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Volume 20 No. 45


Sports teams are seeing enhanced branding opportunities through themed restaurants at local airports as terminals across the country go through extreme makeovers.

Concessionaires bidding for lucrative food contracts at these terminals are being told to incorporate local brands in their proposals, and those firms are looking to teams to develop themed bars and restaurants.

The Sharks Cage serves up lots of hockey
at Mineta San Jose International Airport.
HMSHost, one airport food vendor, has themed restaurant deals in place with three NHL clubs: the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks Cage in San Jose and the Blackhawks-themed Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport are open; Anaheim’s eatery debuts in November at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.

In north Texas, HMSHost is close to signing a deal with the Dallas Cowboys to develop a new Cowboys Stadium Legends Club restaurant at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, part of a massive $2 billion rebuild of four terminals. The airport approved the concept, and the restaurant is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to Cowboys officials.

A second Cowboys-branded restaurant is part of HMSHost’s proposal to operate food concessions at Love Field, a deal tied to Southwest Airlines’ four-year, $519 million renovation at the smaller airport in Dallas. As of last week, the city had not awarded the deal for Love Field.

Elsewhere, HMSHost is in discussions with the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks to use their brands for sports bars at airports in those cities, but no deals have been signed, said Michael DiSimone, HMSHost’s director of restaurant development.

The deal structures vary by market. In most cases, the team signs a licensing agreement with the airport vendor.
“Sports teams are so iconic to the local area and the paradigm has shifted for travelers to experience a piece of the city,” DiSimone said. “The plan is to deliver the best experience we can to let them stay awhile longer before catching their flight.”

HMSHost’s newest concept is the Anaheim Ducks’ Breakaway Bar & Grill, a 2,298-square-foot lounge at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. The 93-seat restaurant will open in November in the airport’s new Terminal C expansion.

“We feel we have the best position in the terminal,” said Aaron Teats, the Ducks’ vice president of multimedia and community development, noting the venue’s runway view.

The Ducks see the restaurant as a pure branding opportunity. The Ducks collect a small percentage of food and beverage revenue and a split of income from merchandise sold at the Breakaway bar, Teats said.

Team officials worked closely with HMSHost on the restaurant’s design and menu selections, uniforms and TV content.

Team-branded destinations at airports is not a new trend. Those facilities date to the mid-1990s, said Pat Gleason, an airport concessions consultant who worked 11 years at Dallas-Fort Worth. At that time, the Cowboys, in conjunction with Star Concessions, opened the Texas Stadium Skybox bar at D/FW. Later, a second skybox bar and two Cowboys Pro Shop locations opened there.

“We wanted to have a presence at the airport and get our gear out there to vacationers coming through town without them having to stop at the [stadium’s] Pro Shop,” said Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Now the Cowboys Stadium Legends Club will replace the skybox bar in Terminal A. The Legends Club will have a design similar to the premium spaces at Cowboys Stadium with a replica of the giant center-hung scoreboard. Two additional skybox bars in terminals B and C are still in operation, and the Cowboys expect to be part of a proposal to open another Legends Club when those buildings are remodeled.

“It’s been a good business for us,” Jones said.

The Cowboys will be paid through a licensing agreement with HMSHost.

Jones acknowledged the risk of having the Cowboys’ brand associated with the restaurant. To ensure a quality experience for travelers, Jones said the team has the right to pull their branding from those sites if their vendors do not adhere to standards.

Gleason echoed the challenge, saying,  “That’s the risk you always run and that’s why you have to pick a good operator.”
Other teams have seen the payoff. At Mineta San Jose International Airport, HMSHost has operated the Sharks Cage since July 2009.

The Sharks receive a small licensing fee for allowing HMSHost to use their IP rights, said Malcolm Bordelon, the team’s executive vice president of business operations. There is no team merchandise for sale.

The Sharks have the right to inspect the airport property and terminate the deal if the vendor is not complying with the terms of the agreement.

“We get a lot of positive response from fans and have even received some emails letting us know there was no hockey being shown on the video screens,” Bordelon said.

Don Muret
The portability of pitcher’s mounds at two ballparks have put them in better position to play host to non-baseball events.

TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the new home of the College World Series, and AT&T Park in San Francisco both have pitcher’s mounds made of compressed clay piled on top of steel plates. Unlike traditional mounds, which have to be torn apart and rebuilt, the system produced by Natural Sand Co. can be removed in six pieces with the mound intact and stored elsewhere when a flat surface on the field is required for football, soccer or concerts. Both parks have multiple football games scheduled for this fall.

TD Ameritrade Park’s portable mound would allow baseball and football to share the park.
The portable mound takes four hours to remove and another four hours to put back, providing a much quicker changeover compared with the two days it takes to painstakingly rebuild and reshape a traditional mound to the team’s satisfaction, said Greg Elliott, the Giants’ head groundskeeper. In San Francisco, the system has been in place since the 2009 All-Star break, providing the club with greater flexibility to book non-baseball dates at a venue that aggressively markets the field as a multiuse space.

