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Volume 20 No. 41


Don Muret
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The new dugout suites at Texas A&M’s ballpark bring a major league touch to the school’s baseball program.

The two suites, part of a $24.3 million renovation of Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park, are bunker-style lounges tucked beneath the stands behind the first base and third base lines, with no views to the field. The seats associated with the suites are at field level, adjacent to the coaches’ boxes by first and third base. A net provides protection from foul balls, said Kevin Hurley, Texas A&M’s associate athletic director of facilities.

Fans in the dugout suites have seats near the coaches’ boxes.
Each dugout suite sold for $35,000 annually over a seven-year term plus the cost of $350 season tickets for 14. Both units include the option to buy four standing-room tickets for each game. Texas A&M has 40 home games this season.
The 600-square-foot lounges are air-conditioned with bars, couches, televisions, rest rooms and alcohol service, said Kacey Conley, Blue Bell Park’s operations manager. Food and beverage is a separate cost.

The dugout suites were part of the school’s plan to reduce foul territory and shrink the park’s dimensions to make it a livelier place to play, said Byron Chambers, design director for HKS, the architect that designed the renovation.

The dugouts and the field wall behind home plate were squeezed closer together to provide space for the dugout suites. Those seats put patrons in a spot where “you feel like you are the first-base coach,” Chambers said. “It is a unique place to watch the game.”

Eight suites are part of a new press box level at the 34-year-old building, which did not previously have a dedicated space for media, Hurley said. Those suites all sold for three-year terms at $27,500 annually, plus the cost of season tickets.

In addition, 121 Field Club and 183 Stadium Club seats were built behind home plate supported by a lounge beneath the stands. Club-seat fees range from $475 to $1,000 a year on top of season tickets.

The addition of suites and club seats has reduced the park’s total capacity to about 6,100 with berm seating, a loss of about 1,000 seats. But in doing so, Texas A&M now has a facility on par with college baseball’s best stadiums, including LSU and South Carolina, according to Chambers.

Both of those schools are in the Southeastern Conference, where Texas A&M becomes a new member this fall for all sports.

Skanska USA was the project’s general contractor.

TAKING ROOT: The Boston Red Sox had no trouble selling out their new premium club at Fenway Park.

The Royal Rooters Club: Home of the “Nation’s Archives” replaced the old Players Club on the ballpark’s second level behind the right-field seats. Long-standing season-ticket holders got the first opportunity to join the club, paying a $250 membership fee per seat.

The Red Sox capped membership at 1,200 and reached out to about 8,000 full and partial season-ticket holders before hitting that number, said team spokeswoman Zineb Curran. The club doubles as Fenway’s unofficial museum, showcasing memorabilia from the park’s 100 years.

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

Front Row Marketing has signed a one-year deal to consult on the sale of naming rights for a 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer venue in Brazil.

Mineirão Stadium, a 64,000-seat facility in Belo Horizonte, a city with 2.4 million people, is undergoing a major renovation to prepare for the World Cup. The $400 million construction project has gutted the stadium inside a huge concrete shell.

Mineirão Stadium is the home pitch for the teams Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro.
Front Row, part of Comcast-Spectacor in Philadelphia, is working for Lusoarenas, a consortium of three Brazilian firms in charge of the redevelopment and operation of the stadium, owned by the regional government Minas Gerais. Together, Front Row and Lusoarenas are asking for $15 million annually over 10 years, said Marco Herling, president of Lusoarenas. Officials said they have held initial talks with some companies but declined to identify them.

The stadium is home pitch for two of Brazil’s top soccer teams, Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro, the city’s oldest soccer club, founded in 1908. They have relocated for the past two seasons while the stadium is under construction and will resume playing in the building in early 2013, after the renovation is complete, Herling said.

This would be Brazil’s first stadium tied to a deal of this kind, he said.

As part of the naming-rights pitch, Front Row is marketing the stadium’s renovation as a legacy project for the next 50 years, said Chris Lencheski, president of Front Row Marketing.

