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Volume 20 No. 42


The Charlotte Bobcats are examining potential upgrades to Time Warner Cable Arena that could result in building new theater boxes and a super suite.

To this point, the Bobcats are in talks with construction firms to determine project costs and revenue generation. They have made no decisions on improvements and who would pay for them, said Fred Whitfield, the team’s president and chief operating officer.

The city of Charlotte owns the arena and must approve any renovations, Whitfield said.

The proposed upgrades are tied to a master plan Populous completed in April for the Bobcats that touched every part of the 7-year-old facility. Separately, Populous developed a plan to retrofit the arena for next month’s Democratic National Convention.
Initially, the Bobcats hoped they could piggyback on the DNC’s project by replacing existing terrace tables and royal boxes with regular seats. The team has struggled to sell those loge-style seats at the stage end since the arena opened in 2005. But as the DNC’s plan unfolded, President Obama’s Sept. 6 acceptance speech was moved from the arena to Bank of America Stadium. As a result, the retrofit was scaled back and the terrace tables and royal boxes were left untouched, Whitfield said.

Regardless, the Bobcats are moving ahead with their post-convention renovation and will prioritize individual projects in the next 30 days, said Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

Last season, the Bobcats’ brass visited arenas in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Phoenix to see what those NBA teams had done to adjust their premium seat mix, Guelli said. The new options include theater boxes, a hot trend across the league.

Theater boxes are small clusters of two to six seats supported by a common dining area behind the seats. At US Airways Center in Phoenix, the Suns split eight traditional suites opposite stage end into 16 four-seat theater boxes. They charge $65,000 to $75,000 annually for those boxes, including tickets to all arena events plus food, beer and wine.
The original units sold out, and the Suns are converting four more suites into seven theater boxes for the coming season, said Geoff Budoff, senior director of suites.

In Chicago, United Center has two super suites that can be sold as two 80-person skyboxes for $13,250 to $19,000 a game or divided into four 40-person units for $8,250 to $12,500 a game, said Steve Schanwald, Bulls executive vice president.

The Bobcats are targeting suites directly opposite stage end for theater boxes and one super suite, Whitfield said.

Don Muret
The active market for developing midsize arenas is keeping one sports architect busy with more than a half-dozen jobs stretching from Maine to California.

Sink Combs Dethlefs, a Denver firm, specializes in 10,000-seat venues. The company has designed new arenas in Allentown, Pa.; Bangor, Maine; and Sioux Falls, S.D., and is working on a 5,000-seat college basketball facility for Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

In addition, the architect designed renovations for Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pa., and Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine.

Most recently, the University of Richmond hired Sink Combs to develop a master plan for renovating the school’s 40-year-old Robins Center.

New suites that Sink Combs designed at Erie Insurance Arena exceed the standard size.
In Erie, the architect planned $46 million in upgrades for a building that had not undergone a major renovation since it opened in 1983, said Casey Wells, executive director of the Erie County Convention Center Authority, the facility’s governing body.

The two-year project, to be finished next summer, covers a new facade at the front entrance, more concession points of sale and a new premium level with 13 suites.

Twelve skyboxes are available for long-term deals, and one is reserved for arena use. The cost is $30,000 to $35,000 annually, depending on location, with five-year commitments. The authority had sold six of the suites, Wells said last week.

The suites are larger than traditional 12- to 16-seat units. In Erie, all skyboxes will have 22 seats: 12 theater-style chairs and 10 bar stools.

“Great value in Erie,” Wells said.

In May, the authority signed a 10-year, $3 million naming-rights deal with Erie Insurance, a Fortune 500 company based in the city. The cash commitment from that deal enabled the authority to put the suites and a new $1 million scoreboard back in the renovation after they were cut because of a lack of funds, Wells said.

Next summer, construction starts on the arena’s 250 new club seats. Those seats carry $250 yearly fees for the right to buy tickets to all events. The arena is home to the NBA Development League’s Erie Bayhawks, the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters and an indoor football team.

The renovation will boost arena seating to about 7,000 for sports, an increase of 1,500 seats, Wells said.

Sink Combs’ other projects are in various stages of development. Bangor’s 5,800-seat arena is under construction. In Sioux Falls, groundbreaking is set for Aug. 30 to build a $115 million minor league hockey facility. Mortenson is building the 12,000-seat arena.

For the architect, it has been feast or famine getting work over the past several years as the economy ebbs and flows, said Don Dethlefs, the firm’s CEO.

