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Volume 20 No. 42
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Red Wings to put marketing center for new arena at Comerica

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.