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Volume 20 No. 42


Don Muret
Sports architect Dan Meis will look to one of the world’s most iconic venues for inspiration in his design of a new soccer stadium.

Officials with AS Roma, an Italian soccer club, announced in late December that they had selected a site to build a 55,000-seat stadium, giving Meis the go-ahead to start project design.

The site, Tor di Valle, is home to a horse racing facility along the Tiber River on the southwest edge of Rome. The property is about 20 minutes southwest of the Colosseum.

Meis, global director of sports for Woods Bagot in Los Angeles, points to the Colosseum as one of the first facilities for public assembly to reach the level of sophistication of having multiple seating tiers, including VIP boxes developed for Roman emperors.

Keeping in mind that a group of American bankers and lawyers owns 60 percent of the club, the team wants the stadium to build greater awareness for an international brand, as well as reflect Italy’s best-known architecture, Meis said.

“The history of the Colosseum is what everybody looks back to, [and] a lot of our early discussions have been about how to find a way to draw on those elements without making it a themed building,” Meis said. “We’re going to look hard at it. It has to connect with Italy; that’s the trick.”

The new AS Roma facility could have a retractable roof, although that part of the design has not been decided on, Meis said.

Researchers say the Colosseum had a similar feature. “I’ve had people tweet me images of the Colosseum with a roof on it,” he said.

The site announcement took place at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, where AS Roma has a training agreement. Team ownership estimated project costs between $215 million and $275 million for the stadium, expected to open for the 2016-17 season.

AS Roma now plays its games at Stadio Olimpico, a 60-year-old facility that served as the main stadium for the 1960 Summer Olympics.

> HALFTIME HOOPS: The Brooklyn Nets have found a creative use of space for the practice court at Barclays Center to entertain some of their highest-paying customers.

The team recently converted the practice court, connected to the Calvin Klein Courtside Club at event level, into an area for courtside seat holders to grab dessert and shoot baskets at halftime of weekend games and other marquee dates at the new arena.

The concept originated after Levy Restaurants, the arena’s food provider, expanded its sweets menu at halftime, taking up more space with food carts inside the club. As a result, crowds became an issue, leading to the team’s decision to open the practice court as a spillover zone, said Fred Mangione, the team’s chief marketing officer. The Nets tested the concept Dec. 23 against the Philadelphia 76ers, a Sunday game that drew a large number of children who enjoyed the experience.
Based on fan feedback during the holiday break, the Nets decided to continue using the practice court for more weekend games and other games in high demand against the New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, Mangione said.

The desserts in the practice court are served in a space roped off and protected by a tarp, and those who want to shoot hoops must be wearing sneakers. To provide further value, the Nets Dancers and the Brooklyn Knight mascot make appearances to have their photographs taken with fans.

For the Nets, the practice court provides another touch point with their 750 courtside seat holders, who pay up to $3,000 a seat per game. Considering practice courts at most arenas are off-limits to the public, the Nets can position a unique amenity for their premium patrons.

“It’s a great testament to our general manager, Billy King, to allow us to do it,” Mangione said. “One quick idea is sometimes the best.”

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

The New Jersey Devils terminated Centerplate’s concessions contract in early January over a long-running financial dispute, said a team executive, and have brought in Aramark to operate food and retail for the shortened NHL season.

Rich Krezwick, president of Devils Arena Entertainment, the club’s facility management division, claimed that Centerplate refused to pay the team its share of food and beverage sales for the better part of a year.

Centerplate spokesman Bob Pascal responded to questions for this story by saying, in an email, “We are unable to offer any comment at this time due to pending litigation with the New Jersey Devils management, however … our performance as hospitality partner at the Prudential Center speaks for itself.”

The deal between the Devils and Centerplate was ended Jan. 4, one day after the Devils announced that team owner Jeff Vanderbeek had bought out partners Michael Gilfillan and Peter Simon as part of Vanderbeek’s refinancing of $178 million in debt.

Centerplate was the Prudential Center’s food and merchandise provider when the arena opened in October 2007. Centerplate had five years remaining on a 10-year deal with an option for a five-year extension. The team had worked with Aramark at Izod Center, its previous home.

Centerplate’s retail deal with the team was not renewed after its contract expired in September, Krezwick said. The Devils finished in the bottom tier of in-arena NHL merchandise sales last season, he said, and the team store has been closed during the lockout. Aramark plans to have it open for the first Devils home game.

The two parties had an arbitrator’s help resolving a previous dispute that dates to the summer of 2011.

In February 2012, an arbitrator ruled in favor of Devils Arena Entertainment after the team and its vendor could not reach a compromise on about $1.7 million, a combination of revenue that Centerplate owed the team and food invoices the concessionaire submitted to the Devils tied to the arena’s all-inclusive catering program. Krezwick said the Devils believed Centerplate was overcharging the team.

