Cordish to run NASCAR eateries

Theme restaurants to open in Fla., S.C.

June 17, 2006|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA | LORRAINE MIRABELLA,SUN REPORTER

NASCAR-themed restaurants run by Baltimore-based Cordish Co. will make their debut next year in Orlando, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., under an agreement giving the developer exclusive international rights to use the NASCAR brand in new restaurant and entertainment ventures.

Cordish plans to open about two NASCAR Sports Grilles a year in high-profile locations such as New York's Times Square.

In addition, the developer, which will own and operate the restaurants, expects to open up to three similar, but smaller, themed restaurants a year in more suburban locations.

The first NASCAR Sports Grill is to open in February in Universal City Walk, a retail and entertainment district outside the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando.

The $6 million project is expected to generate at least $12 million in annual sales, Reed Cordish, a vice president of Cordish Co., said yesterday.

The full-service, 20,000- square-foot restaurant will offer a sports screening room, interactive game area, a shop for NASCAR merchandise and a "tailgate" area with an open flame grill.

Cordish said the restaurants hope to capitalize on the growing popularity of the sport.

"We're talking about a sport with incredible reach in popularity and passion among its fan base, one of the more valuable brands in America right now," Cordish said.

Cordish said the developer has a licensing agreement with NASCAR but would not disclose the financial details.

The NASCAR grills will be operated under the developer's restaurant, hospitality and gaming operations division. Scott Warfield, a NASCAR spokesman, could not be reached yesterday to comment on the deal, first reported by The Examiner.

The restaurants likely will open in projects not owned by Cordish as well as in developments built by the Baltimore company, known for developing entertainment-oriented projects around the country such as Power Plant Live in Baltimore.

It is possible the restaurant could become an anchor at Cordish's mixed-use projects around professional sports complexes, projects in which Cordish is building office, residential and retail space. These include Ballpark Village with the St. Louis Cardinals and North Shore Live with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Baltimore, Cordish said, would be strongly considered as a location.

NASCAR racing has grown enormously from a more regional sport to a mainstream American pastime, sports marketing experts said.

It is now one of the nation's top half-dozen sports in the United States in terms of television ratings, fan following and spending by patrons and sponsors, said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

"NASCAR's strength is it taps into a very loyal fan base," Swangard said. "The challenge is converting that loyalty to sport to loyalty for food.

"It ultimately comes down to picking good locations, and with any licensed activity, the product has to basically be a manifestation of the brand," Swangard said.

"If they can do that right in a restaurant concept and, oh yeah, have decent food and decent service," he said, "it has a chance to succeed."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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