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Volume 23 No. 23

Sports Facility Of The Year

AT&T Park was designed specifically for Major League Baseball, but the stadium sure doesn’t act like it. In 2007, motocross, monster trucks, ski jumping, ice skating, an opera simulcast, college football and live concerts shared the same field as the San Francisco Giants and the MLB All-Star Game.

The San Francisco Giants take creativity to a new level for using a ballpark that is MLB’s first privately financed facility in over 40 years.

Those alternative events, which helped boost the building’s overall attendance to 3.7 million for the year, didn’t come to town by accident. Team owner Peter Magowan paid for the $357 million facility and formed a separate company to aggressively book nonbaseball events to help recoup the investment.

Giants Enterprises, led by 31-year team executive Pat Gallagher, schedules those dates and pays rent back to the club. Since it opened in 2000, AT&T Park has booked 900 nonbaseball events inside or near the stadium.

The most spectacular event has been the Esurance-sponsored Icer Air, a production that includes ski jumping, snowboard jumping, BMX bike and skateboard competitions, and live music. It has played the building the past two years, generating net revenue in the low six figures for each date, and has been successful enough that Gallagher is talking to other clubs about organizing an action sports tour of MLB venues.

“I think Pat Gallagher is simply one of the best entrepreneurs in our business,” said Richard Andersen, executive vice president of ballpark management for the San Diego Padres.

The event side is just one aspect of AT&T Park’s excellence. The Giants, because of their proximity to Silicon Valley, have been at the forefront of sports technology inside their building. They were among the first MLB teams to install an in-stadium wireless network.

The team promotes local brands and foods at the park, and Centerplate’s concessions operation consistently ranks among the best in sports. The waterfront site in one of America’s most beautiful cities doesn’t hurt, either.

Said Giants President Larry Baer: “We like to take people on tours of the park and tell them, ‘We are now taking you to the worst seats in the house,’ in the last row of the upper deck, that has a breathtaking view of the city, the ocean and the bridge.”

Jon Oliver certainly had his doubts about whether the University of Virginia’s new arena could attract the dates it needed to turn a profit without impeding athletics.

The University of Virginia’s 2-year-old arena proves its worth to the community in addition to serving the needs of its basketball programs.

Oliver, Virginia’s executive associate athletic director, was concerned about working around the basketball calendar in scheduling other events to meet the bottom line at the $191 million John Paul Jones Arena.

The university positioned the arena as a community center, not just a venue for men’s and women’s hoops. So it hired SMG to manage and book the 15,219-seat facility, which opened in the fall of 2006.

“I was worried about the conflicts that concerts and other shows would have with athletics,” Oliver said. “It’s hard to get those dates anyway, but we found a way to make it work, and we have ongoing conversations to stay in front of that.”

The arena’s turnstiles have spun more than 1 million times since it opened, Oliver said. The arena generated $6.5 million in revenue from ticketed events in 2007, said Larry Wilson, SMG’s general manager in Charlottesville.

Many of the touring acts that have passed through love the building, which has helped spread the word regarding a must-play arena in a city of about 50,000 residents, excluding the college population.

“JPJ has created a market that never existed before,” said Brad Wavra, Live Nation’s senior vice president of touring. “They are very professional in their approach to business and passionate about their relationships with artists and promoters.”

The Cavaliers’ fan base has also embraced the facility in its first two seasons. With the move to a much larger arena, UVA basketball ticket revenue increased from $1.7 million to $3.6 million in 2006-07, and to $3.9 million in 2007-08.

More impressive, concessions revenue jumped from $70,000 in the final season at cramped University Hall to $650,000 in each of the first two seasons in a building containing much wider concourses.

“I like the whole way they made it fan-friendly,” said Tom Gabbard, Virginia Tech’s associate director of athletics. “The concessions are tucked into the corners so you can get around without getting stuck in crowds.”

The NBA loves it as well, moving its Top 100 prospects camp from Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond to Charlottesville after league officials toured the facility.

