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Volume 21 No. 2


Don Muret
New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials have developed a creative prerace hospitality option for NASCAR fans outside of the sport’s corporate realm.

The Speedway Motorsports Inc. property is converting large shipping containers into mini-bars equipped with tables and chairs, plus televisions mounted inside the retrofitted space. A gas grill set up in front of the crates is part of the package.

Those units, 30 feet by 8 feet and known as Pit Box Hospitality ­— The Ultimate Party Zone, can accommodate 10 to 25 people. For the track’s NASCAR weekend, July 11-13, which includes the Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301, the pit boxes sell for $800 a person. The cost covers the price of race tickets, plus hamburgers, hot dogs, snack foods and continental breakfast. Beer is included in the package, and patrons can bring their own food, wine and hard liquor, officials said.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s new Pit Box
Most pit boxes will be situated in the commercial display, hospitality and camping areas. Buyers may select an infield space, but moving the boxes inside to that pricier real estate would mean an additional charge of about $2,500, said David McGrath, the speedway’s vice president of corporate sales.

Tickets for three days of racing are midpriced tickets in the main grandstand, McGrath said.

To date, the track has built two pit boxes at a cost of $14,500 each and has sold both units, McGrath said. The track’s plan is to build more pit boxes as they sell them in the coming weeks, he said. Officials buy the containers from Williams Scotsman, a company specializing in constructing mobile buildings.

Driving the concept was the opportunity to meet the hospitality needs of race fans not connected to NASCAR’s biggest sponsors, said Jerry Gappens, the speedway’s executive vice president and general manager.

“You don’t have to be a big corporation to entertain here. … It could be a group of guys that want to have a good experience but maybe don’t own a camper,” he said. “You pull up in your car, this pod opens up, throw steaks on the grill, the beer’s cooled off and you throw a party.”

Gappens makes a habit of visiting the campgrounds during race week to visit with fans and get their feedback for how to improve the experience at the track. It was during one of those rounds on his golf cart that he gave a guy a ride from the shower house back to his camping spot.

“I asked him who his favorite driver was and he didn’t have one,” Gappens said.

Curious, Gappens asked him why he comes to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The man told him he attended a bachelor party at a NASCAR race five years ago at the track and enjoyed it so much he kept coming back just for the experience.

“You see a person like that … it made me think they might like to enhance it as well as what’s done for the corporate tent and suite for Sylvania,” sponsor of the track’s fall Sprint Cup race, Gappens said. “People from all walks of life have different budgets and different needs. It’s forced us as an industry to customize packages.”

> QUITE A FELLOW: Populous senior principal Earl Santee has been named to the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows, the group’s highest honor.

The fellowship program, founded in 1952, was formed to recognize outstanding architects who have made their mark in the profession and whose work has contributed to society as a whole. Fellows are elected by a jury of their AIA peers.

In his 28 years at Populous, Santee has played a key role in the design of 60 sports facilities internationally, including more than 20 MLB stadiums. Ballparks in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Denver and Minneapolis have helped revitalize those cities’ downtown districts.

This year, Santee is one of 139 AIA members receiving the honor. The organization has 80,000 members and only 3,000 have been named fellows.

Bryan Trubey, a principal with HKS and its director of sports and entertainment, and EwingCole’s Don Jones are two other sports architects on this year’s list of AIA fellows. They will be officially inducted into the AIA College of Fellows on June 27 during the group’s national convention in Chicago.

Santee joins Joe Spear and Ron Labinski as other Populous architects honored as fellows. Spear, recognized in 2007, is a senior principal at Populous and sponsored Santee’s submission. Labinski, one of the firm’s co-founders who is now retired, was named a fellow in 1994.

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

The Minnesota Vikings open a preview center this week that takes season-ticket holders through a Disney-like experience tied to the field-level club at the team’s new $975 million stadium.

Starting Wednesday, sales agency Van Wagner Group starts marketing the venue’s 98 suites, 8,000 club seats and 60 loge boxes. The team and the agency worked together to convert space on the fifth floor of a historic building in downtown Minneapolis, across the street from the stadium site.

Prospective buyers walk down a 90-foot corridor lined with video screens.
The 7,800-square-foot preview center is large by industry standards, more than twice the size of the San Francisco 49ers’ 3,500-square-foot marketing center for Levi’s Stadium.

The center encompasses two mock suites, a 24-seat club seat mockup and two small models of the stadium. One model shows the stadium’s placement next to Ryan Cos.’ proposed $400 million mixed-use development.

Six of the preview center’s 37 high-definition televisions have touch-screen technology enabling premium-seat buyers to walk themselves through offerings for Stadium Builders Licenses and club seats.

The centerpiece is a two-minute video simulation that envisions the game-day experience at the new stadium by taking season-ticket holders and potential founding partners down a 90-foot-long corridor lined with eight 84-inch high-definition television monitors.

The virtual experience starts by transporting patrons to the Vikings’ locker room before they join the players as they walk down a tunnel to the field. It ends with fans standing at a drink rail at the Fire and Ice Club, the field-level club on the stadium’s south side.

To create the simulation, Van Wagner Big Screen Network shot original video last year at the Vikings’ practice facility and during early-season games at the Metrodome, said Jason Gonella, the company’s vice president of team and venue services.

The scenes include Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph banging his helmet-clad head against the screen and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” blasting through speakers. The song’s lyrics “we come from the land of the ice and snow” connect to both the region’s climate and the working title for the club, Gonella said.

As the virtual piece concludes at the end of the corridor, a glass door slides open to the preview center laid out with the new premium-seat inventory. The video simulation “sets the tone” for the rest of the experience, said Steve LaCroix, the Vikings’ vice president of sales and marketing and chief marketing officer.

“The field-level concept is such a unique dynamic to the marketplace that we thought it was important to build that out,” Gonella said. “As the client walks in, the video is triggered by a motion detector and then the show starts. It’s sort of [the same] preamble to a Disney ride.”

In addition, the preview center’s ample space covers four “closing” areas and 10 more spaces for private conversations, Gonella said.

All told, the layout allows Van Wagner’s 20-person sales staff to run multiple presentations at the same time, streamlining the process for meeting with potentially all 13,000 season-ticket holders.

“We could run 20 unique presentations at the same time, which we thought was compelling and will help drive our process effectively,” he said. “Not everybody will come down here, but it becomes a cumbersome process if we would have to do these little one-offs.”

To ensure an orderly process, officials separated the Metrodome into 16 zones and are proceeding zone by zone for season-ticket holders to buy seat licenses. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on weekends.

The cost of the preview center was in the low seven figures, covered mostly in the stadium budget. The team paid cost overruns for the project, LaCroix said. It took three to four months to build.