Two years from now, officials must present FIFA with a “clean” building for a World Cup free of commercial branding. Pending a naming-rights deal, there is a plan to activate before and after the World Cup, said Lencheski, who is principally involved in the naming-rights negotiations. The region’s chief industries are petroleum, information technology, construction equipment, raw materials tied to green technology and packaged goods, he said.

The list of international firms with a presence in Brazil includes Federal Express, Motorola, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Oracle, Duke Energy and Cargill, said Eric Smallwood, Front Row’s senior vice president.

The naming-rights package will extend to a new amphitheater that can accommodate 20,000 to 30,000 people and a new soccer museum being built in Belo Horizonte, Herling said. Those two facilities are part of the region’s $400 million investment.

Texas A&M University’s private foundation has hired firms connected to Cowboys Stadium and Livestrong Sporting Park to help study renovating Kyle Field versus building a new stadium.

Sports facility research firm CSL International and tech startup Sporting Innovations are part of a team of consultants that the school’s 12th Man Foundation hired to redevelop the 83,000-seat stadium. Sports architect Populous is leading the effort.

Other consultants on Populous’ team are GMR Marketing, The Innovations Group, Venue Solutions Group and engineers Walter P Moore and ME Engineers.

Bill Rhoda, the Dallas-based principal with CSL, was on the ground floor for developing the profitable business model for Cowboys Stadium. Sporting Innovations is a spinoff of Sporting Kansas City, the MLS club that opened a new stadium in 2011, a building heavy on wireless technology.

The Texas A&M project is a “broad-based market study, probably the most comprehensive we have ever done in college sports,” said Earl Santee, senior principal for Populous overseeing the project.

Three to four years ago, CSL completed an independent study for Texas A&M revolving around suites and club seats, Rhoda said. This time, CSL and its fellow consultants will survey season-ticket holders and university partners to examine all potential revenue streams tied to financing the project: ticketing, premium seating, personal seat licenses, donations, naming rights, sponsorships, food and beverage, merchandise, parking and third-party events.

Those results will be folded into Populous’ design plan for expansion and upgrades to arrive at a cost estimate for the renovation and the return on investment.

With Texas A&M moving to the Southeastern Conference this fall, the Populous-led team also will study whether it makes better sense to build a new football stadium. For the first time in the school’s 136-year history, the school has sold out football season tickets at 33,000, said Kevin Hurley, associate athletic director of facilities. Home games include SEC opponents Arkansas, Florida and LSU.

It’s the first day of the MLB season and at the stadium complex in South Philadelphia, fans are lining up 2 1/2 hours before game time to watch their beloved Phillies. That may not sound that unusual, except that the Phillies opened the season 300 miles west, in Pittsburgh.

However loud the crowd was that day at PNC Park, it’s hard to believe it could rival the cacophony inside the newly opened Xfinity Live!, a development from partners Comcast-Spectacor and Cordish Cos. that is a sports bar on acid, combining a 24-foot-wide Sony high-definition screen in its center with a variety of indoor and outdoor dining venues across a 60,000-square-foot site in the shadow of Philadelphia’s sports venues.

At Xfinity Live!, built on the site of the old Spectrum, an array of restaurants and bars will draw sports fans when teams are playing nearby at Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center, and also when they aren’t.
Photos by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF (5)
Built on the site of the demolished Spectrum, where the 76ers and Flyers once played, there are now restaurants including a steakhouse, a beer hall, and a Pro Bull Riders-branded bar with a mechanical, smoke-spewing bull across the street from the Phillies’ home, Citizens Bank Park, and a two-minute walk from the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers and 76ers play.

On this warm April day, the 20,000 or so square feet of outside dining and drinking arejammed, from late morning until after sunset and the beginning of that night’s Sabres-Flyers game. “We thought about driving to Pittsburgh,” said Michael Rellance, a 20-something mechanic from Havertown, Pa., wearing a Phillies jersey and a Flyers cap, ashe drank a beer. “This was a lot easier. We’re surrounded by Phillies fans, and I can sleep in my own bed tonight.”