The annual Martha’s Market benefit for breast cancer, and additional fundraisers for the Boys and Girls Club and Ronald McDonald House, are examples of the facility living up to its promise to be a civic gathering place.

Talk about risk. Many in the sports industry thought New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek was nuts when he picked downtown Newark to build the NHL team’s new $375 million arena.

The New Jersey Devils saw opportunity in Newark when others thought it was a big mistake to relocate their new arena in the inner city.

There was no way, naysayers said, that suburban hockey fans would travel deep into the heart of a city plagued by high crime rates, despite six highways and two major rail lines linking to Prudential Center.

The attendance numbers proved otherwise, turning risk into reward for Vanderbeek. The Devils drew an average of 15,564 per home game in their new home, a 10 percent increase over the previous season when the team played at the Meadowlands’ Izod Center.

The nonbelievers discounted the significance of the thousands of rail commuters passing by the building every day to and from work in New York City. During the last two months of the season, 53 percent of hockey fans used mass transit to get to Prudential Center.

“They just didn’t stop before,” said Dale Adams, AEG’s general manager in Newark. “Now, there’s a reason to come here and it’s due to the location. This is the hub of New Jersey, with 10 million people and another 10 million in New York. It’s so easy to get here from the city.”

Vanderbeek made another smart move, hiring AEG to operate and book the arena, guaranteeing stops on the national tours AEG Live promotes. Since it opened Oct. 27, Prudential Center has played host to 1.1 million patrons.

“In terms of content, I believe the building has gotten more than its share in what has been a lean year,” said Rich Krezwick, a veteran arena manager with AEG.

The building’s layout and premium areas impress Comcast-Spectacor President Peter Luukko, whose company owns and operates Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, a one-hour train ride from Newark. “The Fire and [Belvedere] Ice lounges are a nice new twist to the club box concept that many arenas are using,” Luukko said.

As Krezwick summed it up: “The customer experience is second to none.”

University of Phoenix Stadium’s removable field and retractable roof make it one of the most versatile sports and entertainment facilities in North America.

Global Spectrum has surpassed event and revenue projections at the first NFL facility where the field moves in and out of the building in one piece.

The stadium’s public landlord, the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, desired a multipurpose facility that could compete against other Phoenix venues for conventions and trade shows, in addition to bringing high-profile sports events to Glendale.

The authority hired Global Spectrum to manage and book non-NFL events at the stadium, and Global has exceeded projections in the first 18 months of operation.

In 2007 the facility had 149 events resulting in gross ticket sales of $9.6 million from attendance of 568,000. Those numbers do not include Arizona Cardinals, Fiesta Bowl and BCS National Championship Game revenue and attendance. The figures do include income from 13 proms and eight graduations, which shows the building’s creativity and flexibility.

Concert production crews love the design for setup and teardown at the stadium’s south end, where the field rolls out and trucks can drive right onto the concrete floor to unload and pack up equipment. The event-level layout is a big reason why the Rolling Stones, a band with one of the most elaborate stages on tour, picked the stadium as one of the last stops on its “A Bigger Bang” tour in November 2006.

“They essentially told us that it was the quickest in/out of their set ever,” said Peter Sullivan, Global Spectrum’s general manager in Glendale. “Their show ended at 11 p.m. and by 4 p.m. the next afternoon you would have been hard-pressed to know they were there.”

Touring acts also save money by not having to protect the field during event preparations, which was a big plus for the NFL leading up to this year’s Super Bowl. The portable playing surface, which is stored outside the stadium between events, made it much easier for league officials to do everything they needed to do before the big game without having to worry about damaging the grass deck.

Air conditioning, a valuable commodity in the desert, is also a critical feature. The Cardinals’ old home in Tempe was half-filled for most home games in part due to the Arizona heat. Now, despite the team’s continuing on-field struggles, its new nest is packed. Every ticket for the 63,000-seat stadium was sold for the first two seasons.