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Volume 21 No. 2


Don Muret
The Miami Dolphins are developing technology upgrades for Sun Life Stadium with a focus on creating a cutting-edge experience for premium patrons.

Six years ago, the Dolphins installed Cisco’s StadiumVision IPTV concourse display system, plus the tech vendor’s digital audio and voice messaging platforms, at their 75,450-seat stadium, becoming one of the first big league teams to do so. Those systems are now outdated, and team officials are working with the tech vendor to migrate to the latest technology, said Tery Howard, the Dolphins’ senior vice president and chief technology officer.

The Dolphins were among the first to put Cisco’s IPTV system throughout their stadium.
The technology upgrades are part of the team’s proposed $400 million stadium renovation, pending governmental approval of public money to help finance the project. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has committed to privately financing the majority of the project, but without public funds the tech improvements will not be made, Howard said.

In the 190 suites, the intent is to replace phones with computer tablets to order food and drink and to put in new smart televisions with the ability to Skype, the online video communication network, for corporate meetings.

During the past several months, the Dolphins, in conjunction with AT&T, upgraded the stadium’s Wi-Fi and distributed antenna systems, providing the infrastructure required to support Skype.

To remain on the leading edge of technology, the Dolphins are moving to a “virtual concierge” environment in the suites, where premium patrons control more of the experience inside their hospitality space, Howard said.

The Dolphins also would like to feature StadiumVision Mobile, Cisco’s latest wireless platform, at the stadium this fall.

Day and night, brick by brick
at Niners’ new home

Work continues in Santa Clara, Calif., on the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium, scheduled to open next year. The 49ers reportedly will begin selling commemorative bricks March 1 that will help fund construction of the $1.2 billion project.
StadiumVision Mobile, integrated within a mobile application tied to the team and its facility, provides live video and replays with unique camera views for users of mobile devices (SportsBusiness Journal, Feb. 11-17).

The wiring tied to the original StadiumVision network would reduce the investment, compared with a building installing IPTV for the first time.

“One of the biggest price points is cabling and labor,” Howard said. “It’s in place already, so it’s just a matter of swapping equipment in and out.”

> DOME’S DAY: The Super Bowl blackout could have been much longer if stadium officials had not been prepared to deal with a power outage during the game, said Doug Thornton, SMG’s senior vice president at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Three weeks before the Super Bowl, about 35 stadium workers and electricians participated in the exercise SMG ran at the dome to simulate a loss of power in the building, Thornton said. It is one of several drills SMG runs every year to prepare for potential terrorist attacks, cyber sabotage, power outages and other emergency situations.

“We simulated an event almost identical to what happened,” Thornton said. “Sure enough, we had to go through the same protocol. We even wrote the script [for the drill and used during the game] to give to the PA announcers to read when the power went out.”

Separately, the NFL and stadium officials conducted a tabletop session one week before the Super Bowl at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans to discuss situations tied to crisis management.

With both sessions fresh in their minds, SMG, working with Entergy, the dome’s energy provider, got the main power supply up and running 18 minutes after the initial loss of electricity.

It took 23 minutes to get most of the stadium’s power operating again on the west side of the dome, where the outage occurred. An additional nine minutes passed before the scoreboards, LED screens and telecommunications systems were back online, Thornton said.

“We received emails from the people who know these systems telling us it was remarkable that we got it back up in 23 minutes,” he said.

> CENTER STAGE: Despite the power outage, Centerplate posted a Super Bowl per cap of $91.45 for food and beverage, a record for the game, company officials said. Gross sales were about $6.5 million based on official game attendance of 71,024.

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

When sports executives scan the exterior of Daytona International Speedway this week, they will see a different landscape.

Gone are the enormous hospitality tents paid for by corporate sponsors who entertained 500-plus guests each. In their place will be a handful of smaller tents that can hold no more than 100 people.

Speedway officials have seen individual interest in hospitality increase as corporate interest has faded.
The shift from large tents to smaller tents illustrates a change in hospitality demand across racetracks. The race chalet, as the tents are known, is becoming a thing of the past, and tracks are working to develop smaller premium experiences that fit corporations’ new demands for more intimate, affordable and effective hospitality.

“You’re seeing a shift from these big, big companies entertaining hundreds of people,” said Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway. “We’re chasing consumer demand and finding out there’s a nice uptick as it relates to smaller, individual hospitality.”

Corporate demand for large chalets began to fade after the recent recession. Prior to it, sponsors such as DuPont and Lowe’s had a track record of hosting huge hospitality events and parties during race weekends. DuPont’s program was the sport’s largest. It held hospitality at every Sprint Cup race, hosting 20,000 people a year. Their guests ranged from local body shop owners who bought DuPont paint to contractors who used the company’s Tyvek house wrap. DuPont regularly brought as many as 1,000 people to a race and entertained them with meals and question-and-answer sessions with driver Jeff Gordon.

But the company reduced the number of events it hosted from 36 to six in 2009, and it cut the number of guests it entertained to 300 a race.

