Skybox does double duty as a downtown office

Copier firm hopes PSINet quarters will pay for themselves

Stadium as business park

Promotion

February 17, 1999|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

For $150,000, Action Business Systems President Bill Wallace wants to be able to use his skybox at PSINet Stadium more than 10 times a year.

He has done just that by effectively turning the company skybox into a downtown office to sell the complete line of Toshiba products for which he has exclusive rights in the area.

Theresa Abato, whose job is managing the Ravens stadium's 108 private suites, hopes more people will follow Wallace's lead, making the stadium into a downtown office park in its own right.

"We would love that," Abato said. "What we really want is to see that people get their money's worth."

Wallace figures that the $150,000 annual rental fee, plus $25,000 for food and promotional items, will translate into millions of dollars in business.

"The light bulb went off," said Wallace, whose business is based in White Marsh.

"I said, `What if I wanted to do presentations of our equipment and have the equipment on site? It allows us to have a downtown showroom of sorts. We can have an uninterrupted meeting and not have a second rent in a downtown location."

Wallace keeps skybox No. 443 lined with Toshiba copiers and fax machines at the ready for when potential clients stop by.

Wallace, 50, has cut trade shows from his budget and expects the skybox to pay for itself the first year, or at least by the second.

When the suites were first marketed, in 1996, research by 111 professional sports teams across the country showed that no one else was selling skyboxes targeting year-round use, said David Cope, vice president of sales and marketing for the Ravens.

"We wanted to make this a year-round buy, not just a 10-football-game buy," Cope said.

Suite holders at Oriole Park at Camden Yards can do the same thing, said Julie A. Wagner, who does community relations for the Orioles.

"They have the use of suites 365 days a year," she said. "It's rarely used, but people do have the option."

For Wallace, one of the advantages of his space at PSINet Stadium is the opportunity to attract an upper level of management, the people who make decisions.

"Typically, the people who are the major account decision-makers assigned to acquire the equipment generally insulate themselves from salespeople," Wallace said. "We just haven't been able to get that higher level of decision-maker into our facility. The skybox allows us to do that."

By dealing with people who make the decisions, rather than those who influence them, Wallace's staff can shorten the sales cycle by years. "The dollars you can put on that are astronomical,"

Wallace said.

He said he is looking forward to the skybox's role in Action Business Systems' expansion into Washington.

"The skybox is a drawing card to those businesses over there," Wallace said.

"They're Redskins fans, but they're used to coming to Orioles games. So this is unique. It allows them to see the stadium and increases the potential of them coming to a game."

Wallace projects that his company's revenue will exceed $10 million this year, a 30 percent increase. He attributes 10 percent of that revenue gain to the skybox.

Fellow skybox holders offer a target audience as yet untapped by ABS.

Out his window, Wallace sees dozens of neighboring skyboxes, which lease for $55,000 to $200,000 a year, depending on size and proximity to the 50-yard line.

"We could probably walk around in here today and run into a number of people I'd love to have the opportunity to see," Wallace said.

"We're with people my company, ABS, would want to do business with. They're right here."

ABS is the company making the most use of its skybox during nongame days.

"It's just starting to pick up," Abato said. About 25 percent of the 100 boxes sold are being used for meetings and other events, apart from the regular football season. That results in eight or 10 being used each day, she said.

John B. Coulson, director of sports sales for Ravens Radio Network, said he uses the company's skybox two or three times a week.

"We have been very successful using the skybox outside game time," Coulson said.

"If I can hold a meeting even in the off-season with the backdrop of the stadium, the field and those giant video screens, it gets them out of their office and it allows me to sell the emotion and the hope of sports. It gets them into an arena that excites them," he said.

The skyboxes seat 30 comfortably, and are equipped with videocassette recorders and fax machines. Catering is available any time, not just during games.

Wallace doesn't expect the stadium's allure to wane soon.

"I think the interest now is because of the stadium," he said. "I think that will shift with the success of the team. That desire to be at PSINet Stadium will still be there. People will want to come for a different reason."

Pub Date: 2/17/99

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