Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 2


Don Muret

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The Detroit Red Wings have kept a tight lid on details surrounding their new arena project, but team President Tom Wilson provided a few hints after sitting on a panel discussing sports facility development at the recent Association of Luxury Suite Directors conference.

To sell premium seats for the proposed $450 million arena, the Red Wings plan to open a marketing center at the Detroit Tigers’ ballpark, Comerica Park, which is across the street from the downtown construction site, Wilson said. He would not say when it would open.

For the Red Wings, setting up shop at the ballpark is a matter of convenience because Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owns the Tigers. “It’s going to be an exciting place to be because you’re right in the middle of sports,” Wilson said. 

The Red Wings won’t outsource premium sales to a third party, instead relying on team executive John Ciszewski, who has plenty of experience to draw from after spending more than 30 years with Wilson working at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Both left the Detroit Pistons in 2010 to join the Red Wings. Ciszewski is the hockey team’s senior vice president of sales.

“Ciz has sold more suites than anybody in the world … at the Palace … 180 suites, sold again and again,” Wilson said. “So our knowledge of the market and demands for premium product and what it should be — we have a little bit of a head start because of our history.”

During the panel discussion, Wilson said the Red Wings’ arena would be smaller in scale relative to other arenas so as to better fit into the surrounding new development planned for Detroit’s midtown area. 360 Architecture is designing the facility.

Olympia Development, the Ilitch family’s real estate company, has said publicly it plans to bring in other developers to build $200 million in mixed-use projects next to the arena across four blocks of largely vacant land. Those open spaces sit northwest of Comerica Park.

“The feeling is we didn’t want to be Staples Center or United Center, which are big, beautiful buildings, but we didn’t want to build it in that sort of island fashion,” Wilson said. “We want to immerse ourselves in downtown and not be just another destination location. 

“When we come out of the ground,” he said, “we will be surrounded by a half-dozen buildings. Immediately, it will be full of restaurants and commercial and residential buildings as well.”

The arena, when combined with Comerica Park, Ford Field and the Fox Theatre, which is also owned by Ilitch and books roughly 180 events annually, will boost the total number of events to about 500 a year in downtown Detroit, Wilson said.

“We have the ability to transform that area … into maybe the most exciting development in Detroit and anywhere in Michigan,” he said. “The energy will be there in midtown, which does not exist today.”

Wilson would not say when the arena would break ground but said project images would be released in a few months, certainly before the end of the year. “We’re on the home stretch, so we should have designs out in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

> LESS IS MORE: The trend in design is to develop smaller venues to create demand for seating of all types, said panelists associated with new stadiums for the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings and the new Las Vegas arena project. All three buildings are slated to open over the next three years.

The Falcons plan to develop a tailgate zone beside their new stadium, shown in a rendering.

“Team owners and pressures from leagues to build these grand venues can cause you headaches down the line,” said Michael Drake, Legends’ vice president of sales and service for the new Atlanta stadium. “There’s distressed inventory in all buildings, generally behind the basketball hoop, in the end zone and behind the goal.”

To avoid being stuck with seats the Falcons can’t sell for their new facility, 360 Architecture designed the northeast end zone with limited seating and open spaces. Fans sitting on the opposite end and along the sidelines will be able to view the Atlanta skyline through a large glass wall. 

“That was essentially how that ‘window to the city’ design came about,” Drake said.

Early in stadium development, the idea is to design branded space in the northeast end by designing the seats to resemble a falcon’s wing. The concept has yet to be named, but it would be similar to the Hawks Nest at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, he said.

On plazas outside the stadium on the east and north sides, the intent is to develop a tailgate zone similar to Champions Square next to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Drake said. To create a buffer for that space, the plan is to scan tickets and have fans pass through a security checkpoint several hundred yards from the stadium doors. At that point, they will be free to access the pregame activities inside the tailgate zone.

“Tailgating and getting out early is big in Atlanta, and so we’re trying to figure out a way to get them away from their car a little bit earlier and in and around the stadium to enjoy the festivities,” Drake said. 

And maybe spend some money too.

> WHAT STAYS IN VEGAS: Along the same lines for creating demand, the new Las Vegas arena being jointly developed by AEG and MGM Resorts International will contain a smallish number of suites, about 50, including eight event-level units selling for $1 million annually.

Suite seating (left) and the suites themselves, as planned for the new Las Vegas arena

Considering MGM Grand Garden Arena has performed well for 20 years with no premium seats, the joint venture believes the mix of suites, 1,600 club seats and 40 loge-style boxes is the right number to sell, said Mark Prows, MGM’s vice president of arenas.

The 42 regular suites cost $165,000 to $200,000 a year, tied to five-, seven- and 10-year terms. Club seats carry a $3,500 annual fee plus the cost of event tickets. The design of the loge boxes and terrace tables was recently adjusted, and Prows did not have those prices available.

“We knew we needed high-end VIP product,” he said, “but we also know we have a very small corporate environment. We don’t have the homegrown businesses per se, but everybody wants to bring their customers to Vegas.”

Prows said MGM Resorts bought more than $7 million worth of premium seats at the new arena to entertain its clients and plans to customize those spaces to meet its hospitality needs.

AEG is developing the arena’s marketing center at New York-New York Hotel & Casino, an MGM property. It should open in a month, Prows said.

Dan Quinn, vice president of entertainment for Mandalay Bay Events Center, another MGM property, has been named vice president and general manager for the new arena. In addition, Levy Restaurants signed a five-year deal to run the arena’s food service, Prows said.

