Suites compete for business eliteWritten by Duane Ramsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo appears to have avoided a national trend at arenas and stadiums that are having trouble selling corporate suites at sports venues across the country.
The Toledo Mud Hens and the University of Toledo report no trouble selling out their suites to local companies. The real test may come when the Toledo market adds 32 additional suites at the new Downtown arena and renovated Savage Hall in the next two years.
UT has sold out all 44 of the suites at the Glass Bowl since the new press and skybox facility opened in 1990, according to Mike Karabin, senior associate athletic director.
At a cost of $20,000 per season for each suite with 24 tickets and amenities, those suites generate $1 million in revenue annually for the athletic department. The Glass Bowl also has 300 stadium club seats at $1,200 each that contribute to that revenue.
“We have been fortunate to sell suites to both large and small businesses, many that have been with us from the beginning,” Karabin said.
The Mud Hens have a waiting list of 10 to 12 companies for the 29 suites rented at Fifth Third Field. Most of the companies renting suites have five-, 10- or 15-year contracts, signed when the ballpark opened.
“The key to success in Toledo is that we have the university, a public institution, and not-for-profit sports franchises for arena football and hockey. It’s not private groups or corporations profiting from that income,” said Joe Napoli, vice president/general manager of the Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club Inc.
Napoli said he believes local businesses and labor leaders look at their investment from the perspectives of economic impact, quality of life and community relations.
The Mud Hens keep three suites open for rental by companies or persons for individual games at a cost of $1,000 to $1,500 each, which includes $250 for food and beverages. They have reservations for more than 50 of the 200 dates and suites for the 2008 home games, Napoli said.
Fifth Third Bank just completed the sixth season in a 15-year deal for the naming rights to the Downtown ballpark. Three primary reasons led to Fifth Third Bank’s decision to invest in the naming rights for Fifth Third Field, according to Karen Fraker, senior vice president for marketing at Fifth Third Bank.
First, the bank believed Downtown development was important to the community. Second, it provided a good source of affordable entertainment for families of the bank’s customers and employees.
Also, “the name recognition for the bank has gone far beyond our expectations,” Fraker said. “It has become a destination and an icon in the community.”
The naming of the baseball field in Toledo is not unique for the bank, which also has sponsored Fifth Third Field in Dayton and Fifth Third Park in Grand Rapids, Mich., for minor league baseball teams in those cities.
“It coincides with our company’s culture and is supported corporately,” said Fraker. “Our employees are encouraged to become involved in community activities and organizations.”
Fifth Third Bank’s corporate suite at Fifth Third Field was not part of the naming package. The company had committed to the suite before negotiating the naming rights.
The bank’s business lends itself to using sports events that “provide perfect venues for entertaining customers and interacting with movers and shakers in the community,” Fraker said.
Fifth Third Bank also has suites at the football stadiums at Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo.
In the past six years, Fifth Third Bank has invested $14 million in community relations, which include the naming rights and suites at the ballpark and stadiums, along with all donations, grants and sponsorships, Fraker said.
It’s not just large companies that use sports suites. Toledo-based AlfaGreen Supreme uses suites at the Glass Bowl and Fifth Third Field to entertain customers without having to worry about the weather conditions and still enjoy the game.
AlfaGreen shares a suite at the Glass Bowl, benefiting from the cost affordability and flexible plans available in the Toledo market compared to major conferences and professional sports teams. The company processes alfalfa by dehydration for use in animal feed and fertilizers at its facility in North Toledo.
OmniSource Corporation of Toledo has leased a full suite at the Glass Bowl for the past eight to 10 years due to the affordability of the entire package. The local metal-recycling firm also has season tickets for UT basketball, Toledo Mud Hens and some of the Detroit pro teams.
“It’s a great, relaxed way to entertain customers, and people really enjoy it,” said Doty Hamilton of OmniSource, which has customers in Toledo, Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. “It’s been a tremendous asset for us.”
OmniSource doesn’t have a suite at Fifth Third Field, but Hamilton said they rent the Roost at individual Mud Hens games for entertaining customers in the family-friendly ballpark.
Hamilton said they will wait and see what the suites cost at the new Downtown arena or Savage Hall before the company considers using them.
Columbia Gas of Ohio shares a suite at Fifth Third Field with two other companies and shares a suite at the Glass Bowl with one other firm.
“We try to be a good corporate citizen for the entire community and support many different charities and organizations with various facets of commitments,” said Chris Kozak, communications and community relations manager for Columbia Gas. Kozak is an occasional Toledo Free Press contributor of arts and sports columns.
Fraker and Kozak said they have been approached about renting suites at the new Downtown arena and renovated Savage Hall. Neither has committed to either location but both are considering their options.
The new arena
Naming rights for the new Downtown arena remain available. Napoli said it has had some interest in the naming rights and is discussing it with parties of interest, which he declined to identify.
Toledo Arena Sports plans to have between 100 and 125 events per year for arena football, hockey, music concerts, motocross and a variety of family shows at the Downtown arena. Napoli said they want to provide a long list of diverse events that will appeal to all age, economic and social groups.
Hockey will return to Toledo at the arena in the fall of 2009 and arena football will run annually from March through July 2010.
The new arena will offer 20 corporate suites with 12 seats in each suite. Leases for the suites will run $40,000 for the sports teams or $55,000 for all events in the arena and will permit sharing of suites by up to three tenants.
“We think it’s the right number. We wanted it to balance with the suites in the new Savage Hall, Glass Bowl and Fifth Third Field,” Napoli said. “We were pleasantly surprised by the number of companies interested in the larger package.”
There are companies from the Toledo area that have or share suites in the major league cities of Cleveland and Detroit. Some of those companies also want to support the home teams, said Napoli.
Research shows that people from the 13-county region of Northwest Ohio travel to Detroit, Cleveland or Columbus for sports and entertainment events amounting to $42 million in economic impact.
“We want to capture more of those dollars that have left and keep them here,” Napoli said.
Some businesses have flourished around Fifth Third Field and the SeaGate Centre.
“The arena will create a more vibrant Downtown with more reasons for people to come here. We want Downtown to thrive for the whole region,” Napoli said. “People feel secure and comfortable coming to events in Toledo. People from outside the community have been very complimentary, sharing favorable feelings about their visits to Toledo.”
Neither Napoli nor Karabin isconcerned about competition for suites at the Downtown arena and the new Savage Hall. They agreed that some companies will support both, while others may support the college or professional sports.
The renovated Savage Hall may have a slight advantage because it will open for the 2008 basketball season. The Downtown arena is scheduled to open for the 2009 hockey season.
The new Savage Hall will offer 12 suites at a cost of $30,000 per year. It will also include 17 loge boxes ranging from eight to 18 seats complete with theater-style seating and waitress service similar to the 200 club seats in the Glass Bowl.
Karabin said the location of the suites in the new Savage Hall will be “A-plus, on the sidelines and close to the action.” They will be located across the upper level on the west side of the current arena.
“We already have several commitments for suites,” Karabin said. “It will be the best facility in our league when it’s completed.”
Some preliminary work will begin outside this winter. Savage Hall will be vacated next March when the basketball season ends and the construction begins. The new facility is scheduled to open in November 2008 for the basketball season.