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Volume 20 No. 46


Don Muret
Legends Hospitality Management recently signed its first food account overseas with Manchester City Football Club after forming a joint venture with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts. The name of their new company is Fabulous Fan Fare.

The agreement gives Fabulous Fan Fare the concessions and premium dining deal at Etihad Stadium, the 47,805-seat home of Manchester City, the Premier League’s defending champion. It’s the first stadium account for Fabulous Feasts, which specializes in special-event catering.

Legends, co-owned by the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, had been pursuing the Manchester City business for the past year after responding on its own to a request for qualifications, said Legends President Dan Smith. Forming a joint venture was not a requirement and Legends knew it could do the job alone, said Michael Bekolay, Legends’ vice president of operations in Dallas.

But Legends officials recognized that finding a local partner that understood the culture and stood for quality would improve their chances of winning the business.

Their competitors for the Man City deal included Compass Group, the largest food-service company in the world, and Delaware North Cos., food provider at Wembley Stadium among other sports facilities overseas. Both firms have an established footprint in Europe.

“It seemed logical … that we would be much

British chef Jamie Oliver offered a cultural link that helped the Legends joint venture land the Etihad Stadium account.
more effective and quite frankly there would be a lot more buy-in from the local community if we had a local partnership,” Bekolay said.

Legends compiled a short list of potential partners, including Jamie Oliver’s company, and Bekolay fired off an email to Fabulous Feasts late one Thursday. Within 15 minutes, Bekolay got a response. After a Friday morning discussion, Oliver’s business partner Nigel Harris flew to New York the following Monday and met with Legends officials, including Chairman and CEO Dave Checketts. Both companies quickly realized they had a shared vision for serving the public, and Fabulous Feasts had an “appetite to expand into the sports business,” Bekolay said.

Man City announced Jan. 10 that the joint venture had won the deal.

Fabulous Feasts officials did not respond to an email for comment.

The partnership paid an early dividend when Legends was struggling over how to respond to a written note about the “three P’s” in a second proposal issued by Man City. The phrase stands for “pee, pint and pie,” referring to the halftime rush by fans to the restrooms and concession stands. Legends officials were unsure whether they should specifically address those references until Fabulous Feasts assured them by responding in kind it would not hurt their chances of winning the deal.

“You can imagine in the U.S. if you went into a formal presentation with a client and referred to the three P’s,” Bekolay said. “It probably wouldn’t be received as well. [In Europe] not only do you have to understand the culture but embrace it.”

> BEEPING SOUND: The NFL is using radio-frequency identification technology for field workers at next month’s Super Bowl. Their badges contain a computer chip that when scanned by a reader at event level confirms whether they were approved for field access.

Last year, RFID was used at the Super Bowl media center, said Jerry Anderson, a senior principal with Populous and the league’s chief consultant for its championship game. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see it implemented in the future for regular-season games,” he said.

> AECOM ADDITION: Michael Laviano has joined AECOM as a senior design architect in San Francisco, where he is working on the Golden State Warriors’ arena project.

Laviano worked at Populous in London, where he played a key role in developing the master plan for the 2012 London Olympics and helped design Riverbank Arena, the temporary venue with the blue field that played host to Olympic field hockey.

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

FirstEnergy was always interested in buying naming rights to Cleveland Browns Stadium, said Jim Ross, the team’s senior vice president of business development.

Last week, the longtime Browns sponsor made it official, signing a long-term deal to rename the facility FirstEnergy Stadium.

The new naming-rights sponsor for Cleveland Browns Stadium showed interest more than two years ago, but the deal didn’t come together until after the Browns were sold.
Officials with the Browns and FirstEnergy would not disclose the terms, but the agreement covers a minimum of 15 years with an annual value in the neighborhood of $6 million, according to industry sources. Both sides negotiated in-house with no assistance from naming-rights consultants.

Ross, representing the team, first had discussions with FirstEnergy about naming rights 2 1/2 years ago, soon after he was hired in Cleveland. The electric company has been a Browns corporate partner since the stadium opened in 1999 and upgraded to a gate partner from 2002 through 2006. Most recently, FirstEnergy was a scoreboard sponsor.

“They told us, ‘should you decide to do it, we are interested,’” Ross said. “They had questions over how much it would cost and what would it involve, and told us it would be great for their brand.”

Former team owner Randy Lerner never committed to selling the stadium’s naming rights even though terms of the lease between the team and the city encouraged the Browns to do so, according to local reports.

