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Volume 22 No. 7

Events and Attractions

The Golden Knights have a 120-person production team for elaborate pregame performances.
Photo: Getty Images

Teams and concessionaires have moved quickly to up their game for the Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals, implementing new ways to elevate the fan experience, from pregame entertainment to food and beverage operations.


While the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals bring new challengers for the Stanley Cup, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors meet for the fourth consecutive NBA Finals, which tests the creativity in planning.


“The toughest part is that you have to outdo the previous years and previous games over and over,” said Allison Sutera, central region vice president for Aramark.


Aramark handles the food and beverage at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and Capital One Arena in Washington, while Levy Restaurants handles F&B and retail at Oracle Arena in Oakland and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.


Both Aramark and Levy reported sharp rises in per-cap spending for the playoffs leading to the finals, with Vegas seeing a 42 percent increase over the regular season, Cleveland 10 percent and Washington up 30 percent.


Teams and concessionaires are working to make the most of playoff crowds that arrive earlier and have more time to spend because of later start times.


The Cavaliers and Aramark are putting a bigger focus on cocktails and craft beer sales after seeing success with second-half beverage sales during the Eastern Conference Finals. That has entailed turning an Aramark kitchen in the lower concourse (the Launch Test Kitchen) into a bar area offering “Cleveland Cocktails.”


It’s these little extra touches that help to serve both the thousands in the arena but also the millions watching around the world.
Steve Mayer
NHL, Chief Content Officer

Aramark is increasing its staffing by 50 employees to a total of 400 and is adding 20 extra points of sale.


The Cavs are also bringing in local food trucks for the Finals as pregame and outside watch party crowds grow, said Tracy Marek, Cavs chief marketing officer.


In Oakland, Catherine Cronin, president of Levy’s Rank + Rally retail unit, expects another strong performance even with yet another Cavs-Warriors finals. “Four years of Cavs and Warriors means four opportunities to challenge and reinvent ourselves,” she said.


Travis Allen, Rank + Rally regional director, said 40 new NBA Finals-focused products and product lines are being introduced, including Disney-style collector pins and limited edition, $150 Finals-themed basketballs. “We want it to feel like a new store,” Allen said.


On the team side, the Warriors worked with top sponsors to create memory worthy spaces for fans to snap pictures to be printed on commemorative tickets or to post on social media.


In Vegas, Levy and Rank + Rally have also upped their staffing and rolled out new products at T-Mobile Arena for the Stanley Cup Final, expanded concierge services for retail purchases from premium ticket holders, and continued to expand retail and F&B areas outside the arena.


Nothing is more Vegas than the pregame production the Knights have provided for playoff games. A 120-person production team led by Jonny Greco, vice president of events and entertainment, and Ayron Sequeira, senior director of entertainment production, put on the much-watched show.


Greco was previously with the WWE while Sequeira came to the Knights from the Detroit Red Wings where she was director of integrated media.


Sequeira said the turn-around time for the 4.5-minute shows is 72 hours but the playoffs and the addition of special acts such as Imagine Dragons performing before Game 2 can mean major, last-minute reworks.


In Washington, the Caps and Aramark are putting a local Chesapeake Bay bent on the franchise’s second-ever Stanley Cup Final. Brent Hardin, Aramark east regional vice president, said that entails playing up crab cakes and doing an old-school crab boil with corn, potatoes and onions.


The Caps and Aramark are putting on “suite parties,” carving out new social and F&B areas in premium levels. They will also have a local F&B stand that will change concepts each period. Aramark is upping staffing by 75 extra employees, to 450 total, and 25 more points of sale.


Jim Van Stone, president of business operations and chief commercial officer for Caps parent company Monumental Sports & Entertainment, talked up the team’s outdoor hockey festival around the arena during home games that includes a musical stage set up at the National Portrait Gallery across the street. Road game watch parties inside the arena have garnered strong crowds. Capital One Arena had 11,000 fans for the team’s Game 7 win at Tampa, 12,000 for Game 1 against the Knights, and an estimated 15,000 for Game 2.


For the NHL, its efforts in Las Vegas and Washington center on “amplifying everything that they’ve done during the year, and just further raising the bar,” said NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer. “It’s these little extra touches that help to serve both the thousands in the arena but also the millions watching around the world.”

