Jacksonville Fights Off Blackouts with Attendance Boost

24 Nov

Six months ago, murmurs of relocation plagued the Jacksonville (Fla.) Jaguars. Noise of the team’s struggles to sell tickets, problems connecting with their fan base and the Jaguars’ inability to avoid TV blackouts grew beyond a hum.

Jacksonville finished last season selling less than 80 percent of available seats at Everbank Field, ranking 30th of 32 National Football League teams in attendance, according to league records. The team plays in a flooded Florida sports market and are in one of the most difficult divisions in the NFL, the AFC South. The division includes the Super Bowl runner-up Indianapolis Colts, who nearly went undefeated last season, and the long-successful Tennessee Titans.

Jaguars SVP Macky Weaver said the 2010 season is viewed by the organization as a crossroads: either bring fans in or accept the possibility of relocation, possibly to Los Angeles. “We had a difficult season in 2009,” Weaver said. “It was time for this city to decide if they wanted a team.”

Halfway through 2010, Weaver calls the city’s response to the ultimatum a “resounding yes.”  Jacksonville’s attendance has increased by more than 14,000 per game from the mid-point of the NFL season last year, by far the biggest increase in the league. Since their Sept. 12 trouncing of the Denver Broncos, the team has sold out the 63,047-seat stadium and avoided a league-mandated blackout for all home games.

Sixteen of the league’s 32 teams have seen attendance losses thus far in 2010, some around five percent. San Diego, Buffalo, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and St. Louis are averaging 4,000 fewer fans per game than through nine weeks last season, according to the NFL. Overall attendance is down 0.5 percent, averaging around 350 fewer fans per game, or 11,515 total. If you subtract the Jaguars’ attendance boom, the other 31 teams are down more than one percent.

Jacksonville has been insistent on learning lessons from other teams’ failures. The team looked deep into its fan base’s needs by conducting focus groups during the offseason.

“As you could imagine, number one across the board on everyone’s list is quality of play and the direction of the team, which from a business side we don’t have a lot of control over,” Weaver said. “But, the number two thing was feeling valued by the team and organization. We took a step back and looked at that component because we can affect that. Trying to establish a value proposition for our fans for buying tickets outside of just being able to come to the games. Looking for opportunities to engage with the team to get value outside of what happens on Sunday.”

Jacksonville attributes part of the attendance jump to unique season ticket incentive packages. “We created a book where if you are a season ticket holder you receive a coupon book that has about $2,500 in value,” Weaver said. “You get $10 to $20 off local restaurants, $50 at some of the nicer ones, it really adds some outside value to being a season ticket holder, which our fans appreciated and it helped motivate some people to get back on the bandwagon.”

Despite being plus 14,000 in attendance, there will still be struggles in the second half of the season.  Traditionally, NFL attendance numbers slip as teams fall out of contention (which is possible for the 5-4 Jaguars). At 2009 season’s end, the average leaguewide attendance was 65,043, and at the halfway point of ’09, the average NFL game was drawing close to 68,000 per game.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the NFL expects no different this season. “(It) continues to be our projection that paid attendance for the season will be down one to two percent,” Aiello said.

Jacksonville isn’t the only team trying to uphold strong attendance numbers. Detroit has seen the second biggest boost, bringing in nearly 5,000 more fans per home game than at this point last season.  Washington and Miami have drawn 2,700 or more above last year’s mid-season totals, according to league attendance figures. Indianapolis, Tennessee and Philadelphia have also performed well, averaging more than 100 percent of capacity.

Keeping Jacksonville in the success category and relocation noise mute, Weaver said, rests on the shoulders of attendance numbers.

“It’s all interconnected; attendance, ratings on TV, they all drive other revenue opportunities from sponsorships to merchandise to concessions sales,” Weaver said. “It is an important cog in the wheel to make sure we are successful everywhere we can be and that we compete with other teams in the NFL.” — Matthew Coller

Interviewed for this article: Macky Weaver, (904) 633-6207; Greg Aiello, (212) 450-2000


Swansons Switch Off

23 Nov

Cheryl Swanson

Cheryl Swanson began her new career as executive director of the Alerus Center, Grand Forks, N.D., for VenuWorks Nov. 15. When called Nov. 16, she and Roger Swanson, who has held that post, had just attended his last commission meeting there before moving on to be director of business development in North America again for VenuWorks, working out of his Minnesota home.

One of his oversights will be the new collaboration between VenuWorks and Global Entertainment, where Roger Swanson worked for three years prior to moving to VenuWorks. That collaboration may soon involve management of the newest of the Global Entertainment Corp. hockey arenas, Dodge City/Ford County Events Center, Dodge City, Kan. That 6,000-seat arena is set to open in February 2011.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Swanson is thrilled with the complex in Grand Forks, which she noted has an attached 12-story hotel and waterpark which enhance Alerus Center’s use as a conference center. That side of the business is very strong, she said. The center also hosts University of North Dakota football. With the hotel, waterpark, arena, football field and conference space, “it truly is a destination complex,” she said.

