The Ravens yesterday unveiled plans for $35M in renovations to M&T Bank Stadium, a two-phase project which "will begin in the next seven to 10 days," according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore SUN. The first phase, "focusing on the lower concourse and video boards," is scheduled to be completed before the team's preseason home opener in August. The second phase, "which will be on the upper concourse," should be done in time for the start of the '14 season. Upgrades include "four new LED boards," and two HD boards that will "greet those who enter ... from Gates A or D, showing live game broadcasts and Ravens’ highlights." The lower concourse will have "a completely new look with open-kitchen styled concession stands, expanded team retail stores, wood and steel columns and purple lighting." The upper concourse will "undergo a similar transformation one year later." Ravens President Dick Cass said that the organization "will assume most" of the project’s $35M cost. However, the Ravens have "asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to assume a 'small portion' of the cost, stemming from the installation of new directional signage throughout the stadium." Aramark, which runs concessions at the stadium, also will "contribute some money in exchange for the team extending the agreement with them for several years." The "first order of business will be the re-design of all 16 lower concourse concession stands." The new open concessions will "allow customers to watch their order as it is prepared, along with providing digital menu boards, more space, better equipment and refurbished condiment stands." The concourse renovation also will include "wrapping the current concrete support columns in brick and adding purple uplighting and enhanced signage" (Baltimore SUN, 2/22).
BIRDS' EYE VIEWS: In Baltimore, Ryan Sharrow noted the Ravens' new HD videoboards, "which have split-screen capabilities, will display a variety of content, ranging from in-game action, highlights, stats, welcome messaging and entertainment video." The new LED videoboards will be "placed on each side of the two giant RavensVision HD video boards in the stadium’s inner bowl." Additionally, "new LED ribbon boards will be installed to connect fully around the entire middle seating bowl." Meanwhile, all four retail stores inside the stadium will be remodeled, "slightly increasing the size of each and providing a wider variety of merchandise for fans" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 2/21).
The Indian Wells, Calif., City Council on Thursday voted unanimously to give BNP Paribas Open officials "the green light to begin the process of making the annual tennis tournament bigger not just locally, but on an international level," according to Colin Atagi of the Palm Springs DESERT SUN. Plans to expand the Indian Wells Tennis Garden "call for an 8,000-seat stadium about 100 yards east of the existing stadium, a 2,000-space grass parking lot, new restaurants and other amenities." Construction "may begin March 18 -- the day after this year’s tourney ends." Tournament officials "plan to finish" the $70M project in time for the '14 tournament. Their goal is to "increase attendance from 370,000 to 500,000 in five years." The BNP Paribas Open currently is the "fifth-largest tourney in the world, but an attendance of 500,000 people would put it above Wimbledon and the French Open." Tournament CEO Raymond Moore said there is “heightened interest” among Grand Slam officials in visiting Indian Wells (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 2/22).
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called on Florida Atlantic Univ. to "reconsider naming its football stadium for a group that runs prisons” after the school announced a 12-year, $6M naming rights deal with Boca Raton-based GEO Group, according to Hal Habib of the PALM BEACH POST. The ACLU also is “asking the school to disassociate itself from GEO Group, whose CEO, George Zoley, is an FAU alumnus.” GEO Group VP/Corporate Relations Pablo Paez, also an FAU alumnus, said that he was “confident the public ‘will come around’ once it recognizes the positive impact the agreement will have on the university and the area.” ACLU National Prison Project attorney Carl Takei in a statement said, “An educational institution needs to carefully consider the long-term impact on its reputation, its students and its faculty. There are costs to its legacy that the university needs to calculate” (PALM BEACH POST, 2/22). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dieter Kurtenbach wrote public reaction to the naming rights deal "has been swift and negative." GEO Group's Wikipedia page since the announcement “has been edited 23 times -- in 2012, it was edited a total of 11 times” (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 2/21). The HUFFINGTON POST’s Jesse Lava wrote the changes to GEO Group's Wikipedia page may be an effort to “minimize the damage.” All the edits “appear to have been performed by someone named Abraham Cohen, and there just happens to be an Abraham Cohen employed by the GEO Group as a spokesman” (HUFFINGTONPOST.com, 2/20).
THE NAME GAME: Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert weighed in on the controversial deal during Thursday's episode of "The Colbert Report." He said, “My favorite thing about sports is stadiums named after corporations. It’s win-win. The teams get money and the corporations get advertising that really works. I mean, going to Coors Field makes me crave the Silver Bullet, and anytime I go see the Patriots play at Gillette Stadium I am as hairless as a newborn mole rat. But I was especially -- especially! -- pumped about the latest company to get in on the stadium naming action.” Colbert noted the deal between FAU and the GEO Group and said, "That’s right! A private prison company is sponsoring a sports venue. It’s just like Bank of America Stadium, only this company believes in punishment for crime.” He noted how fans "all across the country love ‘Free Hat Day.'" Colbert: "So think how much they’ll love ‘Free Shiv From A Broken Spoon Night. ... America needs more integration of athletics and for-profit private incarceration. I mean, the Chinese are way ahead of us on this” (“The Colbert Report,” Comedy Central, 2/21).
Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the middle of '11 "began donating tens of thousands of dollars to political candidates," and by the time the '12 election season ended, IMS had "contributed more than $100,000 to Hoosier politicians and campaign committees," according to Alex Campbell of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR. That amount is 12 times more than IMS officials "had donated over the entire previous 10 years when such contributions totaled about $8,500." IMS COO Doug Boles said, “We made a strategic decision that it was time to be more than a passive observer.” He added that the speedway’s "increased involvement arose from a general desire to become more politically active and came before it made specific plans to ask for state assistance." Boles: "It did not coincide with our planning." Campbell writes, "Whatever the timing or motivation, the strategic decision seems to be working." A bill pushed by IMS to create a taxing district to help fund facility improvements is "zooming through the Indiana General Assembly." IMS' contributions "began to pick up" in July '11. Boles said that by that time, IMS had "hired Bose Public Affairs Group, a government affairs firm." Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics Dir Andrew Downs said that Bose "is well-regarded and well-connected in politics." Downs: "If you’re looking to get into the game, they are certainly one of the firms that would come to mind pretty quickly." Boles said in talking with Bose, IMS decided to "invest in the entire process." That meant "supporting candidates at the state and local levels in both political parties." IMS for the first time since '00 also registered "as a lobbying organization with the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/22).
The upcoming NFL season will be the Vikings' last in the Metrodome, and the facility "will be torn down" in early '14, according to Doug Belden of the ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS. Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen said that there "had been some thought" of team playing both '13 and '14 in the Metrodome as construction of the new stadium on the same site was in progress, but that "turned out to be unworkable." But she said given cost and liability issues, keeping the Metrodome open an extra year while construction is in progress "just doesn't make any sense." The Vikings will play the '14 and '15 seasons at the Univ. of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 2/22). Former Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Exec Dir Bill Lester said of the building, "There are a lot of buildings that were built bigger and better and designed bigger and better. But the main thing is, it served a community need. If you got a similar return out of any other investment, you’d consider it money very well spent." In Minneapolis, Richard Meryhew in a front-page piece notes the Metrodome will be torn down 31 years after it opened, and perhaps no sports facility "in the land was so celebrated, ridiculed, praised and scorned." How the Metrodome will be torn down has "yet to be determined." It could be "with a bang -- explosives -- or more likely, piece by piece" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/22).
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER: Univ. of Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson, whose team will play some games at the Vikings' new stadium, said that he "hasn't seen the design" of the facility. However, in Minneapolis, Sid Hartman reports Anderson has talked to MSFA CEO Ted Mondale about a "design that calls for 44-foot NFL sidelines, a 26-foot right field wall and outfield dimensions of 300 feet to right field, 324 to left, 370 to left-center, 400 to dead center and 335 to right-center." Anderson said that the changes are "satisfactory." The new design "calls for a warning track of 10-foot-wide turf besides the 335-foot mark in center; portable dugouts with temporary walls in front of field suites; turf at home plate with a circular surrounding stripe; and club seating overhanging the right field wall that will be 4-by-11 feet and hang 39 feet, 9 inches over the field" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/22).
Energy provider PPL has signed a 10-year naming rights deal for a new $177M arena under construction in Allentown, Pa. PPL Center, an 8,500-seat facility, will be the new home of the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and is set to open for the '14-15 season. Three Comcast-Spectacor business units are involved in arena operations. Global Spectrum will manage the facility, Ovations Food Services has the concessions and New Era Tickets is the ticketing provider. Front Row Marketing, a fourth Comcast-Spectacor unit, sold the arena’s naming rights. PPL also holds the naming rights to PPL Park, home of the MLS Union (Don Muret, Staff Writer). Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but PPL Chair & CEO Bill Spence indicated that it was "less than" the Union deal, which was reported to be worth $20M over 10 years. In Allentown, Assad & Kraus report the money from the naming-rights deal "will go to the Brooks Group, which owns the Phantoms and will operate the arena under a 29-year lease." Phantoms co-Owner Rob Brooks said that the team "fielded multiple inquiries about the naming rights, but that PPL was its primary prospect." Assad & Kraus note PPL's name will be at "center ice and throughout the building." When an opposing player commits a penalty, the Phantoms "will go on a 'PPL Power Play'" (Allentown MORNING CALL, 2/22).
In San Antonio, Brent Zwerneman notes Texas A&M Univ. will begin a $425M renovation to Kyle Field on Nov. 10, "a day after the Aggies wrap up their home slate." Pictures of "are leaking onto the Internet, while A&M released a lone rendering of the east (student) side facade.” Texas A&M VP/Marketing & Communications Jason Cook said the school released the rendering “to illustrate the potential changes to the east side, which we surveyed students to financially support on Wednesday.” Zwerneman writes the rendering is “likely pretty close to the final product, with tweaks here and there on the mammoth undertaking expected to last about three years” (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 2/22).
A NEW KENTUCKY HOME: In Louisville, C.L. Brown reports the Univ. of Louisville's new $17.5M soccer stadium, the “second-biggest project” in the athletic department's history, will “begin construction as early as June.” UL remains about $3M "shy of the total, which could change when the construction bidding process takes place, and the school is still soliciting donations.” The target date for completion is September '14, which "would have the facility ready just in time" for the school’s move to the ACC. The stadium “will be built across from the football practice fields on South Floyd Street.” The field will have “a seating capacity estimated at 5,300." It also will hold a 15,500-square-foot training center that "includes the men’s and women’s locker rooms” (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 2/22).