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Volume 21 No. 1


San Francisco 49ers Chief Sales Officer John Vidalin is selling naming rights and other marketing assets around a proposed $937 million stadium in Santa Clara that has not yet been fully funded. Last week, the team also tabbed CAA Sports to assist in the naming-rights sales. Vidalin spoke with editor-at-large Terry Lefton about the vision for the 49ers’ new home.

What’s going to make this stadium unique?

VIDALIN: The vision is to make it the most environmentally sound stadium, a building of sustainability, technology that will be built with an open-source platform where technology and fan experience are intertwined, whether you are a technology company or a fan.

Given Silicon Valley’s proximity, will you be shocked if your naming-rights deal doesn’t come from the technology sector?

VIDALIN:  We’ve already had discussions with blue-chip brands inside and outside of the technology space. It will depend on the deal, but it could be a great fit with a company that aligns with the mission and values of sustainability and technology we are pushing. Many traditional brands have a sustainability or technology play in their DNA. Of course, we are in the heart of a technology market, but it’s also a top market and a very international market. So it could make sense for a lot of reasons.

There’s still some doubt locally that the stadium will be built, since it isn’t totally funded. Is there any doubt in your mind that it will get built?

VIDALIN: We’re still in the infancy stages of the financing piece, but the city of Santa Clara is on board, so I think we are well on our way.

Hard to believe that the labor uncertainty would affect sales of naming rights, but has the prospect of a delayed season or no NFL season affected sales per se?

VIDALIN: It’s been business as usual. We’ve had an awful lot of meetings, no different from any other year.

The Nashville Predators and Memphis Grizzlies, two Tennessee teams experiencing unprecedented playoff success, have smashed records for arena merchandise sales during the postseason.

Excitement over the Predators, making their first trip to the NHL Western Conference semifinals, and the Grizzlies, who were 0-12 in the NBA playoffs before this season but last week were locked in a duel with Western Conference No. 1 seed San Antonio, produced retail sales numbers far above previous postseason appearances, according to team officials and their retail providers.

In Nashville, retail revenue during the playoffs almost tripled compared with the regular season.
In Nashville, retail revenue during the playoffs almost tripled compared with the regular-season numbers, which had doubled over the 2009-10 season, said Sean Henry, the Predators’ president and chief operating officer.

Delaware North Sportservice, the Predators’ retail and food provider, made some adjustments to meet demand, setting up two portable merchandise stands flanking the entrance to the Bridgestone Arena Pro Shop. Those supporting points of sale made it easier for fans to buy souvenirs without having to wait in line to get into the main store, said Tom Gallo, Sportservice’s on-site general manager. Inside the pro shop, the simple process of rotating displays for each playoff game gave the store a new and different look for those three event days.

For Predators season-ticket holders already wearing team jerseys, $5 to $10 “dueling” logo pucks and pins made for the playoffs sold well, as did gold-colored T-shirts, as that secondary shade becomes more popular among the Nashville faithful, Gallo said.

In addition, Sportservice runs food and retail promotions for the playoffs exclusive to season-ticket holders wearing special lanyards labeled with their name and seat number and branded with the team’s “Smashville” tag line. They receive discounts on merchandise and food, and can buy bright-gold souvenir drink cups available only to those fans wearing the lanyards. The program began at the start of the regular season as a token of appreciation for the team’s most loyal customers. It is one way for the Predators to expand their season-ticket base by catching the eye of non-season-ticket holders who see those lanyards and the cups.

“It’s that idea that we all want what we can’t have,” Henry said.

In Memphis, the Grizzlies Den store at FedEx Forum reported sales were up 132 percent compared with two home playoff games in 2006, the last time the NBA team made the postseason, said Greg Campbell, the club’s president of business operations.

“Fans have been collectively holding their breath and once we won that first game in San Antonio, there was an outpouring” of spending, Campbell said. “People were poised to buy.”

Grizzlies fans purchased playoff-specific items tied to the “Believe Memphis” tag line and were also buying regular jerseys and T-shirts, said Alan Fey, president of Gameday Entertainment, the team’s retail concessionaire. As the club comes of age in the postseason, the Grizzlies now have five marketable stars in Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen, and their numbered jerseys have driven sales, Fey said. Personalized jerseys have also been a hot seller.

The long-simmering financial woes surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers heated up last week as MLB Commissioner Bud Selig appointed former Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer to run the Dodgers’ day-to-day operations as part of the league’s takeover of the franchise. Club owner Frank McCourt lambasted the moves and vowed he will fight vigorously to maintain control of the team. Still, Schieffer arrived in Los Angeles last Wednesday to begin his attempt to stabilize operations, and investigate the finances of the heavily debt-ridden franchise. Schieffer, 63, spoke with staff writer Eric Fisher regarding his new assignment.

There is disagreement, particularly between McCourt and MLB, regarding the nature of your role. How would you describe it?

SCHIEFFER: Mr. McCourt owns the franchise. Nobody disputes that. But Major League Baseball and the commissioner have the right to seize control of the franchise in the best interests of baseball. And that’s what he has done. I am his representative. And I am here to try to determine what the facts are.

"I am here to try to determine what the facts are."
You’re obviously no stranger to tense situations, but McCourt’s statement Wednesday clearly suggested he’s got a big problem with your presence and your role. How are you going to address that and deal with what is likely to be a hostile situation?

SCHIEFFER: People don’t have to agree. But I can assure you that the commissioner of baseball is following both the law and the rules of baseball. And those rules have determined why we’re in the situation we’re now in, and I hope Mr. McCourt will recognize that and try to help us resolve the difficulties the franchise is now in.

Among the many issues facing the team right now is ticket sales, as attendance at Dodger Stadium thus far is down considerably. Can that be reversed this season?

SCHIEFFER: I hope that people understand that the commissioner and MLB appreciate the iconic nature of this franchise. This is one of the great jewels of baseball. Everybody wants a healthy Dodgers franchise. This is, after all, the franchise that Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson used to change the face of baseball and change the face of America. You want that kind of franchise to be a model for what happens in the rest of baseball. Hopefully, we can bring it back to that sort of situation.

How then do you anticipate dividing your time between day-to-day matters such as ticket sales, sponsorship, security, and building operations, and so forth, and the larger issues that have put you there?

SCHIEFFER: I think the people in the organization have got to run the organization. But I think the experiences that I’ve had should be helpful to people, and hopefully we can get a handle on what the financial condition of the team is pretty quickly. We’ll obviously have to figure out what can be done to make this a more viable franchise. This is a difficult problem that needs to be addressed. And hopefully people there will have suggestions, too.

Is that your way, then, of saying you’ll be more focused on the big-picture issues?

SCHIEFFER: That’s right. I think I’m in a big-picture situation. But the people there want to make the Dodgers successful. There are people there who have worked for the Dodgers for decades. They’re good people. They’re wonderful people. And we want them to know this is not a franchise in decline. It’s a franchise that should be a model for the rest of baseball. People take pride in working for the Dodgers, and they should.

In terms your personal situation, will you be in Los Angeles every day for the foreseeable future? Are you going home to Texas on weekends? How will all that work?

SCHIEFFER: My wife asked the same questions. I told the commissioner I would stay with this as long as it needs to get done. And that’s my attitude. Now, I’m not going to move here, because I don’t think this is a life-changing job. I think it will be over, hopefully sooner rather than later. But we’ll put in whatever time is necessary to get the job done.