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Volume 21 No. 2

Events and Attractions

The words “2015 National Championship” stretch 600 feet across the north side of AT&T Stadium. Fans filing in for Monday’s Oregon-Ohio State game will not mistake where they are.

“I think you can see it from Oklahoma,” laughed Cameron Smith, one of three co-founders for the design firm Infinite Scale.

Infinite Scale’s branding being put up on the north side of AT&T Stadium
Photo by: INFINITE SCALE
When College Football Playoff promoters promised an event that would rival the Super Bowl, the pressure was on to deliver. The game would take care of itself. But the presentation had to deliver the biggest-event-in-history feel.

For that, the CFP turned to Infinite Scale, a Salt Lake City firm that brands and designs everything from the stadium to area hotels, airports, street signs and city signage.

Infinite Scale knows how to create the environment and feel for the biggest events, like the first playoff championship. The firm has worked on Super Bowls, Pac-12 championships, Orange Bowls, Olympics and several other events. But the CFP championship game is as thorough and complete a branding assignment as any Infinite Scale has done, with the firm’s creative touching the fan from the airport to the hotel to the stadium.

“We’re treating the championship game like a completely separate event, something on par with the Super Bowl, in terms of college football being elevated to another level,” said Smith, who first met CFP Chief Operating Officer Michael Kelly at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, where Kelly oversaw the local committee.

Infinite Scale, which was born out of a partnership between three creative directors — Smith, Molly Mazzolini and Amy Lukas — who worked on the 2002 Winter Olympics, was specifically charged with creating designs for four hotels, streetscapes, the venue at AT&T Stadium, the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and other locations around Dallas and Arlington, site of the stadium.

The four hotels include the team hotels for the Ducks and Buckeyes; the Omni, which serves as the CFP headquarters; and the Renaissance, which is the media hotel. The branding at the stadium includes the interior and exterior.

In some ways, the inaugural game represented a blank palette for Infinite Scale’s design team. What they had to start with was the CFP look, which stems from a gold

Infinite Scale’s branding at the Omni (top) and from the locker room tunnel at AT&T Stadium
Photo by: INFINITE SCALE (2)
trophy that rises off of a black base. Pentagram Design in New York created the look.

The logo itself similarly is the outline of a gold football on a black backdrop. It’s a strikingly simple look, almost a less-is-more approach. Keeping with that, Infinite Scale used the gold heavily throughout its designs and branding, with the gold popping off black and white backgrounds.

“You want to make sure everything connects,” Smith said of the design from one site to another.

Infinite Scale also came up with intricate player graphics and unique patterns to highlight the players and teams. Those are mostly on the glass at the four hotels and at different locations through the stadium.

In addition to the giant images outside the stadium, Infinite Scale worked with the game’s broadcaster, ESPN, to strategically position images and logos so they would have the most effect on the network’s shots and let the audience feel the impact of the event.

“We are delighted with the artistic design that Infinite Scale created. We’re football people, not artists, and so we turned to the best,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

Without getting too specific on the cost to do all of this, Smith said it was comparable to a Final Four and just shy of what it would cost to design the Super Bowl.

Infinite Scale worked with Los Angeles-based AAA Flag and Banner to produce and install the graphics. Other installers were hired locally. Installation at the stadium began Jan. 1 and was visible during the Cowboys’ playoff game on Jan. 4.

“It’s an extensive, cohesive system that is being revealed to a very large audience — a fan attending or viewers through the broadcast,” Smith said. “That sets a new standard.”

Legends Hospitality officials put the College Football Playoff championship on par with the Super Bowl’s food and drink operation.

Officials said they expect a crowd of 75,000 to 80,000 for Monday’s title game between Oregon and Ohio State at AT&T Stadium.

“The template is identical to Super Bowl,” said Michael Bekolay, Legends’ senior vice president in north Texas. As a result, Legends, the stadium’s food and retail provider, has increased staffing by 35 percent over a typical Dallas Cowboys game, which translates to an additional 600 employees working the stadium, including the Championship Tailgate party and concert outside the facility.

