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Volume 21 No. 2
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Unique sales test for Braves, Van Wagner

The Atlanta Braves are trying to accomplish something that no big league team has ever done: open a new stadium and 1 million square feet of mixed-use development simultaneously.

It is a daunting challenge, but the project, which will take the Braves from their current home near downtown Atlanta 12 miles north to Cobb County, presents a slew of opportunities for the team. It now steps into the role of real estate developer to market both the stadium and the retail, office, entertainment and hotel components proposed next door.

To help the Braves determine those assets and develop a sales strategy, the team has turned to Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment to consult on selling naming rights and founding partnerships for the proposed 41,500-seat ballpark as well as sponsorships around the associated development. As of last week, both parties were

The Braves’ new ballpark and connected development are scheduled to open in 2017.
Photo by: ATLANTA BRAVES (2)

in the final stages of negotiating a multiyear contract that runs up to the stadium opening in 2017, said Derek Schiller, the Braves’ executive vice president of sales and marketing.

In addition to sales consulting, Schiller said the Braves expect Van Wagner to help develop stadium technology, among the services the agency offers teams and facilities.

Bob Jordan, a Van Wagner senior vice president, is working with MLB Advanced Media to update all 30 ballparks with the latest wireless technology. This season, Jordan also serves as MLB’s consultant for activating new video cameras tied to expansion of instant replay in baseball.

The Braves initially looked at a half-dozen agencies before selecting Van Wagner, said Schiller, who would not disclose the other finalists. Schiller cited a personal history with Jeff Knapple, the firm’s president and CEO, whom he has known for almost 20 years. Knapple sold naming rights for Philips Arena at the time Schiller worked for the former Atlanta Thrashers.

The agency’s scope of services extending beyond its naming-rights group also appealed to the Braves, Schiller said.

The assignment for Van Wagner comes on the heels of it landing a big deal with the Minnesota Vikings, where it is leading the sale of naming rights and developing technology for the Vikings’ $975 million stadium project. The agency’s role in the Twin Cities also covers selling seat licenses and premium seats for the stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2016.

Seat licenses are not part of the stadium development in Atlanta, and the Braves have not made a decision whether Van Wagner will go beyond strategy and sell suites and club seats for the new ballpark, Schiller said.

On the sponsorship front, naming rights and founding partnerships sold for the ballpark could extend to parts of the ancillary development. Van Wagner’s expertise will help the Braves sort through those complexities, Schiller said.

Braves’ Schiller: Control of process is essential.

The model is similar to what AEG did for L.A. Live across the street from Staples Center, said Mike Plant, the Braves’ executive vice president of business operations. Arena sponsors Panasonic, Coca-Cola and American Express also have a presence at the retail and entertainment district.

In Atlanta, the Braves will ultimately take the lead for selling naming rights to both properties, supported by Van Wagner’s team of marketers.

“We want to maintain control over all these different processes because we believe that we have to protect our long-term interests in doing so,” Schiller said.

In that respect, it is much different than a typical destination development, where developers expect to control the project regardless of their level of investment, Plant said.

“Developers buy some land, master plan it, go vertical and create a lifestyle,” he said. “They don’t have a ballpark with 3 million people coming to it every year. For us, that’s the big difference.”

Mike Plant, Braves EVP of business operations, sees a sales model similar to L.A. Live.

For the past month, Van Wagner officials have met with the Braves to lay the groundwork for developing a comprehensive marketing platform.

“We’re looking at the development as a big opportunity,” said Chris Allphin, Van Wagner’s vice president. “Part of the heritage of our company was developing content for signs at Times Square in the ’70s. It’s about using advertising and sponsorship to improve the overall experience.”

While there are several examples of mixed-use developments by teams near existing facilities — Patriot Place, Ballpark Village in St. Louis, L.A. Live — one recent project could provide an example for the Braves and Van Wagner to learn from: TD Place, the new sports and entertainment complex in Ottawa. That development involves the renovation of a CFL stadium and hockey arena at old Lansdowne Park, surrounded by commercial, retail and residential development.

The project developer, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, also owns the Ottawa Redblacks, a new CFL team starting play in July; the Ottawa 67s hockey club; and an NASL expansion franchise. Their role is similar to what the Braves are undertaking in Atlanta.

Ottawa Sports, in conjunction with its consultant, Premier Partnerships, focused on its assets and the scope of what the group had to offer before going to market, said Adrian Sciarra, Ottawa Sports’ vice president of partnerships and merchandise.

To date, those deals range from TD Bank’s 10-year deal valued at $1 million annually to put its name on all aspects of the development, including the sports venues, to Gabriel Pizza’s six-year deal to sponsor the three teams and run a restaurant in the mixed-use piece, Sciarra said.

The Braves will push to get some major partners on board early to help them shape the signature pieces of development.

“If you can get a naming-rights partner interested well before you’re done with design, it gives you so many more enhanced opportunities,” Schiller said. “They want a unique component that you can touch and feel with the ballpark. We’re in that situation where we can still do that.”