Sky's limit for these boxes Stadium: Rooms with a view at new stadium for the Ravens will boast plenty of extras -- and price tags of up to $200,000 per year.

July 03, 1996|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

In case a fully decorated, 1,000-square-foot suite with a premier view of the field, a wet bar, three television sets and wall-to-wall carpeting isn't enough to get you to sign up, the Ravens have tossed in a few sweeteners for skybox renters.

Such as a chartered trip for two each season to an away game. And pre-game field passes to mingle with players and coaches. Round-the-clock use of the suite for business meetings and parties. They'll even fire up the stadium lights and scoreboard so your sales staff or birthday boy can run some plays on the field.

"We called around to the other 111 major-league sports teams to ask what they did for their guests. We didn't hear a lot," said Ravens vice president of marketing David Cope.

As a result, the team has assembled an extensive list of amenities it hopes will sell luxury suites in one of the nation's most competitive sports regions and at prices ranging from $55,000 to $200,000 a year.

In addition to the 108 skyboxes planned for the Ravens' stadium, to open in 1998 adjacent to Oriole Park, the Washington Redskins are building 280 suites in the stadium now under construction in Prince George's County and the Bullets and Capitals are marketing 110 suites for their new MCI Center arena in downtown Washington.

Combined with the Orioles' 72 skyboxes, the new construction will result in a luxury glut of one skybox for every 11,000 residents of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. Premium-priced "club seats" at all the facilities will top 30,000, or one for every 218 people in the region.

But Cope said the Ravens have found little overlap with the other sellers now in the market and are pleased with the response. So far, the Redskins and Ravens appear to be drawing from their own markets.

"It's a common market, but they are distinct markets," Cope said.

About 60 percent of the available Ravens suites have been leased, mostly to firms that had put down deposits on boxes as part of the city's ill-fated 1993 expansion application.

In that league-sponsored competition, the city sold out its skyboxes in a few weeks. But the boxes were smaller and less expensive, and in some cases a company leased more than one to help the cause. A few of the companies since have left town or merged operations with another box renter.

The team also has altered the design of the stadium and suites, enlarging the sideline boxes to 24 seats each and stacking them in two levels. They will have the largest average square footage in the NFL. The city's expansion plans called for smaller suites ringing the field.

New services also have been added. The team will charter a jet to select, warm-weather away games and invite along two people designated each season by the suite renter. There will be exclusive golf outings with players and team officials and special training camp tours.

Suite holders will be allowed to visit the sidelines before games and get four parking passes and free programs.

They will have the option of buying tickets for nongame events held at the stadium. Other than those events, the boxes will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The team hopes businesses will see them as unique locations for meetings and parties. They'll even turn on the stadium lights and JumboTron.

"We hope people will view these as small businesses," Cope said.

There may be restrictions, but people will be allowed to hold events on the field, in their boxes and, if there's an overflow crowd, in the club-level restaurants and pubs of the stadium.

"We're in the yes business, not the no business," said David Modell, the team's executive vice president.

Bill Dorsey, director of the association of luxury suite directors in Cincinnati, predicts such full-time use of skyboxes eventually is going to become the norm to justify the high prices.

"That is very, very smart. That is the way the system needs to be going," he said.

Most of the amenities the Ravens are offering are available in other stadiums around the country, but the range and combination is unusually good, he said. That is probably a function of the team's strategy of maximizing the size and prices of the suites, as opposed to a general trend in the industry toward smaller and cheaper suites, he said.

The Ravens' skybox prices -- the weighted average is $112,000 a year -- is on the high end, he said. The $200,000 top price, applied to eight suites on the 50-yard line, is probably topped only by Dallas' Texas Stadium, New York's Madison Square Garden and Toronto's SkyDome, he said.

"The price range, given the amenities, is not outlandish, especially for a new stadium," Dorsey said.

Luxury seating such as skyboxes and club seats is highly lucrative and is fueling much of the drive for new stadiums and relocations in the National Football League. Most of the revenue is not shared with visiting teams and gives a franchise an edge over competitors in facilities, coaches salaries and other expenses not limited by the player salary cap.

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