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Volume 21 No. 2


Don Muret
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ aggressive nature on the football field extends to booking events at Heinz Field, putting the NFL team one step ahead of other clubs during the owners’ lockout.

PSSI Stadium Corp., the Steelers’ stadium management division, has four concerts scheduled this summer: the inaugural Steelers Country Music Festival with Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and Darius Rucker on May 28; Taylor Swift on June 18; Kenny Chesney on July 2; and U2 on July 26, the final U.S. stop on the group’s record-breaking world tour. The four shows are the most the Steelers have had in a summer at Heinz Field since the building opened 10 years ago, said Jimmie Sacco, executive director of stadium management.

NFL teams do not have to share concert revenue with other clubs, but the lockout did not drive the Steelers’ intent to drive more business to Heinz Field. Their goal has always been to program the building as much as possible in addition to scheduling 10 NFL games plus University of Pittsburgh and high school games. For concerts, the team prefers to take financial risk to buy concerts directly from the agencies representing the acts. Doing so gives them a much better chance at securing a date than if they were to wait for a promoter to come knocking on their door with an offer to rent the building.

“I think that has a lot to do with it … us lobbying for these shows,” Sacco said.

This year, the Steelers expect to reap the benefits after going without a concert on the field in 2010. They are the promoter for the first three shows, with Live Nation promoting U2’s “360 Tour” in Pittsburgh. Sacco expects sellouts for Swift and Chesney, whom he calls the team’s “cornerstone” act, making his fifth appearance at Heinz Field. Big crowds are also expected for Paisley/Shelton and U2, a show that could potentially pack 60,000 into the stadium with its midfield stage setup, Sacco said.

Considering there could be no NFL football this fall, the Steelers’ timing could not have been better to land U2. The rock group’s 2010 tour of North American stadiums was postponed until this year after lead singer Bono had emergency back surgery last May. Heinz Field was not on the band’s 2010 route because the Steelers could not find an early fall date to fit within their home schedule. This year, U2’s North American dates are set for May through July, making it easier for the Steelers to find room on their calendar.

“That’s huge,” Sacco said last Monday. That same day, April 11, reported that U2 now holds the record for the top-grossing concert tour of all time. By the time it wraps at the end of July, the tour is expected to have generated more than $700 million in ticket sales.

All told, U2 will play nine NFL stadiums this summer, counting Pittsburgh. The others are Invesco Field, Qwest Field, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, M&T Bank Stadium, Sun Life Stadium, Soldier Field, Lincoln Financial Field and New Meadowlands Stadium.

The Broncos, Seahawks, Dolphins, Eagles and Jets/Giants operate their respective facilities. SMG manages the Raiders’ and Bears’ stadiums and the Maryland Stadium Authority runs the Ravens’ building.

The Steelers also generate revenue from two yearly festivals at Heinz Field. One is tied to the city’s Fourth of July celebration. The other is a Labor Day rib fest with national musical acts and football.

Creighton will play Nebraska on Tuesday in the opening game at TD Ameritrade Park.
ON TAP: TD Ameritrade Park, the new home of the College World Series, is restricted to selling beer in the suites for that event per NCAA rules. Outside of those 10 to 11 days in June, expect the suds to flow freely for college baseball games in public areas at a stadium where MillerCoors is the facility’s official beer partner.

Starting Tuesday Creighton University, TD Ameritrade Park’s other primary tenant, plays the first of its 12 remaining home games this year at the stadium. Beer will be sold at those games as well as the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

For the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, the stadium’s operator, and concessionaire Levy Restaurants, alcohol is big business for Creighton basketball games at Qwest Center Omaha, the arena next door to the ballpark. For those events, beer, wine and liquor sales account for 60 percent to 70 percent of total food and beverage revenue, higher than normal for an arena operation, said Roger Dixon, the group’s president and CEO. The authority also runs the arena and officials expect that trend to continue in baseball, Dixon said.

Those numbers should increase to about 90 percent for the Red Sky Music Festival at TD Ameritrade Park, a six-day event in July. As part of its ballpark deal, MillerCoors has naming rights to one of two ancillary stages outside the stadium.

Kid Rock is one act booked for the main stage on the field inside the 24,300-seat facility, Dixon said.

The downtown venues, separate from the Creighton campus, are both owned by the city of Omaha.

BOWLING FOR DOLLARS: The group responsible for selling premium seats tied to the Rose Bowl’s renovation developed a marketing center on a shoestring budget that project officials say has the sizzle necessary to close deals on suites and club seats priced up to $125,000 annually.

Legends Premium Sales took the $100,000 available to convert two large trailers in a stadium parking lot into a marketing center designed almost as a “gallery artwalk” through memory lane, said Mike Amaya, one of the center’s two principal designers.

Inside are images of UCLA football greats Jackie Robinson, Troy Aikman and Kenny Easley and other graphic displays commemorating great moments from games and concerts that took place at the 89-year-old stadium.

As prospects walk through the trailers they are shown video presentations of the suite and club seat products. The celebratory themes and UCLA blue walls are dialed down to a neutral beige color in the last room, where customers are asked to sign suite deals.

“It’s more about a warm, comforting light” to get people in the mood to buy skyboxes, Amaya said.

