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Volume 22 No. 19


Two universities officially christened arena renovations last week by playing host to their first regular-season, home basketball games.

Northwestern University debuted Welsh-Ryan Arena following a $110 million renovation that was nearly a complete rebuild. “We kept the north and south facade walls and the main steel frames and everything was rebuilt,” said Carl Kreiter, senior project manager with Mortenson Construction, the contractor for the project.

The University of Cincinnati showed off an $87 million renovation of Fifth Third Arena that features open 360-degree concourses on the main and upper levels. “You are never out of sight from the court. You never lose connectivity to the game,” said Mike Bohn, the school’s athletic director.

Here are additional highlights from the projects.

Photo: stephen j. carrera / northwestern athletics

Welsh-Ryan Arena

Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena received a new roof, new seating, more windows, an expanded 7,800-square-foot lobby and a new upper level.

“We redid all the floor levels, added another whole level. The upper concourse didn’t exist in the previous build,” said HOK Principal and Senior Project Architect Mark Olsen, who was one of the renovation’s lead designers.

The arena reduced the number of seats from 8,117 to 7,039. That is the smallest capacity in the Big Ten. Wooden bleachers were replaced with wider rows and new seats featuring chair backs. Kreiter said only the student sections still have bleachers.

Basketball practice facilities and offices that were in the old arena were relocated to former football practice facilities, opening up space in the renovated arena.

The project nearly tripled the number of restroom stalls (from 53 to 144), while the number of concession points of sale climbed from eight to 32.

A new scoreboard, new ribbon boards, new lighting and 109 new television monitors were installed. All of the new concession areas use monitors for their menu boards.

A new 700-seat premium space called the Wilson Club features all-inclusive food and beverage (beer and wine), and a private entrance. The premium inventory also includes seven new loge boxes. The club connects to a terrace that overlooks Ryan Field, the school’s football stadium, and can be used during football games, said Brian Baptiste, Northwestern’s deputy athletic director for operations and capital projects.

The cost for the Wilson Club includes at least a $6,000 annual donation to Northwestern, plus $1,700 per seat. Seats in the lower level of the rebuilt arena require an annual donation of at least $1,500.

The overall project was financed with private donations.

Photo: david kalonick

Fifth Third Arena

Fifth Third Arena has a more intimate feel with roughly 75 percent of the venue getting new seats. “The student section’s front row is on the floor level. The corners are filled in now,” Bohn said.

Capacity has been cut from 13,176 seats to 12,012 with most of the reductions stemming from new seats offering more legroom.

“It was sort of a big box that reminded you of a high school gymnasium on steroids. Most of the entire lower bowl had retractable seats,” said Norman Friedman, a senior architect and principal with Populous, which designed the renovations along with Columbus-based Moody Nolan. “It didn’t seem like a D1 basketball or volleyball arena.”

The lower bowl still has some retractable seats to make room for other events and graduation ceremonies.

Friedman said an old club area that restricted concourse flow has been opened up so fans can walk around the arena. “It was behind glass. It sort of reminded me of a Bennigan’s — an older Bennigan’s,” he said.

The Bearcats now have new and improved premium spaces including 542 club seats, 14 loge boxes and 16 suites. There were previously 12 suites and no loge boxes. Three new clubs service those fans. Bohn said the premium spaces are all sold out and the school has 9,000 season-ticket holders.

The new 542-seat Champions Club costs $575 per season ticket plus a $2,500 annual donation to the school. Seats to the new Incline Club above the student sections cost $375 per ticket, plus a $500 annual donation. The Courtside Club has 50 seats with an annual $5,000 donation and $1,250 per ticket cost.

The new four-seat loge boxes have private television monitors and moveable chairs. They have an annual per-seat donation of between $2,925 and $3,425, plus $375 to $575 per ticket.

New men’s and women’s locker rooms have been built, as well as a film room and hydrotherapy facilities, Boyer said.

The $87 million cost does not include an additional $6 million investment in 7,000 square feet of new scoreboards at the arena. Daktronics has installed a 2,000-square-foot center-hung scoreboard along with new ribbon and sideline displays. The arena renovations were financed via private donations.

A new east-side entry plaza features a statue of alum Oscar Robertson and the names of all the Bearcats’ All-American players.

Bohn expects fans will be impressed.

“They’ll see a salute to our past and a salute to our future,” he said. “We have created an atmosphere in the building that allows them to be a participant.”

Ford Field
Photo: Detroit Lions

Concessionaires have quickly warmed to the trend of grab-and-go markets and food stands at sports venues.

Grab-and-go concepts give fans fast, self-service access to food and drinks just like they would have at a convenience store. They can take the shape of small markets or simple spaces with walk-up coolers and drink bins. Most have cashiers, yet require fewer of them than traditional concession stands. Some have gone the next step and incorporated self-service checkout technology.

“We’ve had a lot of success with them. There’s a lot more coming down the pipeline,” said David Lippman, regional vice president with concessionaire Legends.

Legends has added eight grab-and-go areas at Yankee Stadium over the past two years, expanded their use at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, and installed them at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the stadium goes through a $300 million renovation.

Jaime Faulkner, CEO of E15 (Levy Restaurants’ analytics arm), said the concept has been successful because it speeds up customer service. Levy has incorporated grab-and-go options at multiple sports facilities. It added four additional locations at Ford Field this season after seeing the popularity of the concept following the Lions stadium’s $100 million renovation in 2017. That included adding a second “Kroger Cooler” spot tied to a sponsorship with the grocery store chain. Three beer stands were replaced by grab-and-go areas, with two offering beer, soda and water, and another offering popcorn, pretzels and hot dogs.

