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Volume 21 No. 6
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Halls of fame: The thrill of history

How on-site museums help some NFL clubs strengthen ties to fans

The Hall at Patriot Place provides space for New England to display its Super Bowl trophies.

The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history is etched in the minds of New England Patriots fans. For Bryan Morry, it meant adding another chapter to The Hall at Patriot Place Presented by Raytheon, the team’s hall of fame and museum attached to Gillette Stadium.

Morry, the hall’s executive director, led the creation of “Anatomy of a Comeback,” the museum’s newest attraction, detailing key moments from the Patriots’ thrilling 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons in February.

“We wanted to do something unique,” said Morry, who has been in charge of The Hall at Patriot Place since it opened in 2008. “We tried to get into how it happened and adjustments the team made. The physical artifacts [jump out] from the graphics to give it a 3-D effect the fans will love.”

Museums like the Patriots’ bring in revenue, but the NFL teams that have them stress other goals: Providing a dedicated space to display team history, as well as a way to reach out to young people by providing educational opportunities for students.

To date, about a half-dozen of these destinations are tied to stadiums, but only three teams have indoor facilities, charge admission and operate multiple days of the week. Besides the Patriots, the 49ers Museum Presented by Sony sits next to Levi’s Stadium, and in Green Bay, the Packers Hall of Fame, the elder statesman now situated in the Lambeau Field Atrium, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

The 49ers Museum averaged $1.4 million in ticket sales annually over its first three years of operation, team President Al Guido said. But across the board, teams say it’s more about giving fans the ability to see, touch and feel their history in a museum-style setting.

First Look podcast, starting with hall of fame discussion:

Figures in the hall of fame portion of the 49ers’ facility

In Santa Clara, season-ticket holders get free museum access on game days. For others, admission is $15 for adults and $10 for kids. The museum is open Friday through Sunday, with restricted hours on game days.

The 49ers Museum has drawn more than 600,000 visitors since it opened in August 2014, he said.

Separately, the museum serves as a learning tool for students, through its science, technology, engineering and math program. The 49ers employ part-time teachers to educate children at the museum by applying football’s principles to those subjects. It’s part of the team’s community outreach, and 60,000 kids from kindergarten through eighth grade have completed the program to date, Guido said. The team covers all expenses for students visiting the museum.

“We never thought of it as a revenue generator,” Guido said. “It’s about paying homage to the past and our STEM program. If you’re thinking of these halls of fame as profit centers, that’s not the right decision to make.”

The thinking is the same in Foxborough, where the 49ers visited The Hall at Patriot Place four times to get ideas for their facility, Morry said.

The Patriots’ museum has kept admission prices intact ($10 for adults, $5 for children) over the past nine years. It’s open 362 days a year, and on July 28, the museum celebrated its one millionth visitor.

“We did our research and business plan, and determined [admission prices] could be higher,” Morry said. “But the Krafts said no. It’s more about looking at ways to improve the fan experience.” Morry would not discuss revenue figures but he said the hall is profitable.

Illustrating the “Anatomy of a Comeback,” a new addition to the Patriots’ museum

Ten years ago, the Patriots invested $24 million to build the museum, which was part of the Patriot Place entertainment district next door to the stadium. The hall opened six years after Gillette Stadium debuted in 2002 and employs five full-time workers.

Morry said its busiest months are July and August, at the start of training camp, which takes place next door. More than 100,000 have visited the museum this year and he projects total attendance will top 170,000 by year’s end, eclipsing 2015’s record attendance of 143,000.

The Hall at Patriot Place has its own STEM program, which will host more than 20,000 students taking field trips this year, Morry said.

Three more NFL

team museums

Kansas City Chiefs
    Chiefs Hall of Honor Presented by Spectrum, Arrowhead Stadium: Opened in 2010 on the stadium’s south side. Free access on game days. On other days, adults pay $30 admission as part of stadium tour.

Pittsburgh Steelers
    FedEx Great Hall, Heinz Field: Opened in 2001, extending along the stadium’s east side as part of original facility development. Free access on game days. On other days, adults pay $8 admission as part of stadium tour. Flexible event space.

Minnesota Vikings
    Vikings Voyage, U.S. Bank Stadium: Opened in 2016 in northwest corner as part of new indoor stadium. Open game days only; free to all ticket holders. The Vikings plan to build a comprehensive hall of fame as part of their new practice facility and headquarters in Eagan, Minn.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

Over the past two years, the Patriots have spent $2.1 million in improvements by tearing down the existing Super Bowl gallery and building a new and bigger space to recognize the team’s five NFL championships. A new virtual reality piece puts fans in the middle of the team’s Super Bowl victory parade. “Anatomy of a Comeback” revolves around a mix of video displays and graphics, and memorabilia from the game brings a real-life aspect to the exhibit. The football that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan fumbled on Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack, Pats receiver Julian Edelman’s helmet and gloves and the entire uniform worn by New England running back James White, who scored the winning touchdown in overtime, all play a role for re-creating the comeback.

“The Krafts are willing to reinvest in the product,” Morry said.

In Green Bay, the Packers Hall of Fame has evolved from a small display of memorabilia in 1967 at Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena across the street from Lambeau Field to a two-story space open year-round in the atrium, which was part of a $295 million stadium expansion completed in 2003.

Last year, a record 174,000 people visited the hall, which includes those taking stadium tours, Packers President Mark Murphy said. For the hall alone, the admission price is $15 for adults and $9 for children, with kids under the age of 5 granted free entry. Over the past 14 years, the Packers Hall of Fame has attracted 1.4 million visitors.

In July, the publicly owned Packers reported local revenue of $197.4 million from fiscal year 2016, which includes Packers Hall of Fame income. Murphy declined to separate the hall’s revenue from the total figure.

Two years ago, the hall of fame relocated from the atrium basement upstairs to the main floor to give it a higher profile, part of $166 million in additional stadium renovations. The newer space, measuring 15,000 square feet, is actually smaller than the old hall thanks to the use of more technology and less memorabilia, said Jennifer Ark, the Packers’ director of stadium services. One of the newer exhibits is a re-creation of the famous Ice Bowl, creating a water vapor effect trailing from player mannequins, mimicking the frigid cold at the 1967 NFL championship game in Green Bay.

“Our driver is preserving history,” Ark said. “The Packers’ story of survival hasn’t changed, but how we share it with others has.”

The Packers Hall of Fame exhibits draw both young and old fans.
The 49ers Museum contains an educational component through its STEM program.