Two weeks after the marketing center opened, Legends had sold four suites at $80,000 a year, and six loge boxes at $24,000 annually, said Jason Gonella, Legends’ vice president of sales. All were 10-year deals. All told, Legends had sold 25 of 55 new suites, a total that covers Rose Bowl suite holders who renewed before the marketing center opened, Gonella said.

The Rose Bowl renovation is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

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

The Formula One racing facility under construction in Austin, Texas, will accommodate general admission spectators as much as its wealthy premium patrons, the sport’s core audience in other parts of the world.

The Circuit of the Americas, a $400 million project, is the first dedicated F1 track to be built in the U.S. Project officials are positioning it as a multipurpose property that can play host to music festivals and foot and bicycle races, all popular recreational activities in Austin.

A rendering shows plans for some of the trackside buildings.
As part of that vision, the track’s three design firms, which include HKS, the architect for Cowboys Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium, are developing multiple grass berms around the 3.4-mile layout from which general admission ticket buyers will be able to catch different views of the action.

Those spaces and the pathways and bridges connecting them, while not unique, are absent at many of the sport’s international destinations, according to Tavo Hellmund, one of the project’s three principal investors. At some venues, fans on the low end of the ticket scale are restricted to one small area to watch the race. In Austin, they will have the flexibility to move around to several spots around the track and its 20 turns over the course of Grand Prix weekend.

Those berms are being constructed at elevations high enough for both general admission ticket holders and other F1 fans to see most of the track depending on their location, Hellmund said.

“In America, we are such a stadium society that we like to be able to see all the action, and it’s one of the reasons that short-track oval racing and NASCAR have done such a good job,” he said. “With road racing, even some of our great tracks in America, if you’re in one area, you see maybe five seconds of racing. The cars go by you and they are out of sight. That’s part of what we’re doing right now with the site work. Everything has to be planned out exactly right so the pitch angle of these berms are comfortable to stand or sit.”

International supporters of F1 who follow the worldwide circuit will continue to have their needs met in Austin through a variety of permanent and temporary suites, club seats and lounges, said Steve Sexton, president of Circuit of the Americas. The number of premium seats and their prices have not been determined. The temporary suites will be akin to the golf course-style chalets set up at PGA Tour events and for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, where Sexton was president and CEO before coming to Austin.

The F1 group in Texas expects to hire a chief marketing officer in the next three weeks. That executive will hire a sales staff to sell track sponsorships. Keeping in mind F1 as an organization controls most commercial rights for its races, Circuit of the Americas officials plan to pursue naming-rights deals for their facility. They could sell the name for the track itself or carve out individual deals for destinations and buildings. Those decisions are yet to come.

“The question is, Is it better to name the entire development or piecemeal it out?” Hellmund said. “We have some that have never been involved in motorsports but are doing so because this is a little bit more than just a motorsports facility.” He declined to identify the prospects.

Last week, officials said a 40,000-square-foot conference center with 14 executive suites would be part of the track. It’s another twist for a facility the group will market to Austin businesses for corporate meetings. F1 will have use of that facility for any Grand Prix events, Sexton said.

Food consultant Chris Bigelow is managing the selection of a concessionaire, and a key piece of that operation will be providing international food concepts for visitors from abroad, Sexton said. Proposals are due at the end of April.

F1 has not released dates for the 2012 Austin Grand Prix and the 2013 MotoGP motorcycle race, the track’s second event, announced last week. Officials are targeting June 2012 to finish construction.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment plans to build a $20 million, 14-square-acre soccer training complex for Toronto FC and its development academy. Construction crews are scheduled to break ground on the complex in early May, with the project slated to open in April 2012.

“We hope to create the soccer epicenter of Canada,” said Bob Hunter, executive vice president of venues and entertainment at MLSE.

The site is owned by the Canadian government and is on an old airfield in the Downsview Park neighborhood of Toronto. Hunter said MLSE chose the venue from 11 candidates because of its 10-mile proximity to BMO Field and because the site is adjacent to an existing community sports park that includes four indoor soccer fields.

The project is being funded entirely by MLSE, which signed a 20-year lease with the Canadian government to use the site. Hunter said MLSE has begun the search for a “significant title sponsor” for the facility.

The complex will become the permanent home of Toronto FC’s management offices, although business operations will remain at BMO Field. The complex includes four outdoor grass fields to be used by the pro team and its academy members, and one turf field enclosed in a semi-permanent bubble that will be available to local youth and amateur teams. The complex also includes a field house that houses team offices, workout facilities and training rooms, and five locker rooms. Hunter said the team toured MLS training facilities in Denver, Chicago, Dallas and Boston when designing the complex.

News of the training facility comes after Toronto FC announced in January that it was extending its academy team to include under-13 and under-14 players. Hunter said the practice facility plays a major role in the academy expansion. “The top feeder teams will all practice and train at the facility,” he said.

Toronto FC becomes the latest MLS team to build a training facility that also caters to the community. In late January, the Portland Timbers broke ground on an Adidas-sponsored facility in Beaverton, Ore., that will set aside one field for community players. The Houston Dynamo is building a publicly funded $15 million, 40-acre facility in southwest Houston that features seven fields, six of which are available to youth soccer games. Stadiums in Colorado, Dallas and Salt Lake City also feature adjacent soccer fields available to local clubs.