The company’s move reflected decisions other companies made around the same time. As budgets tightened after the recession, many cut back, and as the economy recovered, many opted to keep their programs smaller. They did so to contain costs — a 500-person chalet cost $50,000 six years ago, while a 50-person chalet today costs $10,000 — but also because they found it easier to track their return on investment when they entertained fewer guests. They also had reached a point where the large chalet experience had become repetitive and boring for guests, officials said.

“We kept hearing, ‘We want a different option,’” said Jimmy Bruns, vice president of business development at GMR Marketing, which works with clients Lowe’s and MillerCoors. “They’d done the chalets. A general trend we’ve seen is our customers want smaller, more genuine, better hospitality opportunities than hosting that many people in a tent.”

Tracks across the country are trying to respond to that by offering new premium packages. Charlotte Motor Speedway last year created a series of pit-road suites that overlook the start-finish line. Bristol Motor Speedway is converting several of its 16-person suites into eight-person “man caves.” Michigan International Speedway is looking to create a shared hospitality experience where a group of chalets would function like a club with access to a food court that offers fajitas, hamburgers and prime rib. Daytona is looking at renovating its entire facility to build hospitality experiences more in line with the new demand. And Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has 128 suites for 80 people each, is looking for areas where it can develop suite or temporary hospitality experiences for 20 to 30 people.

“Companies have tighter budgets,” said Mike Redlick, chief sales and marketing officer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “They still want to come to the race, but they don’t want 80 tickets to every date that we’re open in May [for the Indianapolis 500].”

The shift presents a challenge for tracks. Most have limited capital expenditure budgets. International Speedway Corp. spent $82.9 million on capital improvements last year, and its 12 tracks had to share that. Speedway Motorsports Inc. spent $42 million in 2011, split among its eight tracks.

Because of budget limitations and the need for project approval, tracks must look for inexpensive ways to improve hospitality offerings. That was part of the reason Charlotte Motor Speedway created The Hub, where companies and guests can buy paved 2,500-square-foot spaces to entertain guests in their own motor coach or one provided by the track. It’s also why Michigan created a food court chalet and a hospitality area surrounded by a white picket fence.

“We’re not going to get the kind of capital to build new suite buildings, but we can do the things we need to do to improve hospitality,” said Josh Burgett, Michigan’s senior director of corporate partnerships, who added that each ISC track gets about $100,000 it can devote to hospitality enhancements annually. “We have to find creative ways that are sometimes inexpensive and sometimes are expensive to improve the guest experience. We want people to walk by and say, ‘How do you get in there?’ They’re going to hear, see and smell things. There will be live cooks. You will see show cars. You will hear entertainment.”

Though the shift in corporate demand is forcing tracks to make changes and sell more hospitality packages than they did in the past, there’s an upside in the transition. Individual hospitality packages can be sold at a higher price point, which makes the margin on food and hospitality better, and there are more packages sold. Those packages are just to entertain smaller groups of people.

“The sweet spot seems to be 50 people, and they’re looking for something unique that they can’t get on their own,” said Dan Farrell, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s senior vice president of corporate sales. “Traditional hospitality is still doing well, but we’re enhancing it and adding value.”

Farrell said that there’s still some demand for large chalets. Charlotte sold three chalets for its May races last year to Coca-Cola, Time Warner Cable and United Rentals, which all hosted parties for more than 1,000 people. But Coca-Cola is the only one of those that has been in the sport for multiple years. Everyone else is new, and long-standing sponsors in the sport like DuPont and Lowe’s increasingly look for other ways to entertain.

“For the right customer, they’re doing a big tent,” Farrell said. “But every company is looking for something new that they haven’t experienced.”

Staff writer Michael Smith contributed to this report.

The Carolina Panthers are using Arrowhead Stadium’s face-lift as the primary model for proposed upgrades to Bank of America Stadium.

Arrowhead is 24 years older than the Panthers’ home, but both venues have the infrastructure in place to accommodate a major retrofit without demolishing big chunks of the building, said Kelly Kerns, a principal and senior architect at Kansas City-based sports design firm Populous. Kerns worked on the $375 million makeover of the Chiefs’ facility before developing a 10-year stadium master plan for the Panthers.

Populous won the competition to develop the master plan in October 2011 and has shared ideas with the Panthers on what it did to improve Arrowhead and other NFL stadiums. A tour of Arrowhead in December during the Panthers’ road trip to Kansas City gave Carolina officials a better idea of what could be done to renovate Bank of America Stadium, Kerns said.

In Charlotte, the big differences are the wider concourses and spacious club lounges. A big piece of Arrowhead’s retrofit revolved around creating sideline clubs for a stadium that did

not have those large indoor spaces when it opened in 1972.

