Private cabanas. Pool parties. VIP lists and velvet ropes. All-you-can-eat caviar.
South Florida’s sports venues are re-creating the idea of “club seats.” By this fall, all four major teams in Miami-Dade and Broward counties will offer unique, club-like spaces, most under established brand names, with varying degrees of affordability and exclusivity.
While the model seems custom-made for a party city like Miami, local teams over the last couple years have tapped into a national trend that has seen arenas in cities from Orlando to Los Angeles renovated with new high-end revenue generators in mind.
Even the Broward Center for the Performing Arts — a venue more familiar with Broadway shows and the ballet than ball games — is getting into the act, introducing a new “club level” on Oct. 29. And Homestead-Miami Speedway last year launched the Pit Box, a premium indoor 250-seat area above the start/finish line.
“Let’s be honest, Miami is a see-and-be-seen event town,” said said George Stieren, media relations director for the speedway. “And we wanted to cater to that audience while maintaining affordability for families and other types of fans.”
LIV Sun Life Stadium — an offshoot of the popular Fontainebleau Miami Beach nightclub — kicked off the local club-in-stadium scene two years ago, followed by the Clevelander at Marlins Park, a version of the famed South Beach party spot.
By Oct. 1, the home of the Florida Panthers in Sunrise will open a members-only upscale venue called Club RED. And the home of the Miami Heat will celebrate the grand opening of the high-end Hyde AmericanAirlines Arena during the Heat’s Oct. 30 home opener against the Boston Celtics.
Hyde Lounge, which originated as an exclusive Hollywood, Calif. lounge and nightclub, pioneered the trend in 2009 when it opened a location at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Don Muret, who writes about facilities for SportsBusiness Journal, said the outpost was among the first clubs to stay open at an arena after a game ended — now par for the course.
“In some cases, like in L.A., these clubs replace excess suite inventory, skyboxes that are left unsold as the market has changed for premium seats,” Muret said in an email.
He also highlighted the Amway Center in Orlando, which has an rooftop lounge that is open even on some non-event days, as well as the American Airlines Center in Dallas, which replaced a Chili’s with a Latin restaurant and club.
“People realize that in order to be successful in these arenas, they’re trying to add more value for the guest experience,” said Mike Palma, executive vice president for hospitality for Brio Investment Group, which owns the Clevelander at Marlins Park. “By bringing types of things like this, you’re creating a venue that’s sports enthusiast-driven, but you’re also opening the door to bring in other types of consumers that have different needs and wants and desires.”
In addition to drawing attendees who might not necessarily be sports fans, operators of such venues are typically looking to extend the moneymaking hours of activity around a game and, ideally, sell their location as a prime spot for special events or corporate gatherings even when there’s no action in the rest of the arena.
Rick Horrow, a Palm Beach County sports business analyst and consultant, said one of the most important uses of upscale clubs is to make a franchise’s brand appealing to sophisticated fans.
Whether every effort is successful remains to be seen, said Horrow, who teaches sports business and sports law at Harvard Law School.
“It’ll effectively be survival of the fittest,” he said. “Everybody has to try, but not everybody will succeed.”
For hardcore sports fans, all the disco-ball fanfare can seem extraneous — and disappointing.
“I don’t begrudge anybody for making a profit,” said Josh Friedman, reporter and weekend talk show host for 790 The Ticket. “I just wonder why they feel a necessity to put these in the first place. Isn’t the game enough? I guess the game isn’t enough.”
LIV SUN LIFE STADIUM
Since it opened in late 2008, the Fontainebleau’s LIV nightclub in Miami Beach has been one of the most high-profile nightclubs in the area — and earned recognition worldwide.
Still, its Miami Gardens outpost at Sun Life Stadium took a little while to catch on after opening in September 2010.
“The overall fan base didn’t quite understand what we were trying to do,” said LIV Sun Life general manager Cristian LaCapra. He said there was a lack of public awareness going into the club’s second season in 2011 — something the NFL lockout did not help — but interest started to pick up by the end of that season.