The six-piece design is critical to the Giants. They looked at the portable mound the Oakland A’s use at Coliseum, but its design as a single 18-foot-wide disk was too big to pass through the smaller gate at AT&T Park for storage. Enter Grant McKnight, president of Natural Sand in Slippery Rock, Pa. McKnight, whose firm specializes in developing dirt and clay mixes for grooming MLB playing surfaces, has known Elliott from the time Elliott became the Giants’ groundskeeper in 2008.

“AT&T Park is basically a big event center that hosts baseball,” McKnight said.

One day during the design process, McKnight came up with the idea for a six-piece portable mound after playing a game of Trivial Pursuit with his kids. He took a closer look at the pie-shaped game pieces and it struck him that a similar design could work for a removable pitcher’s mound. McKnight pitched his idea when the Giants sought proposals for installing a new mound and won the contract.

The July 16 international soccer match between Manchester City and Club America at AT&T Park is one example of an event where the portable mound has paid off. The Giants have one day after that event to get the field ready for a series against the Dodgers and most likely would not have been able to book the match without the mound system, Elliott said. For that event alone, the $100,000 it cost to install the portable mound and two similar versions for the bullpens has been worth the expense.

“On one end, it helps the event coordinators that are confident we can get [the mound] out in time,” he said. “On the baseball side, the team’s thinking is, ‘Hey, the mound will be the same after it is put back.’ Consistency is the key.”
In Omaha, ballpark officials spoke to Elliott before making the decision to spend $80,000 to install the portable mound there. TD Ameritrade’s bullpens are traditional clay surfaces.

The ability for quick changeovers at TD Ameritrade Park will come into play should the building sign a deal with an independent baseball club, said Roger Dixon, president and CEO of stadium operator the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority. The authority is involved in a lawsuit against a group that planned to bring a minor league team to TD Ameritrade Park “until they imploded,” Dixon said in an email. “Can’t say much more than that.”

Pro football starts in seven weeks at the new park, when the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks will play the first of four home games there. Out west, the University of California will play five home games this fall at AT&T Park while Memorial Stadium in Berkeley is being renovated. A sixth college football game, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, is Dec. 31 at AT&T Park.

The two parks are the only facilities with Natural Sand’s removable mound, and Oakland is the only one with its particular model, as far as McKnight knows.

SADDLE UP: The Dallas Cowboys recently named Jeff Stroud general manager of Cowboys Stadium. Stroud was most recently employed with Manhattan Construction, where he was senior superintendent for the firm that built the stadium.

Stroud replaces Jack Hill, the stadium’s original general manager, who left the Cowboys in May.

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

Daytona International Speedway executives know navigating their massive 480-acre motorsports park can be a challenge, so they’re launching a new smartphone application to help fans find everything from the rest room to the concession stand.

The iPhone and Android app will be beta-tested during this weekend’s Coke Zero 400. Fans who sign up for the app on the speedway’s website or Facebook page will be able to download and test it.

The track is the first owned by the International Speedway Corp. to create an app. If the test goes well, the company’s technology division plans to develop similar apps for the company’s 11 other speedways that host Sprint Cup races.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the first track to launch a facility-specific app. It debuted during the track’s March Sprint Cup race and provided fans with a GPS-based guide that could take them into the track and to their seats.

Like LVMS, Daytona partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based technology company Thermopylae to develop a GPS-based guide to its track. But its app features other elements, including maps for trams, ingress and egress and parking; late-breaking news; a friend finder that allows you to locate a friend anywhere on the grounds; access to the speedway’s Twitter feed and Facebook page; and the ability to buy tickets.

Craig Neeb, ISC’s chief information officer, said that Daytona may look to monetize the app in the future with some advertising, but that’s not a major priority. Doing so would require collaborating with NASCAR’s top series partner, Sprint. “At this point, we’re looking to support guests and their experience,” Neeb said. “There’s an expectation we have this stuff.”

Neeb said the app is carrier agnostic. It was developed by Florida-based Accesso.

The company has found that its tracks’ mobile sites generate considerable traffic during race weekends. The recent Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway generated more than 50,000 page views from mobile phones.

In the future, Neeb believes, NASCAR will collaborate with tracks on an app that provides race content to fans, as well. The sanctioning body spent much of the last year conducting a survey at tracks to better understand the fan experience and has been vocal about providing more technology services to fans.

“Ultimately, I can see a NASCAR app for the industry, and there’s a Daytona version, a Talladega version and a Richmond version that plugs into it,” Neeb said. “I can see this aggregating at a bigger level.”