SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: September 20, 2023

Episode Summary

Seen and heard at AXS' DRIVE in St. Louis from sessions to tours and inside the massive development in St. Pete.

Episode Notes

Seen and heard at AXS' DRIVE in St. Louis from sessions to tours and inside the massive development in St. Pete.

Episode Transcription

Abe Madkour:

This is your Morning Buzzcast for Wednesday, September 20th. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast, coming to you from our Drive Conference in St. Louis.

But Tuesday was a celebration in St. Petersburg, as details were shared about plans for a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays, which will be part of a massive $6.5 billion 20 year redevelopment of 86 acres. It's called the Historic Gas Plant District. The development will be led by the global group, the Heinz Company. Now the ballpark will have a very intimate feel, 30,000 seats under a roof. It will also feature operable windows and walls to bring some light and outside elements into the ballpark.

The financing plan calls for the city and county to split $600 million, that's the public contribution, with the Rays covering the remaining $700 million plus any cost overruns. So that is a big public commitment by the Rays. The cost overruns are something we're going to want to watch. We've talked on the Buzzcast about how the Rays are out in the financial community looking for investors who would get equity in the team for contributing to the development of this new ballpark. Now, the deal still requires approval by the city and county, but the team hopes to break ground around this time next year.

Now, yesterday at our conference in St. Louis, most people were asking about why the ballpark's location is really the same site as the current Tropicana Field, which many critics say was the reason the team has drawn so poorly over the years because of that location. But team officials said that the market has changed dramatically over the years. Leadership said that a recent building boom and influx of new residents in downtown St. Petersburg clearly impacted their decision and made them much more comfortable in this vision of the future and in the future location of the facility. They actually feel they are in a different situation and what they went so far as to call an entirely different city. And they strongly believe this change in the population has changed St. Petersburg's ability to support the team.

But like I mentioned, this is a huge, huge development plan. It's much more than a sports facility. There'll be 6,000 residencies. There'll be office space, there'll be retail space. There'll be a 750 room hotel. There'll be conference spaces and more than 14,000 parking spaces starting with a garage to service Rays fans when the new stadium is being built. It'll also include a park, a concert and entertainment venue. So again, a lot of pieces to this development in St. Petersburg. And it's a huge step for the Rays, a huge step for Major League Baseball to get one of its more challenged marketplaces in a position of stability. I can't believe this deal got done, and I'm still, still waiting to see more of the details. But you can't underestimate or overlook the importance of this story.

Let's move on. The Coach Prime effect continues. Yesterday I asked longtime sports business executive John Collins, I asked him what sports business story he was following most closely and he said, without pause, whether Coach Prime can get Colorado into the top 10 and how that would impact sports and society. Just look at the following around Deion Sanders. First, the season premiere of 60 Minutes on Sunday, which featured an interview with Sanders drew nearly 12 million viewers, and that was the best rating or viewership for 60 Minutes since 2021. So obviously Coach Prime drew viewers to 60 Minutes. He's must see TV. The Colorado-Colorado State game on Saturday was the fifth most watched college football game all time for ESPN, and that is just early in the season.

Also, the University of Colorado football program has now sold out all home games for this season, all six games, marking the first time in school history the program has sold out its entire season. Fanatics said that the win against Colorado State set a record for in-venue merchandise sales at Folsom Field. Colorado has been the top-selling college team across Fanatics since the start of this season, and the Nike Coach Prime hoodie that we're seeing, that is currently the top-selling product among college sports for Fanatics. So bottom line, it seems that everything around Coach Prime, Deion Sanders and Colorado is hot, it's selling and it's drawing great attention.

Well, I know many of us felt that there would never be room enough for two spring football leagues and in news that broke Tuesday first from Axios, the XFL and the USFL are in advanced talks to merge. For many of the listeners I know you'll say that's not a surprise. But the leagues hope to combine before next season. And a source told Axios that game broadcasts of the combined league are likely to be split between Fox and Disney. Of course, Fox owns the USFL and Disney has a big deal with the XFL, so that does make sense. An announcement of the deal and more details of this merger could come later this week. But I know many of you would say that comes from not surprised to hear this category that the XFL and the USFL likely to merge.

And some highlights from Drive in St. Louis because a couple of you asked me about what was going on at the conference. Well, last night, Tuesday night, we toured the Enterprise Center and looked at the role that the St. Louis Blues really play in this community. And the evening ended with an unbelievable dinner provided by Levy in one of the team's clubs. I know the attendees really enjoyed that session last night.

The most attended session yesterday on Tuesday was standing room only for a discussion on how artificial intelligence is impacting ticket sales at the team level. Another very popular one was on how data can be used to drive revenue growth across a sports organization and what sports organizations can do better in utilizing data around monetization. Another session focused on transportation and parking and how different teams are taking different approaches. Panelists noted how transportation is the first and last impression of a fan journey, and that's why so many teams are putting so many resources behind making ingress and egress as smooth as possible. The Warriors, for example, talked about how they are partnering with mass transit in San Francisco to embed travel tickets into team tickets. So a lot of discussion about how to make the transportation access to a facility much easier, much more seamless.

A panel on the future of ticketing outlined the current landscape of ticketing while discussing pricing and accessibility and the fan experience all believed it's about reducing friction. Ticketmaster's Clay Luter talked about how fans today really should be able to walk into a stadium, not even pull out their phone, they can walk through a biometric entry, grab food and drinks inside the facility and walk to their seat or wherever they want to go. And that's the key to the experience, making it easy, no waits, no lines. Panelists also touched on dynamic pricing strategies and the evolution of digital ticketing.

Finally, a number of sessions discuss making the experience better for fans across the board and really creating as many premium experiences as possible. But one executive said, teams want to create these experiences without pricing fans out of the market. You can't charge too much, but you want to make the fans feel like they're getting something special. So they went on to explain that premium can be defined as various things. It could be a club access, could be a loges box, could be a season ticket membership, could be special access for food and beverage.

So there are a lot of ways to make the fans feel special and to make them feel like they're having a premium experience without charging too much. So you need to be sensitive to not price people out of their comfort zone. So I thought that was an interesting point of view. And again, yesterday was filled with a lot of great takeaways.On Wednesday, today, we'll hear from the owner of St. Louis City SC. We'll hear from the owner of the St. Louis Blues. We'll hear from a lot of other leading executives. Tonight we are going to see St. Louis SC host LAFC at a game at City Parks. So a full day here in St. Louis. And so I wish you were here, but I'll give you more of a recap on Thursday and Friday in the Buzzcast.

So that is your Morning Buzzcast for Wednesday, September 20th. I'm Abe Madkour coming to you from St. Louis. Stay healthy, be good to each other. I'll speak to you tomorrow.