All told, the vendor will employ more than 4,000 workers, a total covering full-time and part-time employees, including nonprofit groups, Bekolay said.

 
More than 50 Legends general managers from across the country will work the game, Bekolay said.

Legends officials anticipate serving roughly 10,000 guests through catered functions in the building as well as the 9,000 patrons distributed

 
New eats for the title game (clockwise from top left): cheddar cheese curd burger, reuben on pretzel roll, jalapeno sausage, all $15, and shrimp po’ boy, $20.
Photo by: LEGENDS (4)
among the stadium’s 300-plus suites.

AT&T Stadium has a multitude of hospitality spaces inside the building to accommodate most catered events, Bekolay said.

The Championship Tailgate is one exception. The parking lot event is free to all fans holding tickets to the game and features a concert by the Zac Brown Band. ESPN will set up its broadcast sets from the tailgate. The party there starts at noon local time and runs until 6 p.m.

Legends will sell items at the tailgate at themed food stands with celebrity chefs such as frymaster Abel Gonzales and Ivan Pugh.

Facility Merchandising Inc. holds the CFP’s retail contract, but Legends is running the on-site merchandise operation as a subcontractor in partnership with FMI.

In the premium areas, Legends will be doing something new, using tablets programmed with FMI’s customized mobile application for those patrons to order merchandise, Bekolay said. Legends will use its own handheld devices tied to NCR’s point-of-sale system to help reduce lines at concession stands.

About two hours before the puck was set to drop at the Winter Classic in Washington, D.C., NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins stood on the field at Nationals Park — right around where third base would be — and talked about his plans once the hockey game ended.

“I’m going back to my hotel, putting my feet up, and watching some good college football games,” he said.

Collins’ response to a reporter’s question showed the carefree attitude NHL and NBC executives had on New Year’s Day. In the face of the stiffest TV sports competition in the Winter Classic’s short history, the brain trust behind the NHL’s biggest single-day event kept their expectations in check.

{podcast}

SBJ Podcast:
Hockey writer Ian Thomas and Alex Silverman discuss the Winter Classic on a new season of SBJ's NHL Wrap-Around podcast.

It was a different scene seven years earlier, when the Winter Classic launched in Buffalo. New Year’s Day has always been associated with big college football bowl games, but in 2007, NBC executives believed the bowl game schedule was too stretched out and decided to stage an outdoor game in the 1 p.m. window of Jan 1.

The NHL continues to tout the Winter Classic as a must-see event in-person.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (2)
“There’s much more of an opportunity now to stand out on New Year’s Day,” NBC Sports’ then-coordinating producer Sam Flood (now an executive producer for the network) said at the time.

But this year, the College Football Playoff semifinals were scheduled for New Year’s night, an addition that many credited with sparking interest in college football. In the face of that competition, this year’s Winter Classic posted its

lowest viewership on record, averaging 3.5 million viewers, fewer than the Cotton Bowl on ESPN (9.1 million) and the Outback Bowl on ESPN2 (6.4 million), two games with which it competed directly.

Still, the Winter Classic’s TV viewership remains well above NBC’s regular-season NHL average, and network executives said they do not see a need to tinker with the format. “We feel like we own the 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. window on one of the biggest television days of the year,” said NBC Sports Group Programming President Jon Miller before the game. “We’re happy with where we are.”

And even though the game’s prominence on the day’s TV schedule might have diminished this year, the NHL continues to tout the Winter Classic’s stature as a must-see event in-person.

“If you look back at the pictures from when we were in Buffalo, we’ve really tried to one up the last one every year,” said Don Renzulli, senior vice president of events for the NHL. “This is only the 14th outdoor game [including games beyond Winter Classic matchups], and we think we’ve come a long way in a short period of time.”

