18 July 2005

Revolutionizing the suite

Remember the old term "box seat?" It's not one that really gets used anymore except when referring to ultra-expensive luxury boxes (suites) or field level boxes, which are little more than expensive field level seats. Box seats at ballparks were usually sold in groups of six and had steel railings that defined them and cordoned them off from other boxes or seats. When the innovations called suites and club seats forever changed how stadiums and arenas were built, box seats became something of an anachronism. Now it appears that they may have a place again, if the Wolffs have their way. Don Muret from the East Bay Business Times reports on the venue development group's interest in minisuites, club boxes, and other types of seating that fill a pricing and marketing void that exists between individual club seats and luxury suites.

"We heard from a lot of teams that said they have too many suites," Wolff said. "In most markets, there aren't a lot of companies that can fill a 25-person suite consistently for 81 dates. We're thinking of having 40 traditional suites and 40 minisuites."

Lewis Wolff is the co-founder and chairman of Maritz, Wolff & Co., a privately held hotel investment firm, and Keith Wolff said he and his father are fully aware of how difficult it is to keep hotel rooms regularly occupied.

The same principle can be applied to a sports facility setting, Keith Wolff said.

The minisuites would likely have two rows of two seats, with a drink rail and two bar stool-style chairs in the back of the box, Wolff said.

"For a company that has only 20 employees (such as Maritz, Wolff) but has relationships with a lot of clients and desires a unique experience, it would be perfect," Wolff said.

For the average fan who doesn't care about such things, this is just more money talk. But for the Wolffs, it may potentially be a revolutionary idea that other teams and ballparks copy once they see it in action. The move in this direction has no doubt been shaped by the Wolffs seeing how difficult it is to regularly sell the suites in McAfee Coliseum. The sweet spot for building suites has typically been 50-60 in a new ballpark, but by lowering the number of full-sized suites to 40, the A's could limit construction costs and drive up demand, giving them a better chance at selling them out. At the same time, the creation of 6-8 person minisuites could give small businesses a more palatable option for luxury seating as well. When looking at the Bay Area pro sports landscape, it's also an important differentiator for getting patrons in this rich, but finite market.

Fremont Update

I had been playing phone tag with the folks at NUMMI, and I finally got a reply to my inquiry about the NUMMI property which has been discussed for use as a ballpark site. Follow me on this:

  1. According to NUMMI, they have no official position on a ballpark.
  2. There is no official position because the NUMMI Grimmer site is not being considered for a ballpark.
  3. The plans to build a warehousing facility on the site are not formal yet and are still under discussion.

Confused? Now you know how I feel. The problem is that no one recently (as of a week ago or so) opened up any discussions with NUMMI about a ballpark plan. So they don't have a position. That could change quickly if Wolff or Fremont's Mayor Wasserman gets the ball rolling, at which point NUMMI would have to render a new opinion on the matter. It may end up that a ballpark could be planned on land across Grimmer from NUMMI, which would limit available parking but should be big enough for a ballpark at the very least. I'll try to get a clarification on this over the next few days.