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Volume 20 No. 41


Don Muret
The 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte could lead to a permanent reconfiguration of Time Warner Cable Arena’s lower bowl, one of the smallest setups in the NBA.

Organizers for the convention take over the arena for six weeks in the summer of 2012 to retrofit the building for broadcast television. The project typically involves tearing out several sections of seats and rebuilding them after the event is over.

That time frame coincides with the Bobcats’ plan for making major renovations to their five-year-old facility, said Pete Guelli, the team’s executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

The DNC host committee will look over the entire arena before developing a retrofit for the convention.

Depending on the demolition plans, the Charlotte Bobcats could use the convention as a springboard to replace 336 premium seats in the lower bowl at the stage end on the arena’s east side, and improve the dining experience at the Front Court restaurant next to those seats.

Those loge-box-style seats, called Royal Boxes (236 seats) and Terrace Tables (100 seats), have counter space and small TVs and are sold in groups of two to six seats.

Those seats came close to being sold out for the Bobcats’ first season in the building in 2005-06, according to team officials at the time. Since then, the Bobcats have struggled to keep them filled. Season-ticket holders occupy about 50 percent of Royal Boxes and Terrace Tables this year at a cost of $200 a game, Guelli said. The ticket price includes a Front Court buffet meal, a $40 value.

In a perfect world, Guelli said, the Bobcats would remove those seats for good and replace them with a greater number of regular seats to boost the overall number of lower bowl seats above the current total of 6,900.

In tandem, the team would like to remove the restaurant wall that prevents Front Court diners from viewing the game and combine that space with the new seats on the east end. The new setup could then be presented to a potential sponsor for a branding opportunity, he said.

Bill Duffy, the Bobcats’ chief administrative officer and chief finance officer, is the team’s representative working with the host committee to plan the convention. Separately, Duffy is having initial conversations on repositioning those premium seats with Ellerbe Becket, the firm that designed the arena; Populous, the architect for new Amway Center in Orlando; and a sports marketing consultant the club declined to identify.

Guelli and Fred Whitfield, the Bobcats’ president and chief operating officer, were to tour the Magic’s arena last weekend as part of a corporate sponsor outing tied to Charlotte’s game in Orlando. Amway Center’s restaurant, Jernigan’s, unlike Front Court, has tiered seating with open views to the game.

The Bobcats could end up redesigning those seats even if they remain untouched by the DNC. “It appears to be the most opportune time for the project,” Guelli said. “I would think some of the construction costs would be mitigated if there was already demolition being done.”

suite level
Staples Center produced a $24.22 merchandise per cap for the NBA All-Star Game, setting a league mark.
ALL-STAR NUMBERS: Staples Center set records for food and merchandise sales at the NBA All-Star Game.

AEG Merchandising’s $24.22 per cap for retail items was the highest for any event in the league’s 65-year history, said Lee Zeidman, arena senior vice president and general manager. The concessionaire wheeled retail carts to the suites on all three levels of Staples Center. It was the first time AEG had done that for an event and a key factor for driving merchandise sales.

On the food side, Levy Restaurants’ $33.81 per cap was the highest since the arena opened in October 1999. Staples Center has played host to seven NBA Finals and the 2004 NBA All-Star Game.

The NBA and the arena’s major sponsors took over most of the building’s 150 suites to entertain their clients, helping drive the food number, Zeidman said.

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

A $31.2 million renovation turned a ho-hum Ed Smith Stadium into a jewel.
The $31.2 million renovation of Ed Smith Stadium has transformed the Baltimore Orioles’ spring training facility from a dumpy ballpark into one of the jewels of the Grapefruit League.

The expansion project doubled the park’s size to 163,246 square feet, adding a second-story concourse with suites and an indoor lounge, new concession stands and rest rooms, a new Daktronics high-definition video board and 100 new HD televisions hung inside the facility.

A left-field pavilion with drink rails and picnic tables facing the action, four new elevators and an extension of the sunroof on the main concourse to increase shaded spaces add more modern comforts to the park, which opened in 1989.

But the most dramatic change is a new facade, a stucco design native to Florida that makes the structure unrecognizable to fans accustomed to the old exterior, Orioles spokesman Greg Bader said.

The Orioles, in their second season at Ed Smith Stadium after signing a 30-year lease with Sarasota County, offered their own touch to the project by rebranding the building with pieces of Camden Yards.

The park’s 6,500 fixed seats were recycled from Camden Yards’ upper deck and club levels. The Oriole bird weather vane perched atop a decorative tower came from Baltimore. Ashton Design, the firm producing the early 20th-century-look graphic displays for Camden Yards, replicated the same typeface for all signs at Ed Smith Stadium.

American Seating Co. produced the original seats for Camden Yards, bought them back from the Maryland Stadium Authority as part of a capital improvement project up north, and restored them for the Florida facility, said Janet Marie Smith, the Orioles’ vice president of planning and development. Each aisle seat has the same Baltimore Baseball Club logo that appeared when Camden Yards opened in 1992.

In a nod to the O’s history, the World Series Suites down the first-base line are numbered 66, 70 and 83, three numbers tied to the club’s world series championships. They can accommodate 20 to 80 people in three to six units depending on the size and number of groups. A fourth skybox is named the Home Plate Suite.

The suites’ flexibility reflects the shift in hospitality at the larger MLB parks. The traditional suite environment is “yesterday’s story,” Smith said.

There will be a pit barbecue stand similar to the one at Camden Yards named after former O’s first baseman Boog Powell, but the Sarasota location will not carry his name, Bader said.

Sarasota County is financing two-thirds of the $31.2 million in improvements, and the city is paying the balance. The Orioles have committed up to $4 million for cost overruns and enhancements, Smith said.

Sports architect David Schwarz was part of the design team.

The Orioles open their spring training season at home Tuesday against Tampa Bay.