“There is not as much focus on premium space upgrades,” Kerns said. “We’re not having to make the structural changes that Arrowhead did.” As a result, the $297 million in total costs for the Panthers’ project, a number including a new indoor practice facility, is less than the $405 million it took to improve Arrowhead and expand the Chiefs’ practice facility down the street, Panthers President Danny Morrison

A spot to honor team history and end zone video boards are Arrowhead improvements also in the Panthers’ plans.
Photos: DAVE KAUP (2)

Financing is pending approval of public money to pay for about $200 million of project costs. The Panthers, who have committed to paying $62.5 million for upgrades, plan to start the improvements after the 2013 season by installing 10 escalators inside the stadium gates, Morrison said.

The Panthers want to keep their stadium’s classic seating bowl design intact, as well as the framework of both end zone scoreboards. The Chiefs did the same thing and did not touch Arrowhead’s seating bowl, widely recognized for having the best sight lines in the NFL.

In the end zones, Arrowhead’s signature oval-shaped scoreboard structures remained in place with an upgrade to full-screen video. The Panthers’ end zone boards have two of the smallest video screen footprints in the NFL, and the team intends to go full screen to catch up with other facilities.

Another common thread is a destination showcasing the Panthers’ history, said Morrison, who toured Arrowhead, now home to a Chiefs Hall of Honor.

The new escalators will make it easier for season-ticket holders to reach the upper parts of the stadium, which Morrison said is a chief concern for Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Improving crowd flow through the stadium gates and technology upgrades are also high on the list.

Those adjustments address the fan experience. There are also opportunities for the Panthers to generate new revenue by selling sponsorships of gate entrances similar to what the Chiefs did by signing Arrowhead deals with Sprint and Hy-Vee, a regional supermarket chain, Kerns said. The branding for those gates, a concept also under consideration for the renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, another Populous project Kerns is working on, could include video displays and live entertainment inside and outside those entrances, he said.

At this point, marketing the stadium gates is lower on the Panthers’ list of priorities, Morrison said.

The construction of two roof terraces on the 500 level, the stadium’s upper deck, is another concept further down the list. The design of those two 12,000-square-foot fan decks, situated above concession stands, would take up concourse space in the corners on the stadium’s east side and provide views into downtown Charlotte. The terraces, with no views to the field, would function as entertainment spaces with bars, giving the Panthers flexibility to create a destination for all fans or create a premium experience with membership fees, Kerns said.

The roof terraces are not a feature at Arrowhead Stadium but are comparable to the fan ramps in the corners at Heinz Field and Lincoln Financial Field, two stadiums built in the early 2000s for the Steelers and Eagles.

“We’re looking for ways to create communal spaces with views to the city where fans can hang out and not feel removed from the game,” Kerns said.

Several new features at The Players Championship this year are part of a multiyear, multimillion-dollar initiative to make the tournament what its executive director calls the PGA Tour’s fan experience “showcase.”

What's new
at The Players

The 2013 event, scheduled for May 6-12, will feature several new amenities and improvements.

A new food venue called Taste of Jax
Permanent, on-site restrooms (cost: $500,000)
Repaved walkways (cost: $60,000)
Expansion of the entryway to the parking lot (cost: $80,000)
Free parking for vehicles with four or more people
Pop-up bars serving beer, soda and water
Mobile concession carts

Source: Staff research

The Players, owned and operated by the tour and played each year in May at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is like any sporting event these days facing fierce competition for ticket sales and attendance from at-home viewing. To go head-to-head with the living-room experience, event Executive Director Matt Rapp said The Players has to work each year to keep is fans entertained, comfortable and well-fed.

The additional amenities at the 2013 tournament represent an investment of close to $1 million from the event and the tour, a sum greater than past years’ efforts. The enhancements include new food venues, permanent on-site restrooms, repaving the walkways on the course and widening the entryway to the main parking lot.

“This event has always been a showcase,” Rapp said, “but the focus of the showcase has been the player experience — what’s going on inside the ropes. But just as important is the fan experience, because the TV experience is getting so good.”

The tournament has grown every year since Rapp took the helm in 2010. Last year, he said, corporate sales were up 31 percent, and attendance was up 24 percent, leading to a record-setting $6.5 million raised for charity. Private venues for the 2013 tournament were sold out by last fall, causing the tournament to spend $20,000 leveling off a hill to create a flat surface where another chalet could be built on the 16th fairway. It’s likely, Rapp said, that 2014 will see vertical construction on the course, with stories being added to the chalets to accommodate the demand.

Last year, the tournament introduced Wine and Dine on Nine, a full bar that served heavy appetizers catered by restaurateur Matthew Medure on a patio overlooking the ninth hole. That was such a hit, Rapp said, that the concept has been expanded into a new venue, Taste of Jax, which will feature food from local names Indochine, Eleven South, Pele’s Wood Fire and a yet-to-be named fourth vendor.

“Soup to nuts,” Rapp said, “we’re looking at every possible area and trying to make continuous improvement with a clear eye toward the fan experience.”

Ashley Gurbal Kritzer writes for the Jacksonville Business Journal, an affiliated publication.