KPMG, the New York accounting firm conducting the audit of expenses and the arbiter in the case, decided in favor of the Devils, providing about $1.2 million in financial relief for the team.

Since the decision was handed down, Krezwick claimed that Centerplate has not paid the team its commissions from general food concessions and merchandise, leading to the termination of both contracts.

The acrimonious split is the culmination of a relationship that was shaky from the beginning after Centerplate, under former President and CEO Janet Steinmayer, signed on to run Prudential Center’s food and retail.

A spreadsheet of concessionaires’ proposals obtained by SportsBusiness Journal in 2005, a few months before Centerplate and the Devils signed their deal, revealed Centerplate would commit to investing $13 million at the arena over 10 years, including a $5 million signing bonus. By comparison, runner-up Levy Restaurants proposed an $8 million investment over 10 years with no signing bonus.

Centerplate’s proposal called for paying the Devils a combined commission rate 3.5 percentage points higher than Levy, according to the document.

The final terms are not known, but the deal has generally been regarded as a bad one for Centerplate among industry insiders.

Aramark’s first official event at Prudential Center was last Wednesday’s Seton Hall men’s basketball game. As of last week, the Devils and Aramark were still negotiating contract terms, Krezwick said.

The Super Bowl’s return to New Orleans for the first time since 2002 has brought major changes in event programming, including the conversion of a parking garage near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome into a hospitality spot for the NFL Tailgate Party, the pregame bash thrown for the league’s biggest stakeholders.

The NFL Tailgate Party will start in a parking garage.
Image by: NFL
Three levels, about one-third of Champions Garage, will be converted to corporate hospitality space and themed as a French Quarter balcony. To achieve the look, Party Planners West, the Los Angeles event planner producing the tailgate party, is building temporary walls in the garage and decorating those spaces, said Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s senior vice president of events. New Orleans-style food and drink will be served in the garage, and space will be set aside for face painting, brass bands, jazz pianos and tarot card readers.

But that’s just the start. For the first time in the 30-year history of the NFL Tailgate Party, it will extend to additional locations, creating a progressive tailgate, Supovitz said.

From the garage, the party moves to an 80,000-square-foot tent set up in Lot 3, a surface parking lot between Champions Garage and New Orleans Arena, said Doug Thornton, senior vice president of stadiums and arenas for Superdome management firm SMG. The tent, the largest free-span structure Thornton has seen in working seven Super Bowls, is connected to a covered walkway leading to New Orleans Arena, the tailgate party’s final destination, featuring live bands and more food and drink.

Virtually every square inch of the arena, including both concourses, courtside restaurant and club lounges, will be used to entertain guests, Thornton said. When they leave for the game, those premium patrons will walk over existing skybridges to the dome.

The selection of the party sites “was a decision we made to be one of convenience and to clear security protocols,” Supovitz said. “In 2002, it was too late to move the tailgate party.”

Eleven years ago, the NFL first established high-security perimeters for the Super Bowl as a result of the 9/11 attacks the year before. Sponsors, NFL team owners, broadcasters, celebrities and other VIPs had to clear metal detectors and pat-downs before attending the NFL Tailgate Party at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, then make a mile-and-a-half trip to the Superdome and go through more security before entering the stadium.

Because all of this year’s activities take place within the security perimeter surrounding the dome, tailgate party attendees will stay inside the perimeter after being screened and having their tickets scanned at Champions Garage.

In addition to the tailgate party, Super Bowl planners are making creative use of Club 44, a premium club inside an old Macy’s department store building. The space will be used for NFL On Location, the league’s deluxe travel package. The 6,000-square-foot club, which sits in back of the Champions Square outdoor entertainment zone adjoining the dome, will be reserved for On Location ticket holders paying $2,800 to $10,800 to attend the game.

A former food court inside the building has been redeveloped for the Super Bowl, providing an additional 18,000 square feet for On Location functions, Thornton said. The Louisiana Sports and Exposition District, the Superdome’s owner, spent $1 million to expand the indoor footprint.

Because the club and the other redeveloped spaces inside the building were not part of the city’s original bid for the 2013 Super Bowl, the district keeps all net revenue from On Location hospitality. Otherwise, the NFL controls revenue for game-day property, including Champions Square, the 121,000-square-foot outdoor festival space.

For the Super Bowl, Champions Square will be rebranded as Gameday Fan Plaza and will be open to all ticket holders, said Jerry Anderson, a senior principal with Populous, hired by the NFL to plan the event. The fan plaza component will extend to the top decks of two parking garages, separate from Champions Garage, filled with sponsor activations, photo opportunities with a large replica of the Super Bowl trophy, and the broadcast set for CBS.