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Volume 20 No. 42

Events and Attractions

The founder of the Taste of the NFL Super Bowl event is taking the concept to golf. The debut of Taste of the Master Chefs will be held during the coming Masters tournament.

Taste of the NFL founder Wayne Kostroski is organizing the event, to be held April 7 at the West Lake Country Club, a few miles from Augusta National Golf Club. The Masters tournament is set for April 6-9. The culinary event is not affiliated with the tournament.

The Taste of the Master Chefs in Augusta will feature the cooking of 10 award-winning chefs from around the country, with well-known chef Jose Andres to serve as chair chef of the event.

But unlike Taste of the NFL, which draws thousands of people, the event in Augusta will start small. A maximum of 600 tickets, priced at $150 for regular access or $250 for a VIP experience, will be sold.

Jose Andres is chair chef of Taste of the Master Chefs, to debut April 7.
Photo by: Enter Name Here
“The one difference is that this will be much more intimate,” said Kostroski, who organized the first Taste of the NFL for the 1992 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. “The first-year event is really important. We want to create a hit that is a great value and build on it.”

Like the not-for-profit Taste of the NFL, proceeds from the Taste of the Master Chefs event also will go to charity. The local Salvation Army chapter will receive contributions raised from ticket sales and donations.

“Other events have distribution to other parts of the country, but this is 100 percent distributed in Augusta,” Kostroski said. “There is nothing really geared to families living in Augusta who get wonderfully invaded during Masters week. People get in and then are gone. There isn’t really any part of helping families in that area.”

Kostroski, named the 2010 James Beard Humanitarian of the Year, said he expects to attract a variety of athletes and celebrities to the Taste, but organizers are still finishing those plans. Similar to the Taste of the NFL, Kostroski is selling sponsorships around the event.

A number of the chefs for the Augusta event are from different cities, but unlike Taste of the NFL, which has a chef and player represent each of the specific team cities, the Masters event is not tying chefs to any specific locations, at least in the first year.

The Taste of the Master Chefs is part of a trend of culinary activations around major sports events. There is a similar activation at the Final Four, and the PGA of America, in partnership with Chase, in 2015 created its PGA/Bon Appétit Champions of the Course event, which pairs chefs with PGA pros at the PGA Championship.

The Taste of the Master Chefs format will feature food prepared by the chefs in a more casual, food-station format. The VIP ticket includes a private reception with chefs, athletes and celebrities before the Taste of the Master Chefs main event.

“There is a wide array of food from the chefs all in one place,” Kostroski said. “It is not a sit-down dinner and listen-to-a-bunch-of-speeches event.”

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

Crandon Park, where the Miami Open is played, has one stadium and hospitality in a temporary structure.
WME-IMG plans to keep the Miami Open in Key Biscayne, despite the lack of progress in the fight to improve the event’s tropical tennis venue.

After losing in court last year to an opponent of further development at the open’s home since 1987, the event’s lawyer called the WTA/ATP stop as good as gone. Word floated that it could migrate north to Orlando, or flee overseas. Even Florida resident Serena Williams wrote a magazine piece pleading with the event to stay.

However, WME-IMG, the entertainment conglomerate that owns the event along with many other properties like UFC and represents some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, is easing off the relocation talk.

“We have the full intention to be in Miami for decades to come,” said Mark Shapiro, WME-IMG co-president, who is responsible for the tournament. The event, which annually draws more than 300,000 fans during its 10 days to the key in sight of downtown, starts this week.

“We love Key Biscayne, we love the people of Miami Beach, and most importantly our players and the tours overall love the culture and the beach of Miami Beach,” Shapiro said. “Nobody is going to desert Miami, that’s for sure. We have an [eight]-year contract to stay in Key Biscayne, and we intend to honor staying in Miami.”

Questioned whether the tournament can make money if it can’t improve the facility, he replied, “Absolutely.”

Nevertheless, going to the Miami Open is a bit like “Groundhog Day:” Nothing seems to change over the years. Concessions and hospitality are housed in temporary venues, there is one stadium with no overhead protection from the piercing Florida sun, and many of the outer courts could be found at lower-level events on the tours.

The tournament sits in Crandon Park, which is governed by rules handed down over 70 years ago by the family that donated the land and intended it for public use.

Well into the early 2000s, the event thrived as a near equal to the four Grand Slams. But a race for capital ensued in tennis, and many events surpassed the Miami Open, most notably the BNP Paribas Open, which finished recently in Indian Wells, Calif.

“If you are not growing, you are dying,” Shapiro said.

