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February 2017:

The USNA Football Stadium: What’s Its Market?

February 6, 2017

Posted in: News

It was renovated at a cost of $40 million about a decade ago. It accommodates about 34,000 spectators for Division I college football, and it’s located in Annapolis, barely a mile off of Route 50. It’s situated within a spacious parking lot, making it convenient and a great spot for tailgating.

It’s Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and these days it’s looking better than ever. Yet, like most football stadiums, aside from hosting the home team’s football schedule, it doesn’t host many major events.

But with the July 23 booking of hometown hero and competitive motorsports legend Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus — after residents of the adjacent communities were appeased that the event wouldn’t be too loud — and murmurs about the National Hockey League considering scheduling a game there featuring the Washington Capitals, some observers are wondering about the feasibility of holding more events at the facility.

It’s enough to make the business community wonder if the full potential of the United States Naval Academy’s (USNA)stadium, which is owned by the nonprofit Naval Academy Athletic Association (NAAA), is being tapped.

Occasional Events

The list of events that occur at U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Stadium is fairly short. Last season, Navy football played six home games there, with the Military Bowl providing a seventh nice economic boost in late December, as it has in recent years.

Each spring brings lacrosse season, with the Navy’s men’s squad (with six matches at home out of 16, starting with a Feb. 11 meeting with the University of Maryland) and women’s team (nine out of 17, the first having been a Feb. 5 faceoff against Longwood) playing before much smaller crowds than football games generate, as do the Chesapeake Bayhawks of the Major Lacrosse League (who will play seven of their 14 games this season there). Most of the crowds for the lax matches are accommodated on the south side of the lower deck.

Then, aside from the USNA’s graduation ceremony each May, there’s not much need for the stadium’s field, though other events are held under the stands, in the more recently added event rooms or in the parking lot, such as the Annapolis Running Classic Half Marathon & 10K, the Zooma Annapolis women’s race and the annual Annapolis Rotary Club Crab Feast.

Bear in mind that the NAAA doesn’t necessarily need to book the stadium to generate revenue as a private promoter would. That said, Connie Del Signore, president and CEO with Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County, is usually all smiles when a big crowd comes to town.

In the case of the stadium, “I’m always conscious of keeping the integrity of this destination, so whatever events that occur through the city, U.S. Naval Academy or the stadium should be consistent with the city’s culture and charm,” Del Signore said.

“However, it’s important that we celebrate local folks who have moved on to accomplish great things, and that they share them with us,” she said. “Having said that, we have worked closely with Eric Ruden and Bill Givens (of the NAAA), and they’ve been amazing to work with. So, when were able to attract any quality event, we’re in very good hands.”

About Quality

On the topic of usage, Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides said that there are now “actually about 150 events that occur at the stadium annually, from football games to business meetings,” etc. He added that the city doesn’t approve or deny permits for the inside of the park, just the outside, such as marathons.

Noting that the stadium “isn’t intended to be a constant entertainment venue, like Madison Square Garden,” Pantelides, like many locals, is looking forward to the Nitro Circus. “People will be coming in from out of town, booking hotel rooms and visiting the restaurants,” he said. “It’ll be a great weekend.”

Still, whatever events book the stadium in the future, Pantelides wants a consensus about the quality of the event before anything gets signed. “Chet [Gladchuk, the Navy athletic director] was OK with the Nitro Circus; so as long as [Ward 2] Alderman [Fred] Paeon was OK with it, too, everything’s fine.

“Whether we have a few more big events there every year is up to the community,” Pantelides said. “As long as they don’t notice any additional traffic or other issues, we’re good with it. I’m concerned about the quality of life for the community first.”

As for the NAAA, Associate Athletic Director Eric Ruden said the organization is “pleased with the schedule of events we have there now,” which can also include high school band competitions, for instance. He added that the stadium’s William P. Lawrence “N” Room banquet facility can accommodate a Navy class reunion, and a new-ish public space that is available for rent in Akerson Tower holds 200 people.

That’s not to say that there might not be any new events, however. “We’ll certainly consider opportunities as they arise,” Ruden said.

The Potential

Local business leaders like Del Signore and Lou Zagarino, CEO of Millersville-based Whitehall Management Group, are interested in heightening the use of the resource because “The stadium complex is a phenomenal entertainment venue, and it has had a significant impact on the local tourism industry,” Zagarino said, “particularly during some of the softer times of the year.”

A great example, Zagarino said, is the success of the Military Bowl, an annual event that has been held during Christmas week and has spurred “hotel occupancy to double during what had traditionally been the slowest week of the year,” with the area receiving “a direct economic impact of more than $2 million.”

From that perspective, maximizing a facility’s return on investment becomes key, said Terry Hasseltine, executive director with Maryland Sports. “The amenities and the architectural design sometimes are put in place to ensure they match the integrity of the city or community,” he said. “The location plays a role, too. How a concourse or club level is designed could be very beneficial to some communities, as they may be limited in convention or large open spaces, for example.

Hasseltine went on to say that some football stadiums “do a tremendous job of maximizing opportunities. However, I remind people that it’s not just about internal bowl activities, [but] the club level and concourse use, and sometimes the land around the facility, that generate revenue, too.”

Max Usage

Scott Radecic has been repeating those words for many years. A 13-year NFL veteran, he is now senior principal at Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural firm Populous (formerly HOK), which is famous for designing sports facilities like Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. There are many ways to maximize stadium usage, he said, while also stressing that it’s not all about getting fannies into seats.

“You get seating revenues for the games, but also advertising, and then you look for sponsorship opportunities after meeting with the clients,” said Radecic. “After scheduling the games, you also consider multiple events. At Navy, they also have lacrosse, but you can also look for all of the opportunities you can for the seating bowl, like outdoor hockey and maybe concerts; and you can [rent the] flex spaces to maximize the investment.”

The college and pro teams often give premium seat holders the first shots at holding their events at a facility. “Then there are collegiate clients like two of ours, Baylor University and the University of Minnesota, that have a daily restaurant,” he said.

Various clients have different goals, Radecic said. “For instance, on college campuses, career services often use the suites for interviews. All told, these facilities are places where you can accommodate many people at once, whatever your endeavor.”

In some cases, stadium tours can generate revenue. “You’d be shocked how much the Dallas Cowboys make on tours,” Radecic said, though noting that doesn’t happen at college facilities.

Still, some clients find using a stadium up for multiple events can be cost-prohibitive. “Getting the return on investment comes down to the facility, the owner and the operator,” he said.

The rule is, Radecic said, that Populous wants a stadium to be authentic. “We go through extensive goal setting before we do a design, as well as research into the university, from its successes and to its unique features. It’s an exhaustive effort.”

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