“In 2008, we had enough big jobs where we were coasting and bigger firms in Denver were laying off people,” Dethlefs said. “About 1 1/2 years ago, we felt the pinch. In our business, you have to keep getting your share of jobs. You win three, then lose three. We were on a losing streak.”

NASSAU’S COLISEUM: Global Spectrum, SMG and Lagardère Unlimited Stadium Solutions are competing for the deal to run a new 15,000-seat national soccer stadium in Nassau, Bahamas, but whoever wins the contract may want to learn the Chinese language.

The $30 million project was a gift from the People’s Republic of China. The facility was built with Chinese labor and all the stadium’s signs are in Chinese, said Mich Sauers, senior vice president of business development for Comcast-Spectacor, Global Spectrum’s parent company.

The Thomas A. Robinson Stadium is among several sports facility projects China has built in the Caribbean to support those island governments that have broken ties with Taiwan, according to a story in The New York Times. China considers Taiwan to be part of its country.

As for the challenge of translating Chinese, Sauers said, “There must be an English version somewhere.”

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

Churchill Downs has hired Legends Sales and Marketing to launch a national campaign to sell tickets for The Mansion, a new ultra-premium experience for high-end patrons attending the Kentucky Derby.

A rendering shows the Library, one of six luxurious rooms planned for The Mansion.
The Mansion, with 322 ticketed spaces, will take over the sixth floor of the clubhouse, which had served as the media center since 2005. The redesign is themed after a stately Southern mansion with six luxurious rooms.

Those premium ticket holders get to watch the races from a private outdoor terrace directly above the finish line and can stroll back to a second veranda overlooking the paddock, where the horses are saddled before the race.

The perks extend to custom meals served by Levy Restaurants, the track’s food provider, access to a private wine cellar, and butler and concierge service. Ticket prices are $9,000 to $12,500 a year for The Mansion with three-, five- and seven-year commitments, industry sources said.

Track officials refused to disclose ticket prices and would not confirm those numbers. Track spokesman John Asher said pricing for The Mansion for the two-day Derby and Kentucky Oaks races will be more than $5,000, currently the highest price for a non-PSL seat for those events.

The Mansion ticket prices are “still below what we know to be the purchase price for our prime tickets on the secondary market,” Asher said.

With those and top-shelf amenities in mind, track officials reached out to Legends, a company co-owned by the Cowboys and Yankees, and a firm selling suites for the new Formula One track in Austin, Texas, an event catering to an international audience.

After an online survey a few years ago showed that Derby goers came from every continent except Antarctica, the track has sought to expand its search for new ticket buyers, said Tricia Amburgey, Churchill’s vice president of sales.

The target market covers the jet set, where for example, a woman attending the Derby for the first time can arrange a “custom hat appointment” through The Mansion’s concierge to fit in with the headwear tradition that plays such a big role in the Derby experience, Amburgey said.

“We didn’t want to just move money around, have people say, ‘Oh, well, I’ve been in Millionaires Row [two areas on the fourth and sixth floors where celebrities congregate at the Derby], now I will try this,’” she said. “We are really trying to go after a different customer for this experience.”

A rendering shows the foyer at The Mansion, which will have 322 ticketed spaces.
Churchill Downs has one to two people handling all ticket sales for the Derby and felt it made sense to outsource sales for The Mansion.

“We did not want to staff up to attack the California market and the London market, all the different markets where Legends already has a presence,” she said.

Megan Baker, a Legends sales executive who sold suites for Cowboys Stadium, will lead the marketing effort for The Mansion from Legends’ offices in New York. Baker will travel to meet with major corporations and other groups, said Mike Ondrejko, Legends’ chief operating officer.

Legends will receive a fee based on the success of the sales program, he said.
In addition, Chris Quinn, former vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Anita Park, is consulting on The Mansion project, as well as the Rose Bowl, where Legends is selling premium seats tied to the stadium’s renovation.

“Part of the job is getting people who haven’t experienced the Derby to understand what this event is really all about,” Ondrejko said. “Once that happens, I think the property will sell itself.”

There may be a handful of situations where prospects will be invited to the track for a firsthand look at the project but in most cases Legends will market the space through the use of online applications, Ondrejko said.

Construction on The Mansion, part of $9 million in renovations, the most significant upgrades to the facility in the last seven years, will be completed before early May, the week of the Derby and the Oaks.