Like the Internet, Xfinity Live! gathers community, but in a more traditional way, and efficiently enough that in its first year, the place is projecting more than $25 million in sales. It has amassed more than $15 million in contractually obligated income, which in this case is a combination of cash, media and barter for products from sponsors including Pepsi, MillerCoors, Verizon Wireless and Sony.

It’s more than your local sports bar, and some are struggling to put a label on the novel experience.

“People talk a lot about the noise level, but the best description I’ve heard so far is that it’s a mall of sport bars,” said Sean McKinney, president of Mitchell & Ness, the Philadelphia-based marketer of retro sports apparel, which has a 700-square-foot store in the complex decorated with what was the 76ers home court, along with Spectrum dasherboards. “You knew the place was going to get people when there were games next door, but we wondered about non-game days. Now this has become a place where you’ve got to be if you are a sports fan, certainly if there’s an away game. But even if the teams aren’t playing, there have been people here.”

To ensure a hometown feel, Xfinity Live!, open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, sells local offerings from the likes of Chickie’s & Pete’s, Nick’s Roast Beef, the Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co. and Victory Brewing. The same goal horn sounds inside Xfinity Live! as in the Wells Fargo Center when the Flyers score, and after the Phillies won their opener, fans were singing “High Hopes” as they do at Citizens Bank Park after a win. Additional hometown institutions, like favored anthem singer Lauren Hart and Lou Nolan, the Flyers public address announcer since 1972, will be added to the party for away games during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Certainly, the Philadelphia sports complex’s “fourth stadium,” which cost $31 million to build and includes an outdoor stage on which Third Eye Blind opened the building with a concert March 30, is enjoying early success based on geography and traffic. Philly Live, as it was known before Comcast bought the title rights for its Xfinity brand, is at a confluence of sports facilities that attract 8.4 million people annually to what is a nondescript neighborhood of warehouses and parking lots outside of the sports facilities. Now with some early success, Comcast-Spectacor and Cordish are starting to deal with a larger question: How many of these buildings can a sports-crazed public support across America?

“This is the next wave,” said a confident Comcast-Spectacor President Peter Luukko, sipping iced tea above the din inside the Flyers-themed Broad Street Bullies Pub. “I don’t see that the next definitive arena design is here yet. The next thing is building entertainment zones, so people will get to arenas and stadiums earlier and stay later.”

Cordish has developed downtown entertainment districts in cities, like Baltimore’s Power Plant and Louisville’s Fourth Street Live. It’s been behind the long-planned Ballpark Village next to Busch Stadium in St. Louis, while recently becoming a partner with the San Francisco Giants in a $1.6 billion plan to develop the Mission Rock area just south of AT&T Park as a residential, retail and public recreational space. Combine that level of expertise with Comcast-owned Global Spectrum, the industry’s second-largest facility operator behind SMG, and things could get interesting.

Having just opened the doors of Xfinity Live! in late March, neither side of the 50/50 partnership wants to say much about next steps. However, Cordish Vice President Reed Cordish declares, “There’s a zero percent chance this is our last project together.” As possible proof of future partnerships, Comcast’s Front Row Marketing is selling marketing assets across other Cordish properties.

“There’s a real [national] opportunity,” said Luukko, “but as we get into smaller markets, the key is matching size with attendance. We can build this at 10,000 square feet or 100,000 if there’s a need.”

So how much of a blueprint is Xfinity Live! for others? “We pass on more projects than we ever do, so this will never be like Starbucks,” Cordish said. “There’s a lot of great sports towns in America, so eventually there’s maybe potential to do several ones like this a year.”

The key to future versions of Xfinity Live!, he says, is authenticity, because sports fans can quickly smell a poser. “This has to be a place people will come to even when they don’t have a ticket to an event,” said Cordish, as the final out of the Phillies game is recorded. “If we’re able to do that — and I think we have early on — it could work in a lot of cities.”