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Volume 20 No. 41
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More teams ink airport branding deals

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.