By comparison, new team owner Jimmy Haslam was all for it and said the Browns would be selling naming rights at a news conference in late October announcing his purchase of the team.

“After Jim Haslam bought the team and said yes, it freed things up,” Ross said. Two-and-a-half months later, the deal was done.

For FirstEnergy, upgrading to naming rights for the stadium was the next logical step, company spokesman Todd Schneider said.

In addition to being the Browns’ official energy partner, the utility receives signs on the interior and exterior of the stadium, use of Browns trademarks, event sponsorships and media assets, including TV, radio, print and digital.

As part of the deal, a new FirstEnergy Stadium website will be launched before next football season, Ross said. The company will also have a display and interactive areas at the facility.

Since it first became a Browns sponsor, Akron-based FirstEnergy has become a larger, more regional brand by acquiring other utilities, expanding its reach from northwest Ohio to the New Jersey shore, Schneider said.

FirstEnergy is also a sponsor of the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, where its logo is on the outfield wall and on signage behind home plate. At Quicken Loans Arena, FirstEnergy sponsors both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Lake Erie Monsters, an American Hockey League team.

Outside of Cleveland, FirstEnergy has naming rights to minor league ballparks in Reading, Pa., and Lakewood, N.J.

Last year, FirstEnergy bought title sponsorship of the All-American Soap Box Derby in its hometown of Akron after the event was suffering through financial troubles. “We kept the tradition alive,” Schneider said.

The Browns’ deal is subject to approval by the City Council, which expects to take action in the next 30 days, Ross said.

The Chicago Cubs have announced plans for a $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field, a project covering dramatic changes to the ballpark including three new premium clubs and restaurants, two outfield fan decks and an enclosed suite level.

The design concepts are just a few of the upgrades the Cubs have planned over the next few years at a ballpark turning 100 years old in 2014.

At this point, it’s still a wish list because financing has not been approved for the long-awaited project. The Cubs continue working with city officials on a deal to use some public money to help pay for construction, team spokesman Julian Green said.

The most significant changes to the park would

The renderings show the center-field deck (top), proposed for beneath the scoreboard, and the proposed indoor home plate club.
Images by: CHICAGO CUBS (2)
include a new indoor club for season-ticket holders behind home plate, similar to diamond clubs at newer ballparks; another lounge in the upper deck between third base and home plate; and a marquee restaurant in the team’s old administrative offices. Last spring, Cubs officials relocated to a building across the street from Wrigley that the Ricketts family, owners of the team, bought and renovated.

In addition, on the mezzanine level where Wrigley’s 60 suites are situated, the open-air walkway would be covered by glass and the skyboxes expanded in size. The number of suites would remain the same, Green said.

In the outfield bleachers, one of the ballpark’s defining features, the Cubs want to build two fan decks, one in center field beneath the manually operated scoreboard and another adjacent to the lower-level grandstand down the left-field line.

The decks could provide a combination of seats and standing room, according to Cubs renderings.

To build the center-field deck, the Cubs have proposed removing the LED board attached to the scoreboard that has been in place since the 1984 season, Green said. The loss of the electronic sign in center field could be offset by an LED board added in the left-field corner, matching the size of the one built last season in right field below the Budweiser Patio. Feedback from fans surveyed after last season indicated they enjoyed the real-time information on player statistics displayed on the right-field screen, Green said.

One question that remains is whether the Cubs’ renovation plans include the installation of a video board for game highlights. Wrigley Field remains the last facility in major league sports without a primary screen tied to game replays. The team’s renderings do not show a large video screen. Over the past two years, team officials have surveyed about 23,000 season-ticket holders, other Cubs fans and Wrigleyville residents on the video board, among other issues.

“We’re actively exploring the idea,” Green said.

The Cubs also have a plan to reduce congestion by removing all temporary food carts and pushing all concession stands on the main concourse to the field side of the park.

In the upper level, where 25 percent of the park’s seats are situated, the Cubs want to add more food and drink stands and provide more choices for those fans so they don’t have to walk downstairs to get what they need, Green said.

The Cubs were to reveal their updated plan with images on display during last weekend’s Cubs Convention in downtown Chicago.

The $300 million price tag does not cover the Cubs’ development planned outside the park, including a retail and entertainment plaza targeted for the old Triangle Building site.

The Cubs announced last Friday a deal with Starwood Hotels to build a boutique hotel across Clark Street on the site occupied by a McDonald’s. The Ricketts family bought the property for $20 million in December 2011.

Both the plaza and hotel projects are contingent on the city’s approval of the ballpark renovation, team officials said.