“We have consistently observed transactions taking one to two minutes or less during peak periods. A typical concession stand during halftime at many venues can be anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes,” said Mike Plutino, CEO of consulting firm Food Service Matters of new grab-and-go stands at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The consulting firm also does work for the Rose Bowl, Chase Center in San Francisco and other venues.

The newly renovated State Farm Arena in Atlanta doesn’t have a grab-and-go option for this NBA season, but that could change. Executive Chef Joe Schafer, who runs food and beverage for Levy and the Atlanta Hawks, is looking at bringing the concept to the arena to promote local chefs and their food.

Schafer said the key is making sure wrapped and packaged items such as sandwiches stay fresh. “The challenge with grab-and-go specifically, there is not a lot of things you can put out that it will be great for a couple of hours.”

Keeping drink and food shelves stocked and areas clean can also be a challenge, especially at NFL games when customer volume spikes at halftime or at the end of quarters, Lippman said.

The grab-and-go locations go beyond typical stadium fare. They have been used to offer fresh fruit, healthy snacks and organic offerings. Lippman said he sees them being used to offer specialty items such as bento boxes, bottles of wine, craft beers and charcuterie boxes.

“We are definitely seeing a lot of growth and that stems all around convenience and variety,” said Danielle Lazor, vice president of design and development for Aramark.

The stands can also be flexible. At Yankee Stadium, for example, fans were found to like beer and water on ice more than taking bottles from walk-up coolers. So Legends, the Yankees and Anheuser-Busch put in large display areas and buckets with ice and beverages for fans.

Grab-and-gos can be high-tech or low-tech.

Audi Field has incorporated self-service checkouts that deploy technology from Mashgin Inc. that uses 3-D imaging to identify and scan items without a cashier or the need to swipe bar codes. The same system is in place at Capital One Arena, Pepsi Center, Minute Maid Park and Kauffman Stadium.

Legends has been working with point-of-sale company Appetize to offer LAFC fans mobile ordering and then express pickup via the MLS team’s app. Part of that effort is aided by IBM’s deployment of wireless infrastructure under the seats at the new $350 million Banc of California Stadium.

Sports venues are also looking at Amazon Go, the concept where customers just go inside and pick up items and are charged directly via their smartphone without going to a cashier. Customers use an app to enter an Amazon Go store and then sensors and cameras pick up their purchases and charge them via their smartphone.

Legends is also working on self-service and mobile ordering applications with NCR, Texas Digital, Apple Pay and Appetize on a wider implementation of mobile ordering and express pickups. He said that wider implementation is probably about two years away.

The technology piece of grab-and-go along with its efficiencies are important with stadiums, ballparks and arenas, which are challenged to hire and retain concessions staff and other lower-paid and often seasonal frontline workers.

“A properly designed grab-and-go can generally operate with less than half of the staff required when compared to a fixed concession while generating similar if not more revenue,” Plutino said. “Two recently added grab-and-go locations at Nissan Stadium are now consistently two of the top five highest-grossing locations requiring significantly less staff.”

Plutino said further, “We know that technology has to keep playing a bigger role from just a workforce standpoint.”

Rival track operator International Speedway Corp. already has a casino at Kansas Speedway that delivers millions of dollars each year to the company’s bottom line.
Photo: Getty Images

Speedway Motorsports Inc. is looking into having casinos built on its properties, according to sources, in a move designed to better leverage its real estate and connect with the expanding gambling industry.

Track operators are increasingly focused on creating revenue streams by using their sprawling venues for other activities. SMI owns eight speedways throughout the country and it is uncertain how quickly the company could make a casino deal happen. SMI is looking to partner with one casino operator that would operate all the casinos. A source said SMI is considering multiple tracks, but it is unclear which ones would be targeted.

SMI declined to comment, but the corporation has historically been focused on adding amenities and options to its venues that could make them year-round destinations, and casinos would help further that goal.

SMI has facilities in several major markets around the U.S., including ones near Las Vegas, the Bay Area, Atlanta, Charlotte, Cincinnati and Dallas/Fort Worth.

The track operator is looking into which venues are in states that could issue additional casino licenses. Four of its tracks are in states that don’t allow casinos (Georgia, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Tennessee), while three other tracks (Charlotte, Sonoma and Dallas/Fort Worth) are in states that only allow tribal casinos. SMI views Charlotte Motor Speedway as its headquarters and has been evaluating ways to add new commercial developments there in recent years, making it a possible candidate to be involved if the legal issues get sorted.

The eighth is Nevada, but Las Vegas Motor Speedway is unlikely to be one of the tracks involved, according to the source, because that city is already saturated with casinos. Additionally, South Point Hotel & Casino is the title sponsor of one of LVMS’s annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, so SMI would not want to be seen as going into business against one of its partners, according to the source.

SMI’s rival track operator, International Speedway Corp., already has a casino at one of its tracks: Kansas Speedway. Hollywood Casino, which is owned by Penn National Gaming, operates the venture and splits profits with ISC 50/50. The move has turned into one of ISC’s more successful ventures, as the casino delivered $19.1 million in net income in 2017 and $14.9 million in 2016 to ISC’s balance sheet, and did so with little overhead for the track operator since Hollywood Casino runs the venue.

ISC is open to doing similar arrangements at some of its other tracks, according to a person close to the company, although the time frame and the tracks under consideration is unclear.