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Volume 23 No. 28
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Fanatics puts digital know-how into in-arena efforts for Devils

Don Muret
The New Jersey Devils have signed a long-term deal with Fanatics to run the merchandise operation at Prudential Center.

To those in the sports industry, it’s no surprise that Fanatics landed the contract, considering its founder and CEO, Michael Rubin, is also a Devils co-owner.

Team President Hugh Weber acknowledged Rubin played a key role for Fanatics in landing the contract at the Newark arena. At the same time, however, Fanatics is sports’ biggest licensed online retailer, generating $1 billion in annual revenue.

Fanatics operates online retail for the NHL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR and the PGA Tour. Its roster of team stores at arenas and stadiums includes Gila River Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, plus college deals at Ohio State, Texas, LSU and Washington, among others.

Fanatics will open a new store at Prudential Center specializing in customized jerseys.
Photo by: STUDIO AGOOS LOVERA
“Historically, the Devils have not been among the league leaders in merchandise, so we have looked at ways to use their ingenuity on the digital side,” Weber said. “We love the way they approach the business with a variety of points of sale.”

The Devils expect Fanatics to boost revenue at Prudential Center in part through a new 1,400-square-foot store on the main concourse specializing in customized jerseys through Silver Crystal Sports, whose professional letter and number stitching service is used by several NHL teams.

Two additional retail locations on the main concourse focus on women’s and children’s merchandise through Fanatics’ relationships with NHL licensees G3, Old Time Hockey, Reebok and Outerstuff, said Brendan McQuillan, Fanatics’ vice president of in-venue commerce.

Stands in the upper deck have been converted to boutique-style, walk-in locations, McQuillan said. He would not disclose Fanatics’ capital investment for the improvements.

By giving retail a fresh look throughout the building, the Devils also feel they can overcome the challenge posed by the physical location of the primary team store at street level, one floor below the main concourse, Weber said.

“It’s great for seven days a week [when the Devils aren’t playing] but on game days you have to take an escalator up to the main concourse,” he said. “That’s not good … for when we really believe the majority of fans buy things during period breaks.”

The team store’s name changes to the Devils Den presented by Fanatics, Weber said. Officials expect the retail upgrades to be completed by Oct. 18, the date of the Devils’ regular-season home opener.

> COYOTES DEN: In Glendale, Ariz., where Fanatics is doing many of the same things to upgrade the Arizona Coyotes’ retail operation after signing a four-year deal earlier this year, those improvements tie in with the rebranding of the venue as Gila River Arena.

The Coyotes expect a healthy increase in sales at their Fanatics-run Coyotes Den.
Photo by: ARIZONA COYOTES
Last week, three new Gila River Arena signs went up on the exterior of the building, facing Westgate Entertainment Center to the north, University of Phoenix Stadium to the south and Loop 101, the bypass through Phoenix, to the west.

Inside the facility, old signs on the center-hung video board have been replaced with a permanent LED sign containing the Gila River Arena name, said Mike Humes, the team’s executive vice president of corporate and suite sales.

Gila River is a gaming enterprise company owned by the Gila River Indian Community. The group runs three casino resorts in Greater Phoenix.

The nine-year naming-rights deal, with an estimated value of $3 million annually, was approved by City Council last month, and both the Coyotes and Gila River are working on other elements of arena activation, Humes said.
It could include a tie-in to Gila River’s relationship with the Boys and Girls Clubs through an educational and fitness program involving Coyotes players. To this point, the discussions are preliminary and no decisions have been made, he said.

The Coyotes’ ownership, IceArizona, has spent $3 million on arena renovations, including wireless upgrades, more concession points-of-sale and digital menu boards as part of its deal with Levy Restaurants, the arena’s new food provider.

Fanatics invested in the mid-six figures on arena renovations and expanded the Coyotes’ headwear line alone from a half-dozen to 106 styles, Humes said. The revamped Coyotes Den, the name of the team store, was open seven days a week during the summer; based on sales then, the team expects to see triple-digit growth in merchandise revenue during the regular season after finishing in the lower third of NHL merchandise sales last season.

> ICON OUT: Icon Venue Group, the firm hired by the Atlanta Falcons as program manager for their new stadium development, is exiting the project at the end of 2014, team officials said.

The Denver company will stay on through the end of the year to help the Falcons establish a guaranteed maximum price for stadium construction, said Greg Beadles, the team’s executive vice president and chief administrative and financial officer.

At that point, the project will be handed off to Darden & Co., a local firm owned by Bill Darden, a close friend of Falcons owner Arthur Blank. The same company built the Arthur M. Blank Family Office, home of the Blank family’s foundation in Atlanta.

Typically, Icon Venue Group and other firms, such as PC Sports, fill the role of owner’s representative and see sports developments through to completion. The Falcons stadium, with a total project cost of $1.2 billion, is scheduled to open for the 2017 NFL season.

In Atlanta, it was not a case of early termination of Icon’s contract, Beadles said. “It was part of a transition that all parties agreed was in the best interests of the project,” he said. “Darden is an owner’s rep that the Falcons and Arthur have worked with for years.”

The team remains confident that Darden & Co., with no previous sports experience, can successfully lead the stadium development, given the other sports facility veterans on the project.

“Remember, we have 360 Architecture and Hunt Construction as part of the [stadium] joint venture,” he said.

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