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Volume 21 No. 2


Don Muret
The Seattle Sounders are using smart cards for season tickets at CenturyLink Field, new technology that the Seahawks plan to adopt next year, according to officials representing both teams.

The Sounders and Seahawks are owned by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. The paperless technology is tied to a Microsoft Dynamics CRM system installed last year to track data from gate admissions and food and retail concession sales.

About 11,000 of the Sounders’ 32,000 season-ticket holders use the cards. All season-ticket holders were given the option to go paperless during the renewal process in September, said Bart Wiley, director of business development. The Sounders pitched paperless in part as a green initiative.

About 11,000 Sounders ticket holders use the cards.
The cards have two stored-value functions. The bar code on the front is scanned at the stadium gate for admission. The magnetic stripe on the back is used to pay for food and merchandise at 625 points of sale throughout the stadium and CenturyLink Field Event Center next door.

Early in the season, the Sounders are testing the magnetic stripe by providing groups of 15 card holders with $10 in complimentary credits to spend on food, drink and retail at four home games in May, Wiley said.
The goal is to make the cashless concessions piece available for all card holders by midsummer, he said. To add value, card holders log into their Ticketmaster Account Manager program to link a credit card number. They can also transfer their tickets by email for games they cannot attend.

To further track fans’ spending habits, the Sounders are encouraging all card holders to have their cards swiped every time they make a food, beverage or retail purchase. During the month of May, card holders receive a 30 percent discount on all food and drink, excluding alcohol, and a 20 percent discount on Sounders polo shirts. The discounts are in effect for 90 minutes, from the time the gates open through the first kick.

In addition, the Sounders activated a promotion called “Swipe. Save. Win.” tied to an opportunity for one fan to watch the final minutes of the match on the field and participate in a meet-and-greet with a Sounders player after each game.

After the season, the Sounders will analyze all smart card data to create a full-scale rewards program for next season, Wiley said.

The Sounders are not the first MLS team to use paperless ticketing. The New York Red Bulls installed a similar system at their new stadium when it opened in 2010. In the NBA, about a half-dozen teams have used smart cards as season tickets and for concessions.

In the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have used paperless technology for season-ticket holders, said league spokesman Brian McCarthy.

In Seattle, the Seahawks plan to activate smart cards for the 2013 season after the technology is fully developed, Wiley said. As it stands now, the Seahawks would be the first NFL club to store all ticketing, food and merchandise data in one card, McCarthy said.

PACKAGE DEAL: The effort by a group of eight soccer stadiums to schedule more concerts in those facilities has brought greater attention to those buildings despite the stiff competition they face from Live Nation and AEG, the two biggest event promoters, which also own and operate amphitheaters and arenas.

The Soccer Stadium Alliance, a network of seven MLS clubs and the North American Soccer League’s Rochester Rhinos that was formed in August, has confirmed Journey/Loverboy/Pat Benatar on Aug. 31, and a country music festival Sept. 8 at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City.

In Rochester, the Summerland 2012 Tour with Sugar Ray, Everclear and the Gin Blossoms is set for July 26 at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester.

The alliance is holding dates for three to seven tours in September and October, said Donnie Frizzell, the group’s consultant.

Frizzell, a veteran promoter, is already having discussions with agents and band managers about developing daylong country, rock and electronic music festivals to play all eight soccer facilities in 2013.

Creating content specifically for those venues, which have 18,000 to 27,000 seats, provides better opportunities to book live music compared with competing for a date on a national tour of amphitheaters, Frizzell said.

Yallapalooza, a six-act country fest at Livestrong Park tied to a local radio station, is one example, he said. This will be the second year for that event in the market after it relocated from an amphitheater in Greater Kansas City.

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

Minnesota lawmakers’ tax on suite holders to help finance a new Vikings stadium would be a first in the NFL, and represents another option for teams and officials facing the increasingly complex task of funding a new facility.

A bill to build a $975 million facility to replace the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, which was passed last Thursday and sent to Gov. Mark Dayton’s office for his signature, contained a 10 percent user fee on suite sales as a backup public funding source for the project.

The Vikings’ pursuit of a new home has resulted in multiple designs, including this recent one.
SportsBusiness Journal research shows none of the other 31 NFL teams impose user fees for suites.

Considering the pushback from the public sector to finance sports facility development, especially in Minnesota, where the Vikings have struggled for more than 10 years to build a new stadium, suite user fees provide a valid option to pay for these projects.

“If not user fees, some kind of creative financing tied to those who have the benefit from watching the games [in person],” said Bill Dorsey, chairman of the Association of Luxury Suite Directors, an industry group of major league premium seat sales executives.

At the 30-year-old Metrodome, where the Vikings’ lease expired after the 2011 season, the team generated an estimated $5 million in yearly suite revenue, which was “dead last” in the NFL “by a lot,” Dorsey said.

The dome’s 80 suites were priced at $60,000 to $160,000 annually, with less than 100 percent occupancy, said Dorsey, who received that information directly from the Vikings. There were no user fees for suites, said Steve Maki, the dome’s director of facilities and engineering.

In a new stadium with 150 suites, Dorsey’s best guess was that Vikings’ skybox income could jump as high as $50 million a year, depending on pricing, the number of founders suites, length of terms and escalator clauses.

Using that number, user fees could generate up to $5 million a year toward paying off construction debt.

As the legislation took shape, the Vikings were reportedly opposed to user fees because they felt those taxes would cut into their suite revenue. Under the NFL’s revenue-sharing formula, teams share suite ticket income with other clubs but keep 100 percent of the cost to buy a suite.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ vice president of public affairs and stadium development, did not return a phone call and an email for comment.

In other NFL markets, teams and municipalities collect admissions taxes on tickets alone that run as high as 12 percent in Chicago, said sports consultant Marc Ganis, a Chicago resident. In many cases, however, those taxes are not reserved for facility development, said ticketing executives with NFL teams.

The Green Bay Packers are one exception. The Packers do not attach user fees to suites at Lambeau Field, but they do have a user fee for the right to purchase season tickets in the seating bowl, plus a 10 percent stadium ticket tax, said team spokesman Aaron Popkey.

All those funds go to the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District to help pay off bonds and pay for stadium improvements.

Construction is under way on a $143 million expansion at Lambeau Field, and the Packers, in conjunction with the stadium district, will tie a user fee to those 6,700 new seats, Popkey said. The fee will be determined in the coming weeks, he said.

Twelve years ago, when Lambeau Field underwent a $295 million renovation, user fees were $2,000 a seat. Those fees will increase for the new nonpremium seats installed high above the south end zone, Popkey said.