Stadium pools, party cabanas are among new attractions for fans

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Steelers fans who are used to layering up with hats, gloves and scarves might find it a bit odd the Jacksonville Jaguars are planning to install two swimming pools at EverBank Field.

The pools, and more than one dozen party cabanas, are new hospitality areas for the Jaguars, and the Florida team‘‍s plan is part of a recent trend for sports franchises to modify premium seating areas to attract new clients — and new money.

The stadium-building boom of the 1990s and 2000s was driven in large part by teams’ desires to increase the number of suites at their stadiums and arenas.

Now, teams across the country are looking to decrease the number of suites and replace them with more intimate hospitality areas, helping corporate clients lower their costs in the process.

“Big money is just not out there,” said Todd Lambert, vice president of ticketing for the Detroit Lions, earlier this month at the Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium, presented by SportsBusiness Journal/​Daily, at the Marriott City Center. His team is in the process of overhauling suites at Ford Field, which opened in 2002 with 132 suites. The Lions plan to drop the number to about 90 and repurpose the others with alternative premium seating options.

The Lions would like to create a premium restaurant and lounge area to entice fans to spend more of their time and money at the stadium. And instead of 30-person suites, the team would like to offer smaller seating areas with access to exclusive food and beverage options.

Suites are just harder to sell now than they were 15 years ago, even at popular venues. Gone are the days where leather seats, air conditioning, a personal wait staff, pool tables and personal televisions are enough to lure corporate clients. Some corporations became concerned with waste, especially in light of the recent recession. Unable to fill suites, companies were paying lots of money for services they were no longer using.

By eliminating suites and offering smaller, more intimate premium ticket packages, teams can sell more hospitality packages at more modest prices.

Traditional suites at PNC Park often cost more than $150,000 per year and seat between 15 and 18 people per game, with four extra standing-room-only seats. In 2004 — three years after PNC Park opened — the team had some suites go unsold.

The Pirates eliminated several suites in 2010 to install Club Cambria, a premium seating area that provides fans the type of amenities they expect from a suite — individualized service, access to a full bar and sight lines to televisions, among other services. Full-season ticket plans cost about $14,000 per seat.

By all accounts, Club Cambria has been a success, so much so that it helped spur team owner Bob Nutting to invest in a master study plan of PNC Park that could modify parts of the ballpark in the future. Among the modifications being considered is the addition of a hospitality deck in the outfield.

The Penguins, starved for hospitality areas at the team’‍s former home at Civic Arena, modified plans for the new Consol Energy Center in response to requests from club ticket holders.

With a lack of club space at Civic Arena, the team had transformed sections of the lower seating bowl into club seating. Turns out, fans loved the seating model. So instead of creating an entire club level at Consol Energy Center, the Penguins turned three lower seating sections on each side of the ice into clubs.

They aren’t alone as several teams have moved premium seating areas from the upper bowls of stadiums and arenas closer to the action. The Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts both offer field-level suites, and the Lions are considering moving some suites close to the field.

Likewise, Jacksonville‘‍s approach is not entirely novel as the Jaguars are not the first franchise to install a swimming pool in a stadium — the Arizona Diamondbacks built a swimming pool at Chase Field, just beyond the outfield wall. Their pool, spa and party pavilion can play host to up to 35 fans.

Fan feedback also was crucial in the Jaguars’ plans, which are part of a $63 million stadium renovation. The team — which regularly covers large sections of its stadium with tarps because of unsold tickets — hired Legends Global Sales, a New York City-based sports and entertainment consultancy, in 2012 to help with ticket sales.

Mike Ondrejko, chief operating officer of Legends Global Sales, said surveys of buyers and corporations revealed that people still wanted high-end tickets, but they also wanted more than the typical game experience.

The Jaguars are removing 9,500 seats and replacing them with a two-story party deck. As part of the party deck, the team is selling four cabanas, which seat 50 people and have pool access, for $12,500 per game and 14 cabanas with pool views, but not pool access, that seat up to 20 people for $3,000 per game.

“It’s going to be an absolute home run,” Mr. Ondrejko said.

Michael Sanserino:, 412-263-1969 and Twitter @msanserino.

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