Going into the third year, he said, all of the 216 lower-level seats and four-person couches are already sold out for the season at a cost of $200 per seat and $275 a person on the couches. The venue is open for regular and pre-season home games, the first of which was Friday.
LaCapra said the goal that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross originally had in mind was to capitalize on the brand to give stadium guests a different experience — and perhaps attract a new clientele.
“Being that Miami Beach and the nightlife on Miami Beach is such a large part of the culture in South Florida, he thought it would be a great thing to connect that culture and bring it to the stadium,” said LaCapra, who is also the Dolphins’ regional manager for corporate development. “That’s a customer base that might not normally come to a football game.”
Nightlife marketing and operations company Miami Marketing Group, or MMG, partners with Sun Life Stadium to operate the club, as it partners with the Fontainebleau to run the venue there. The Fontainebleau owns the LIV brand.
The Dolphins paid “millions” to build the stadium version, MMG co-owner David Grutman said. The two entities have a revenue sharing partnership.
To create the 11,000-square-foot, two-level area, 400 seats and 17 skyboxes were ripped out. The lower open-air level has couches and wide leather-wrapped seats. “Downstairs is football first, entertainment second,” LaCapra said. “Upstairs is entertainment first, football second.”
Upstairs in an enclosed space are field view cabanas, which seat 10 to 15 people for $275 a head and other options that include $75 for standing room only (available only to suite or club ticket members), $150 per person for lounge tables and $200 per person for field view rail seating. All tickets, excluding the standing room option, come with a $25 food and drink voucher.
Behind the cabanas upstairs are marble bars, a DJ booth and a dance floor. Multicolored lights dot the ceiling and spotlights roam the floors. Guests enter through a private curtained elevator; valet parking is available for $35 a game and the club usually stays open for up to two hours after a game ends.LaCapra said young professionals in their 30s are a common demographic, but so are corporate fans in their mid-50s who want to use the club to woo clients.
“The executive suite or skybox experience I think a lot of people have become used to,” he said.
Grutman said busloads of clubgoers are brought over from the Fontainebleau for games “like a field trip,” including visitors who have no idea how the game works.
“This is something people talk about to me around the world,” he said. “And you’re talking about eight games.”
The space is also used on average about four times a month when there’s nothing going on at the stadium for special events such as wedding receptions, bar or bat mitzvahs or corporate gatherings. Rental fees start at $3,500 plus expenses and catering.
LIV also opens during other sporting events and concerts, whenever there’s a critical mass of people. One weekend in late July, the lower level was packed and the upper level was populated but sedate during a soccer match between AC Milan and Chelsea.
Roy Cervantes, a business consultant, watched with about 14 friends in a cabana. He said he visits the original LIV in Miami Beach and frequently attends Dolphins games at the stadium club.
“I think it’s amazing,” he said. “I used to live in Boston and you didn’t find places like this. That’s why we come.”
CLEVELANDER AT MARLINS PARK
On a recent Saturday night at this South Beach transplant, the Marlins were winning on the field.
But on a stage above the pool, showgirls were dancing. A woman was having her body painted in some tribute to the team. And, on the outside patio, there was beer pong and cornhole to play.
“He’s trying to pay attention to the game,” said 26-year-old Patrick Ledan, at the Clevelander with friend Ryan Perez. “I’m trying to tell him there’s so much more to look at.”
That’s exactly what the operators of the bar and the Marlins organization were hoping for when they partnered to bring the Clevelander — a version of the Ocean Drive hotel, bar and restaurant — to the new $634 million park in Little Havana.
“What we were always trying to do with the ballpark was have different areas for different demographics and different interesting things for people to see and do,” said Marlins president David Samson. “In Miami, you’re really looking to create events — and the game is just part of the event. There have to be other things going on.”