WME-IMG won voter approval for $50 million in enhancements, a drop in the bucket compared with the hundreds of millions of dollars spent individually by other tennis events. Yet the Miami Open has been unable to allocate even that because the grandson of the man who donated the land to Miami successfully sued the tournament to block the expansion plan on environmental grounds. He also sits on a board that oversees the land.

“It is always a hassle with the landowner,” Shapiro said. “I am not going to go into details. It is always just a hassle.”

The landowner Shapiro refers to is Bruce Matheson, a Miami lifer in his early 70s who in the early 1990s tried to block the construction of the only stadium on site (that process was so contentious that the event paid for a Camp David negotiator to mediate their dispute at an office in Boston). IMG bought the event in 2000.

The event site is owned by Miami-Dade County, with WME-IMG using it for roughly one month of the year — the days of the event, and the weeks to set up and tear down.

Last year, for example, a Duran Duran concert was suddenly relocated from the event site to downtown. “Every time we try to do something, whether it be music or bringing in a beach volleyball tournament, or expand our culinary horizons we are either rebuffed or get an argument from the landowner there,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro is not the only one frustrated. The local political class is generally supportive of the event, which has a larger economic impact than the local sports teams.

“As far as money coming in from outside the county, the Miami Open will bring in more,” said Jose Sotolongo, head of sports tourism for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Look at the Dolphins, Marlins, the Heat, those teams draw locals.”

Economic impact is defined as dollars spent that otherwise would not have been. Because sports teams largely draw residents who would have spent their money somewhere in the local economy anyway, an event that draws large numbers of out-of-town visitors has a disproportionate impact.

Shapiro said local politicians and business leaders are actively lobbying Matheson to get what could not be won in court. Lawyers for Matheson did not reply for comment.

Shapiro remains hopeful that Matheson will come around, saying he never heard the event opponent maintain he wanted the tourney to leave Miami.

But in an interview with the Miami Herald in December 2015, Matheson made his feelings clear. Told by the editorial board the tournament might leave, he replied, “I won’t shed a tear if they leave.”

Super Bowl hospitality provider On Location Experiences is getting into the sponsorship sales business, and its first client is the 2018 Minnesota Host Committee.

On Location, which the NFL owns a piece of, says it will sell the national sponsorships that bring in some of the tens of millions of dollars that will be necessary to operate the 2018 Minneapolis Super Bowl. That means On Location, through its commission, will get a cut of those funds, and by extension the NFL too. The agency is hiring a head of sponsorship, at either the vice president or senior vice president level, who’ll be based in New York and report to CEO John Collins.

Super Bowl Live is central to the week leading up to the game.
On Location will also stage Super Bowl Live, the downtown football festival that is now central to operating the week of the NFL championship game.

Super Bowl Live “is a big budget,” Collins said. “As part of that commitment we will be selling national sponsorships for the host committee.”

The host committee has already sold most of the local sponsorships.

Collins is creating a company that’s quickly expanding beyond its core as a packager of tickets with hotel rooms for the Super Bowl, into other parts of the week. On Location bought an event company, Nomadic Entertainment, which staged several of the bigger parties this past Super Bowl. And last year the league gave On Location 6,000 more Super Bowl tickets to package, bringing the total to 9,500.

Now it has a piece of staging Super Bowl week in key aspects of the host committee’s operations.

The moves come as On Location — which in addition to the NFL is owned by Bruin Sports Capital, Redbird Capital Partners and Jon Bon Jovi — begins to centralize its operations in New York. On Location is building a premium hospitality sales team in New York that will have about a dozen members, Collins said, including two senior executives.

“We are now recognizing there are other ways, better ways of organizing a business, better ways of redeploying our resources,” he said.

Currently, On Location and its related companies have about 325 employees. Two hundred and fifty are through Anthony Travel, the college hospitality provider acquired in 2016. An additional 40 are through acquired event firms, and On Location itself is about 35.

When the New York buildout is complete, the total headcount should top 350, Collins said. A handful of layoffs will occur at Dallas-based Anthony Travel because it handles some of the sales that Collins is moving to New York.

Having a premium call center would allow On Location to begin large group sales to the Super Bowl long before the game, and not leave it as exposed to the vagaries of the matchup.

A requirement for the senior sales job, Collins said, is it is “someone who has built an outbound call center.”

On Location tapped executive recruiter Prodigy Sports to handle the search for the senior positions for sponsorship and premium sales. Those hires may be announced as soon as this week.

On Location’s core business is the Super Bowl, but it also services other NFL events including the draft and the international games. The company also expects to compete for business outside of the NFL.