Prior to joining VenuWorks, Swanson was executive director of the Breslin Center at Michigan State University, East Lansing Mich. She began her facility management career at the Sioux City (Iowa) Convention Center, Auditorium and Tourism Bureau, and later opened the Convocation Center and Pease Auditorium at East Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

The Alerus Center opened on Feb. 10, 2001.  It has a full arena seating capacity of 21,000 and a half-set of 11,000. It seats 13,500 for University of North Dakota football games and 9,500 for basketball games. It also has a theater set of 3,600. Its Grand Ballroom is 26,000 square feet and can be separated into five individual rooms.  It also has 12 meeting rooms ranging in size from 620 to 1,330 square feet. There are 14 suites and one VIP Club suite.— Linda Deckard and Dave Brooks

Interviewed for this article: Cheryl Swanson, (701) 792-1200


Naming Rights Report: Werner Park, Omaha, Nebraska

23 Nov

Buyer: Werner Enterprises/Werner Global Logistics

Date Announced: Nov. 12

Terms: 5 years, with an option, $305,000 per year

Ownership/Tenant: Sarpy County/Omaha Storm Chasers, AAA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals

Brokered: Locally

Comments: Werner Enterprises, a trucking and logistics firm and long-time sponsor, has purchased naming rights for the Omaha Storm Chasers’ new baseball stadium.

“They have been a presenting sponsor for four years, which was our version of naming rights,” said Martie Cordaro, VP and general manager. “So this was a natural fit. Their headquarters is less than five minutes door-to-door, and they do lots of customer entertaining and employee entertaining.”

The company will get a number of tickets as part of the deal, along with opportunities to use the facility for events, like company picnics, company events and concerts. There is a separate agreement for use of suites, Cordaro said.

The ballpark is being built by Sarpy County, and is scheduled to open April 15.

It will be the home of the former Omaha Royals – now renamed the Storm Chasers – the AAA-affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.

Cordaro said the team has also signed a number of other partnership deals, including Quality Brands of Omaha as Founding Corporate Partner, sponsor of the Scoreboard Bar; Centris Federal Credit Union, sponsor of the Family Fun Zone in the left field foul territory.

Cornerstone Partners includes Pinnacle Bank, which will provide AMT service; Pepsi, which has pouring rights; McDonald’s, sponsor for the berm and bullpen; Alegent Health, sponsor of Rosenblatt Way, a concourse along the first baseline; AT&T, sponsor of the Home Run Porch. The whiffleball field will be named Borsheims’ Diamond whiffleball field.

“Impressive is the word that sums up the commitment these great organizations have made to our franchise and the community,” Cordaro said.

“Their collective effort to provide the very best and most affordable family fun entertainment in the Omaha metro area should be commended.”

Contact: Martie J. Cordaro, (402) 734-2550

— Liz Boardman



Live Nation Reorganizes

22 Nov

Concert giant Live Nation Entertainment Inc. has disclosed the departure of global music chief executive Jason Garner, who will be succeeded by a trio of executives with regional responsibilities, company spokesperson Liz Morentin confirmed.

Veteran concert promoters Mark Campana and Bob Roux will divide the North American market — Roux will handle the South from his office in Houston and Campana with handle markets in the north from Chicago. Rick Franks will oversee strategy for concert tours from his Detroit office.

Additionally, Ron Bension, formerly president of Tickets Now, has been named CEO of Live Nation’s House of Blues and club division. He will be based in Los Angeles, reporting directly to Rapino. — Linda Deckard and Dave Brooks

Contact: Liz Morentin, (310) 975-6860

McCormick Place Unveils Phase II Reforms

22 Nov

McCormick Place officials recently unveiled Phase II reforms for the convention center complex designed to cut costs and provide greater flexibility for those doing business at the Chicago venue.

This latest round of reforms is part of a series of changes that will be phased in as a result of the historic legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly in May.

“Our Phase I initiatives drove down costs and offered greater flexibility to our customers and exhibitors, allowing them to do much of the booth work themselves,” said David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place. “Phase II is more about long-term stability, additional changes and new customer initiatives.”

As part of the second round of reforms, a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a management company to run McCormick Place was released Sept. 15. Prospective companies toured the facilities on Oct. 5 and interested parties were to submit first phase proposals by Nov. 9. A short list will be developed by Dec. 14 and the final selection for the new management company will be made by April 29 of next year.

McCormick Place is currently owned and operated by the city’s Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA). In addition, completion of the refinancing of MPEA’s debt will provide greater financial stability for the convention center, while funding an expansion of the on-site Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel.