With a Triple Crown in play, NBC is amplifying its coverage of horse racing, including producing an original documentary and expanding coverage of the Belmont Stakes this week and of its Royal Ascot coverage later this month.


NBC has increased its coverage of the Belmont Stakes from the originally scheduled two hours to three hours and 15 minutes as Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Justify vies to become the 13th horse in history to win America’s Triple Crown. NBC will broadcast race coverage from 4 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. ET Saturday, anchored by Bob Costas and Mike Tirico.


When a Triple Crown is on the line, the Belmont Stakes generates viewership numbers three to four times larger than when it is not. In 2014, 20.6 million viewers tuned in to see California Chrome lose the race, and a year later 18.6 million watched American Pharoah become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Only 5.8 million tuned in for the race in 2016 and 4.9 million in 2017, with no Triple Crown at stake either year.


“We are expecting a very strong showing in the Belmont this year,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, who promised heavy promotion of the event. “You will not be able to get out of the way of Belmont promotions starting this week.”


Additionally, NBC was scheduled to air the original documentary “Dark Horses” about the rivalry between 1989 Triple Crown contenders Sunday Silence and Easy Goer on NBC this past Saturday, with rebroadcasts on NBCSN throughout this week. It’s the first time NBC has created such a documentary and aired it on the over-the-air network.


Later this month, the network will air 20 hours of England’s Royal Ascot across both NBCSN and NBC. It’s the first time the prestigious racing meet will be shown on NBC. Last year, the first year of a multiyear deal between Royal Ascot and NBC, all of it was shown on NBCSN.


This Saturday marks the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, the oldest sporting event in America, noted Chris Kay, CEO of the New York Racing Association, which owns Belmont Park.


The NYRA has several promotions planned to mark the historic event, including the chance for a fan to win $150,000, Kay said. The fan will be identified this week and the prize will be awarded if he or she picks the winner of the Belmont Stakes.


Also this year, for the first time, the post position draw will be held at Citi Field before the Mets game on Tuesday, attended by all the trainers of the horses, including Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert. 


“Bob Baffert is going to throw out the first pitch,” Kay said.

The crowd provided an energetic vibe but television viewership reached a new low.
Photo: Getty Images

While ABC staff prepared for their final Indianapolis 500 broadcast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a cadre of NBC Sports executives gathered 15 minutes across town at the trendy Tinker House restaurant.


NBC takes over full-season media rights of the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2019, when it will become the first broadcaster besides ABC to air the Indy 500 in 55 years. The NBC executives were there to give a briefing at IndyCar’s annual partner summit — made up of teams, tracks, brands and agencies — on what it will bring to the property.


NBC has touted its cross-promotional expertise as a way to grow IndyCar. And while IndyCar’s overall ratings as a series are up from where they were a handful of years ago, NBC will inherit viewership declines for the property’s marquee race in the 500. This year’s race finished with a 3.1 rating and 4.9 million viewers on ABC, down 6 percent in ratings and 8 percent in viewership from a 3.3 rating and 5.3 million viewers last year. It was the least-viewed Indy 500 on record.


NBC has yet to announce the talent it will use for next year’s race, but sources said Mike Tirico was also at the summit, indicating that NBC may use the Olympic prime-time host in its Indy 500 coverage next year. NBC Sports’ current booth for its half of the season that it’s been splitting with ABC is filled by versatile Australian announcer Leigh Diffey and analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, both of whom are former drivers.


For ABC’s part, multiple staffers in the leadup to the event reflected on the end of the media company’s long run with the 500.


“It’s sad and disappointing any time a partnership of this length has a pause or the streak is broken, which is essentially what’s going to happen next year,” said Kate Jackson, ESPN’s coordinating producer. “Racing is a very small community and we are all like family, so there is a real sense of mourning that we will not be a part of the series for the next two [or three] years.”


Fuzzy’s Vodka gained exposure from its ties to Ed Carpenter Racing, which qualified three cars in the top seven.
Photo: Adam Stern / Staff

STRONG TURNOUT: After a torrential downpour held off until just after the 500 ended last year, Indianapolis Motor Speedway executives got another dose of good luck with weather this year, with sunny — albeit sweltering — conditions all weekend that boosted walkup ticket sales.


