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Volume 21 No. 2


Don Muret
Drexel University is using the niche sport of squash as a marketing tool to compete at a higher level in athletics and academics.

Starting Thursday and continuing through Oct. 12, the 26,000-student private school in Philadelphia plays host to the Delaware Investments 2012 U.S. Open Squash Championships. The event draws 48 of the world’s best men’s and women’s players to compete for $185,000 in prize money. This year’s tournament is the second year of a three-year deal between Drexel and U.S. Squash, the governing body for the sport in this country and whose headquarters are in New York.

The event ties to Drexel launching its own men’s and women’s squash programs in the fall of 2011. For the spring season in 2012, they began play in the Kline and Specter Squash Center, a new $1.5 million facility that opened in February. Both teams are members of the College Squash Association, the governing body of intercollegiate squash, a sport not sanctioned by the NCAA.

Fans at Drexel will have an up-close view as players compete in a portable, glass wall enclosure.
Photo by: U.S. SQUASH
The U.S. Open, meanwhile, is played at a separate facility, midcourt at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, the school’s 2,352-seat basketball arena. In that setting, officials are building an intimate 800-seat venue that surrounds players, who compete in a portable, glass wall enclosure.

Spectators sitting in the first row are two feet from the competition, according to Eric Zillmer, Drexel’s athletic director. For fans sitting farther from the action, video boards provide closer views and replays. U.S. Squash rents both the court and the screens for the event.

Ticket prices range from $10 to $95 per session for a premium-seat package covering the cost of food and drink, including beer and wine. There is also a fan fest component with retail vendors and skills competitions set up in the arena.

The cost for Drexel to produce the event runs into the six figures to pay staff for ticketing, security, ushers and food service, Zillmer said. The school provides those services in exchange for the free marketing exposure it receives through U.S. Squash’s advertising of the event. “We treat Drexel as a presenting level sponsor in all of our collateral,” said Kevin Klipstein, CEO of U.S. Squash.

Before last year, the U.S. Open was held at a variety of smaller venues, including both Symphony Hall and the Harvard Club, where only 200 people could get in the doors, Klipstein said.

Big picture, school officials would like to see Drexel become the permanent home for the event. It would help the sport grow and bring greater attention to Drexel as it pursues student athletes who otherwise attend Ivy League schools to play squash, Zillmer said.

As was the case in 2011, this year’s U.S. Open semifinals and finals, set for Oct. 11-12, will be streamed live on ESPN3.

> TOPPING OUT: Seating supplier 4Topps has signed a deal with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to build tabletop seating for Investors Group Field, the CFL team’s new $190 million stadium opening in 2013. The 160 seats, groups of four seats distributed among 40 tables, will serve as the Blue Bombers’ loge box product at the 40,000-seat stadium, said 4Topps CEO Joe Bellissimo.

It is the biggest deal to date for the 21-month-old North Carolina company, and marks the first sale of its second-generation seat design. The flexibility of the new mesh seat design provides 4Topps with a more comfortable, higher-end swivel seat to provide for arenas, Bellissimo said.

The Blue Bombers are 4Topps’ 15th pro sports client. Most are minor league baseball teams, with the exception of the Cleveland Indians. The Indians bought two tables as a test this season to fill an open space in the left-field bleachers where the Tribe Social Deck once stood. Ticket prices were $40 a seat with $20 in stored value to use for concessions.

The Indians, without mentioning specific numbers, saw strong sales of those tables during the second half of the season, said Vic Gregovits, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

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

Bruce Springsteen closed out his three-night stand at MetLife Stadium with a 63rd birthday celebration before 55,000 rain-soaked fans.

The three shows, Sept. 19, 21 and 22 — the final stadium dates for Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” tour of 2012, a route that included seven MLB and NFL buildings — also brought the curtain down on a profitable outdoor concert season for big league teams booking shows at their facilities.

More teams, especially those that have grown more experienced in the concert business through several years of aggressively pursuing shows, are increasing their share of the revenue. The number of clubs who choose to promote concerts, taking on more risk for the promise of greater returns, continues to grow at a steady rate, say consultants working with stadiums to book shows.

Crew Stadium in Columbus landed two shows through the Soccer Stadium Alliance.
By taking on the promoter’s role, paying artist guarantees and other fees upfront instead of renting their buildings to promoters, teams get a piece of ticket revenue, something they would not typically share in as part of a straight rental. In some cases, teams say, it also puts them in better position to get concert dates.

In MLB, MLS and the NFL, special events such as concerts are exempt from revenue-sharing agreements, giving those teams extra incentive to reach for more revenue.

Across the board, teams refused to discuss profits from their concert deals, although all said they made money on their shows. However, many were willing to share gross ticket sales figures (see chart).

For example, the joint venture running MetLife Stadium for the Jets and Giants promoted Springsteen in-house for three shows that generated $14.4 million in gross ticket sales, said Ron VanDeVeen, senior vice president of events and guest services.

This year, 10 of the 12 members of the Gridiron Stadium Network promoted the Kenny Chesney-Tim McGraw “Brothers of the Sun” tour, producing $42 million in gross ticket sales on attendance of more than 500,000, said Jeff Apregan, the network’s consultant. Within the network, it was the highest number of NFL facilities to buy the Chesney show since the group was formed in 2005 to lobby the entertainment industry for more events.

“Our members have really learned the concert business,” Apregan said.

Network member the Denver Broncos stepped up for the first time to co-promote Chesney-McGraw. The Broncos bought the show this year after learning from other teams’ experiences, said Andy Gorchov, general manager of Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Another member, the Cleveland Browns, also co-promoted a Chesney-McGraw show. Jim Ross, senior vice president of business development for the Browns, said it was a moneymaker for the club and provides a foundation for booking more shows at the stadium in the future.

“It also provided a nice catalyst for suite sales, both for the show itself and to help with Browns sales, and it gave us a chance to launch some of our new concession offerings and high-end hospitality in advance of football season,” Ross said.

In Pittsburgh, Chesney played Heinz Field for the sixth consecutive summer. “We are looking at it for a seventh year,” said Jimmie Sacco, the Steelers’ executive director of stadium management. “Just when you say it’s coming to an end, it gets bigger.”

No tour was a bigger production this summer than Roger Waters’ “The Wall,” which played a half-dozen MLB ballparks: Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Yankee Stadium and Citizens Bank Park. Teams didn’t get the chance to promote the show — Live Nation promoted all the dates — but still generated significant revenue from concessions and parking.

At Wrigley, concert concessions, often fueled by beer sales, generate revenue much higher than $500,000, the total food and drink receipts at a typical Cubs game, team President Crane Kenney said.

The Soccer Stadium Alliance, a new group, was directly involved in booking five concerts this year at MLS facilities. Crew Stadium in Columbus had two of them, Jason Aldean and the Zac Brown Band.

In Denver, the Colorado Rapids played host to three Phish shows over Labor Day weekend for the second consecutive year. This year’s run generated $3.3 million in gross ticket sales at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Kroenke Sports Enterprises, owner of the Rapids and the stadium’s operator, co-promoted the show with AEG Live.