“We felt this was one of the best ones we’ve put together,” he said.

League executives said that effect was likely felt most by the more than 23,000 fans who visited the pregame Spectator Plaza set up outside the ballpark. The space, which featured interactive games, food, music and drinks, also provided a unique space for sponsors.

Bridgestone, which has been the title sponsor of the game since 2009, was especially pleased with how it was able to activate in that space, as well as at other touch points within the stadium, said Phil Pacsi, vice president of consumer marketing at Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire.

“From the first time that we were involved in Chicago to looking back at D.C. now, every year it’s different and unique, and the league has always found a way to make every year better for the fan and their engagement,” Pacsi said.

SEEN AND HEARD ON NEW YEAR'S

As with all Winter Classic games, the top-selling pieces of merchandise were knit hats and jerseys. However, NHL Chief Marketing Officer Brian Jennings said the league was expecting to see strong sales numbers in both children’s and women’s categories as well, two of the league’s fastest-growing areas in terms of sales. On sale in the on-site stores were a number of women’s shirts, jackets and sweaters, along with a variety of toys, stuffed bears and youth-sized apparel. Exact sales numbers were not made available as of press time.

Because NBC holds the Winter Classic’s broadcast rights, the network’s Washington, D.C.-based regional sports network had a big presence at the game. CSN Mid-Atlantic had nine on-air talent staffers work a one-and-a-half hour pregame show and a one-hour postgame show. The postgame show pulled a 0.5 rating following the Capitals’ last-minute victory, a result that pleased network execs considering that the game was on a different channel. “We didn’t talk a lot of hockey in the pregame show; it was more like a red-carpet event,” said Joe Beninati, the Capitals play-by-play announcer for CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I’m happy that NBC allowed us, as an NBC regional, to be involved pregame and postgame.”

The only other outdoor game that will be played this season is set for Feb. 21 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for a game between Los Angeles and San Jose. While the number of outdoor games for next season remains undetermined, the Boston Bruins are the current front-runner to host the next Winter Classic. Minnesota and Denver are possible locations for Stadium Series games.

One of the biggest additions for the in-stadium experience was the on-field replica of the Capitol building that sat in center field, along with a mock Reflecting Pool that the players came in on. The inspiration for the feature came partially from last year’s Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium, where players walked through an avenue of palm trees toward the ice surface. Renzulli said players in that game said they felt like rock stars walking into a stadium full of fans, a feeling the NHL was hoping to re-create at the Winter Classic.

Working with IMG for event production, along with architecture and rink-building consultants Populous and BaAM Productions, respectively, the league put together a number of concepts that highlighted elements of the nation’s capital, many of which made it on the field.

Nationals Park had some impact on the design as well, Renzulli said. While the Capitol model was possible due to the fact that it didn’t block any sight lines for fans because of the existing batter’s eye spot in the ballpark, the league had originally hoped to include a model of the Lincoln Memorial where the performance stage was located (on the home-plate area), including a replica of the former president sitting in his chair. But due to sight lines being blocked, that idea was scrapped, and instead the stage’s stairs were designed to replicate the memorial’s own.

Renzulli said the league will continue to push for new and captivating elements for future outdoor games, with an aim for making it the best experience possible for both fans and players.

Pacsi, who watched the game from inside the stadium as well, said that going in he expected that the new bowl playoff format would affect the nationwide ratings for the Winter Classic but that he was thrilled with the numbers that still were posted in the participating teams’ local markets.

“When you look at the ratings in the two markets, it was a tremendous success,” Pacsi said, referencing the 11.4 and 5.7 marks posted, respectively, in Chicago and Washington, D.C., during the game, both marks were tops locally among networks for the game’s time slot. “And you would be hard-pressed to find a fan leaving the stadium who didn’t have a great time.”

“It’s amazing how a regular-season game can be amplified to this level just because it’s played outdoors in a huge venue,” he said.