As of last week, IMS had yet to release an official crowd count. But Mark Miles, chief executive of track and series owner Hulman & Co., told SportsBusiness Journal during the race that he expected the final tally to crest over the 300,000 mark, which would be up from 2017 — though likely short of the 350,000 mark in 2016, the 100th running of the 500. Miles pegged the Miller Lite Carb Day crowd on Friday of race weekend at between 75,000 and 80,000 people, which is up around 15 to 20 percent from 65,000 last year.


While TV ratings were down, the crowd provided an energetic vibe and the community demonstrated strong buy-in all month leading up to the event. Corporate hospitality sold out, as did the 15 Try It Tiny mini-homes that debuted in the infield as part of $3,000 packages.


SPONSOR HIGHLIGHTS: In its final year as title sponsor of the series, Verizon also sponsored the eventual race winner in Team Penske’s No. 12 Chevrolet driven by Will Power. But while Verizon will stay with Team Penske after its title sponsorship ends, the company appeared to send out little to no messaging around the win on social media in the days after the race, underlining the concern of the industry that the telecommunications company hasn’t activated the sponsorship as heavily as some had hoped.


Nonetheless, sponsor activation was relatively robust during the month of May, led in part by GoDaddy, which returned to the 500 for a one-off with endorser Danica Patrick for what she says was the final race of her career. Three times during the race GoDaddy ran its “Side Hustles” ad, which sees Patrick tout the web-hosting company’s ability to help build small businesses like hers. Barb Rechterman, GoDaddy executive vice president and CMO, said the company plans to continue working with Patrick after her racing career and isn’t closing the door on possibly doing other deals in motorsports.


Thanks in part to the strong run of the team he sponsors, former Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller and his eponymous vodka brand had an exciting month of May at IMS. Fuzzy’s Vodka since 2010 has been a sponsor of Ed Carpenter Racing, which saw its three cars qualify in the top seven for the race, including race polesitter Ed Carpenter, who rode up front most of the race and finished second, garnering a hefty amount of TV exposure for the vodka company.


“As a new company, you’re always looking for something that will give you the exposure immediately, and IndyCar racing has done that for us,” Zoeller said from his company’s suite in the IMS pagoda, one of several assets it has around the property.


Fuzzy’s, which is sold in 20 markets nationwide, sells its vodka at the track, including annual limited-edition Indy 500 bottles.


Other heavily visible brands during the 500 — whether on TV or at the track — included Chevrolet, Firestone and Coors Light.


The 15 Try It Tiny mini-homes, available in the infield as part of $3,000 packages, sold out.
Photo: Adam Stern / Staff

REASSURING WORDS: After IndyCar star driver James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for the 500, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports President Jon Flack could see crew members hanging their heads as they returned to the garage. Flack had just spoken to Mike Long, chief executive of Arrow Electronics, primary sponsor of SPM, who had assured Flack that Arrow understood what had just occurred even though it meant that the company would miss the major branding opportunity.


Buoyed by Long’s words, Flack asked Long to deliver a similar message to the team in the SPM garage.


“They made it very clear: ‘We’re family, we support you 100 percent, we trust that you’ll find a way to get us as much exposure and value as we possibly can — but we’re with you for the long haul, so don’t sweat [the missed qualification].’ When I heard that, I thought it would be really good for the team to hear that. … [Long] delivered a really powerful speech to the team and lifted everyone’s spirits. And now we’re ready to go fight again.”


NEW FACES: While McLaren didn’t enter this year’s 500, plans for the English car company to join IndyCar full time next year have led to more optimism that the series is heading in the right direction from a team perspective. Sports car team Scuderia Corsa, which did a one-off entry in this year’s 500 as part of a joint venture with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, has also been reported as being interested in joining IndyCar full time.


This year, new full-time entries came in the form of Carlin Racing and Harding Racing. Meanwhile, Indy Lights team Steinbrenner Racing — owned by members of the family that owns the New York Yankees — is also considering moving up to the IndyCar Series next year.