The 20,000-seat arena, designed by Populous and built by Hunt, is expected to open in the spring of 2016.

> BITS AND PIECES: Tom Proebstle, founder and design director of Generator Studio and a Minnesota native, had input on the design of the Minnesota Wild’s new center-hung scoreboard at Xcel Energy Center. The board is themed after the warming huts used by ice skaters and ice fishermen in the Minnesota winters. Daktronics is producing the $3 million board, part of $6 million in arena tech upgrades. … Arizona State University has selected HNTB to design a $210 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. … AECOM has won two jobs at Clemson, including upgrades to Littlejohn Coliseum. The construction costs to upgrade the arena are in the neighborhood of $40 million, most of which will be used to introduce some new premium seat concepts, project designer Greg Brown said. The firm also is working on a smaller project tied to football operations at Memorial Stadium. … The Bow Street Irish Pub will open this fall for its first full NFL season at MetLife Stadium. The 300-capacity club on the stadium’s east side is open to all ticket holders for Jets and Giants games. Delaware North Sportservice, the facility’s food provider, operates the pub. It opened late last season, and the NFL used it for its On Location premium hospitality package for the Super Bowl, said Brad Mayne, MetLife Stadium’s president and CEO. … Kansas City Royals hall of famer George Brett, the ALSD’s luncheon speaker, drew a big laugh with this one-liner: “You raise all this revenue for sports franchises … which obviously goes right into the pockets of the players.”

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

Three months before the third annual U.S. Grand Prix takes place in Austin, Texas, Circuit of the Americas has hired a new concessionaire.

Ryan Sanders Sports Services, in-house food provider at the Class AAA ballpark Dell Diamond, has signed a 10-year deal to run general concessions and premium dining at the Formula One racetrack. Financial terms were not disclosed.

George King, president of Ryan Sanders Sports Services, said his firm expects to take over the food operation in the fall after track officials complete the terms of Sodexo’s exit from the facility.

Surveys showed fans wanted upgraded food.

The agreement with Ryan Sanders abruptly ends Sodexo’s relationship with COTA after the concessionaire launched its operation there in 2012, the year the track opened, and managed food at the first two Grand Prix events. Sodexo also runs food for F1 races in Europe and India and had eight years left on its 10-year deal in Austin. The company leveraged its F1 experience overseas to help win the original contract, said Chris Bigelow, the consultant COTA used to select a concessionaire.

Jason Dial, COTA’s president and CEO, was on vacation last week. But he responded to a few questions by email, stating that the change in vendors was driven by consistent feedback from guest surveys informing track officials they “had an opportunity” to improve the overall fan experience.

Upgrading the food was part of the feedback, Dial said. McCombs Partners, the track’s owner, considered several concessionaires before awarding the business to Ryan Sanders, known as RS3.

“We are comfortable with RS3’s corporate youthfulness as ownership from both companies are very familiar with each other and committed to excellence,” Dial wrote.

The sudden switch came as a surprise to Martin Thorson, a Sodexo vice president responsible for the Austin track. Most recently, Sodexo posted $30 per caps for the X Games and $20-plus per caps for 15 concerts this year at the Austin360 Amphitheater on the property, Thorson said. “There were no default notices,” he said. “We produced some of the highest revenue numbers out there.”

Track officials declined to say whether COTA’s contract with Sodexo contained an early termination clause.

RS3 is a subsidiary of Ryan Sanders Baseball, owner of the Round Rock Express, which plays at Dell Diamond. Baseball hall of famer Nolan Ryan and sons Reid and Reese Ryan are business partners with Don, Bret and Brad Sanders.

Ryan Sanders’ food service group, a spinoff, was formed last fall before taking over at Round Rock this season, said Jay Kudla, the firm’s regional director.

Kudla, a sports food veteran with 23 years of experience, is spearheading the COTA operation. He spent 19 years at Centerplate.

Brian Smith will be RS3’s general manager at COTA. Smith spent 14 years managing food and retail concessions at LP Field.

The Orlando Magic has hired a familiar face to manage its $200 million mixed-use development next to Amway Center.

Robert Rayborn served as Turner Construction’s project manager for developing Amway Center. He has accepted a similar role with the Magic to oversee the design and construction of a retail and entertainment district next to the arena.

In his new position, Rayborn is a full-time Magic employee. Rayborn spent the 13 years at Turner after working 17 years for Barton Malow and five years at Skanska.

The team expects to complete its $12.7 million land purchase to build the 650,000-square-foot complex no later than Nov. 1, and construction will start in earnest after the 2014-15 NBA season, Magic CEO Alex Martins said. The development covers retail stores, restaurants, a hotel, office space and the team’s new corporate headquarters.

From 2005 to 2010, while with Turner, Rayborn represented the Magic’s interest on the Amway Center project, teaming with Populous, the arena’s architect and Hunt Construction, the firm building the facility.

The team hopes to start construction after the 2014-15 NBA season.

For the past four years, Rayborn has served as Turner’s project manager for the development of Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium opening in August. Turner built the $1.3 billion facility in a joint venture with Devcon Construction.

Now that the 49ers’ building is almost completed, Rayborn said the timing was perfect for him to accept a new challenge in Orlando. He starts his new job Aug. 1.

Martins said the team was “incredibly lucky” to land Rayborn. “We needed someone to manage construction on behalf of the Magic, and he is one of the best in the industry,” Martins said.

Rayborn’s first task will be to help select architects and a general contractor for the project and to develop a construction schedule.

The Magic has most of its public approvals in place, including the master plan and zoning adjustments, Martins said.