand on the west side and Whalen’s Great Lakes Cheesesteaks on the east side both have roof cover and wind screen protection.

Non-premium season-ticket holders have been asking the Browns how they can access foods related to the chefs, and the new stands in the end zones should help satisfy those needs, Stehlik said.

The cheesesteak concept debuts this season after the Browns and their food service partner, Aramark, had Whalen come up with a new menu item for the general public. Cleveland Browns Hospitality Group, the joint venture between the team and Aramark, runs the concessions in both ends.

The Browns used the end-zone platforms at AT&T Stadium as a model for FirstEnergy Stadium, but they added a twist by designing the primary video boards “with wings,” to essentially frame the sponsor displays, said Browns President Alec Scheiner, a former Dallas Cowboys executive.

“After spending the last few weeks touring the renovation every day, I don’t think anyone has done more work on their stadium over the offseason,” Scheiner said. “It’s pretty rare to basically cut the end zones in half and build new platforms.”

In the process, the Browns, working with Gensler and Turner Construction, the project’s designer and builder, respectively, removed 7,000 less-desirable seats in the upper bowl and filled gaps in the corners of the lower bowl with 3,000 new seats, resulting in a net loss of 4,000 seats. 

The Browns kept season-ticket prices flat in the end zones, priced at $45 a game. Those sections include the redesigned upper Dawg Pound in the east end near the new cheese-steak stand. Those prices have remained unchanged in the past five years, Stehlik said.

There is one new seating product tied to the refurbished end zones: bar stools that sell for $85 a game. Situated in the east end, the bar stools are in the last row of section 318 with direct access to the Bud Light bar, which is prime real estate in the renovated facility, Stehlik said.

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