The venue borrowed $1.1 billion in a bond deal, with the bulk of the money funding the hotel’s expansion. This includes the addition of between 400 and 450 rooms, which are expected to help subsidize the project, in addition to a plan that will renovate the Hyatt’s existing 800 rooms.

TVS Design will assist in preparing the design and development documents. Construction is expected to begin in early 2012 and the hotel expansion to be completed by December 2014.

In addition, $200 million of the funds will replenish the convention center’s reserve balance, while part of the money will be allocated to cover operating deficits.

The convention center’s new customer initiatives include the immediate availability of free WiFi, which is available throughout the venue, including all common hallways, exhibit halls, and meeting rooms. With 2.6 million sq. ft. of exhibit space, McCormick Place is the largest convention center in the U.S. to provide this amenity.

“In Phase I, our work was focused on driving down show organizer and exhibitor costs. We hadn’t addressed show attendees. People want to check e-mail while out of the office. It’s a convenience factor,” Causton said.

The Phase II reforms were unveiled in a webinar hosted by the International Center for Exhibitor and Event Marketing and hosted by Causton. It was attended by more than 100 companies and organizations, including exhibit managers, event marketers, organizers, suppliers and tradeshow press.

A 23-member Advisory Council has been created to oversee and advise
the implementation of McCormick Place’s reforms. The Council includes show organizers, exhibitors, labor, service and exhibitor contractors and MPEA and the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) management.

According to the CCTB, the McCormick Place reforms have already resulted in nearly a dozen tradeshows either recommitting to host their shows in Chicago or committing to bring their business to Chicago for the first time. Collectively, those commitments represent more than $1.6 billion in estimated direct expenditures for Chicago during the next decade.

“These Phase II reforms will provide even greater cost savings for our show organizers, exhibitors and attendees,” said Causton. “We received positive feedback about our Phase I reforms and anticipate that our existing and
prospective customers will welcome this next round of reforms, as well.” — Lisa White

Interviewed for this article:  David Causton, (312) 791-7000.



Naming Rights Report: Scotiabank Convention Centre, Niagara Falls, Ontario

20 Nov

Buyer: Scotiabank

Date Announced: Nov. 16

Terms: 10 years, with a 10-year option, financials not released

Ownership: City of Niagara Falls

Brokered: WaM

Comments: The soon-to-open Niagara Convention & Civic Centre will be called the Scotiabank Convention Centre. The venue, which is located 500 yards from the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, is scheduled to open in April. It will be the largest event and meeting facility of its kind in Niagara Falls and the Niagara Region.

“They have been in the community for over 50 years and are strong supporters,” said Kerry Painter, general manager. “Some rental days and food came with the deal, and their employees will have a separate newsletter addressed to them.”

Tickets will be discounted for Scotiabank employees, and the convention center will market the facility in their bank branches.

Other cross-promotions are planned, Painter said. The bank already sponsors a movie card that offers points to moviegoers. That will be extended to include live performances at the venue’s theater.

In addition, the convention centers banking will move to Scotiabank.

“They have been very competitive and attentive to offering great service and rates,” Painter said.

Scotiabank will place a 400-square-foot branch and an automated teller in the facility. The deal includes signage throughout the building and on a large marquee outside, as well as on all collateral, including tickets and theater programs.

The 288,000-sq.-ft. venue is being built to meet LEED Silver certification. It will feature an 82,000-sq.-ft. exhibition hall, a 17,000-sq.-ft. ballroom, a 1,000-seat theater, and 26,500 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space.

Contact: Kerry Painter, (905) 357-6222


Brown Upped

20 Nov

Jim Brown has been named executive director of Wright State Nutter Center, Dayton, Ohio. He replaces John Siehl, who took early retirement in September and has since gone to work for VenuWorks.

One of Brown’s first initiatives is to reposition the venue as Wright State Nutter Center, versus the Ervin J. Nutter Center at Wright State University, giving the university a more prominent recognition in everything about the arena. A new logo will be unveiled soon. “Wright State is a young university but a great university,” Brown said. There is considerable mutual benefit in more closely associating the arena with the 20,000-student campus, he said.

Brown said he’s going to stay in his current office, where he has been functioning as acting director since Siehl left. There are no plans to name a new associate director. Brown noted that there were a significant number of very qualified applicants for the job and he is thrilled to have been selected.

He has been at Wright State Nutter Center for 11 years. Prior to that, he worked at the Cumberland County/Crown Coliseum Complex in Fayettevile, N.C. He started in the business in minor league sports with the Columbus (Ohio) Horizon of the Continental Basketball Association after graduating from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University with a plan to get into professional sports management. The facility side soon drew him in.— Linda Deckard and Dave Brooks


Interviewed for this article: Jim Brown, (937) 775-664-6464