He said the most positive thing about a season that has been disappointing on the field has been fans’ reactions to the park, which was mostly funded with public dollars.
The Marlins and the Clevelander’s owner, Brio Investment Group, both contributed to the cost of building the sports bar. They share revenues, though neither group would disclose how the money is split.
Palma, Brio’s executive vice president of hospitality, said the company is projecting more than $2 million in gross sales for food, beverage and venue fees at the ballpark location.
So far, the amount of traffic the venue is getting as well as the financial performance has surpassed expectations, Palma said.
There are 134 ticketed seats in the bar, including 116 loveseat-style seats directly on the field level. Another 18 drink rail seats are next to the pool. Those tickets start at $50, depending on the game, and can run up to $100. Standing-room only tickets start at $25 and allow access to all of the non-seat areas in the venue, including the pool and patio.
The ticketed seats sell out often, Palma said.
Palma said the company hopes to expand the concept elsewhere — like Sun Life Stadium, for a start.
The bar is also aggressively marketing for business during non-game days. Palma said about a dozen Christmas parties are already booked.
For football season, he said, he’s planning to open the Clevelander for Sunday games even when the Marlins aren’t in town. That is set to start on Sept. 9.
“We bought the licensing so we can open it year-round,” Palma said. “I think football is a good starting piece. There’s something nostalgic about being in a stadium even though it’s empty.”
The bar is typically open two hours before games to ticketholders and, once the game ends, for another couple of hours to anyone. The back patio games were added in mid-July and immediately drew crowds.
“We just tried to say, ‘Hey, while you’re here, do what you want to do,” Palma said. “Baseball can get boring. It’s a long game. People tune out.”
Samson said the organization doesn’t mind if guests are otherwise occupied at the Clevelander.
“People just love it and we’re ok with them there during the game when they’re watching other sports on TV or they’re enjoying drinks by the pool and not really realizing what the score is,” he said.
Ledan and Perez, the friends who attended a July 28 game with season tickets, said they had debated whether to shell out an extra $10 to hit the Clevelander.
“We were like, are we going to get our money’s worth?” said Perez, 26. But he pointed out the pool, and the dancers, and the bullpen view and surrounding people snapping pictures of it all. “We’re glad we spent it,” he said.
Not much time passed before Justin Ruggiano hit a home run ball into the Clevelander’s seating area and set off the neighboring home run sculpture.
Perez took it all in and repeated: “It was worth it.”
CLUB RED AT BANKATLANTIC CENTER
Unlike other South Florida teams, the Florida Panthers are not bringing in an outside brand that’s already a known quantity. Instead, the team’s parent company, which controls the lease at the county-owned BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, is creating its own brand: Club RED, named for the team color.
The 12,000-square-foot members-only lounge, by the arena’s front entrance, includes a 60-foot bar, lounge areas, all-you-can eat food serving stations — and lots of red design elements.
“This club’s about us,” said Michael Yormark, president and chief operating officer of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, parent company of the Panthers. “There are other organizations that have brought other preexisting brands into their building and they’ve used that to help market a unique experience. This is our experience. This is something that we’ve created.”
The club was already supposed to be open by now, but last season’s playoff run — in which the Panthers won the Southeast Division title — and the performances of Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion held up construction. County records show that about $5 million of an overall $7.7 million loan from the county is paying for the project; SSE expects the club to pay for itself between one and two years if it sells out as expected.
While the center already offers a fairly affordable all-inclusive club, Duffy’s, and a more expensive version called the ADT Club, a top-of-the-line option was missing.
“I refer to this as the Bentley,” Yormark said. “This would be the best of the best.”
The cost will reflect that. Access to the lounge and a seat for every concert, show and hockey game will run $16,500 a year; a package for just hockey games costs $9,500 annually. Included in the cost are food, wine, beer, dedicated valet service and a lower bowl seat on center ice for hockey games (stage right for concerts). The setup includes 633 seats for hockey games and 733 for concerts.
Many of those seats were formerly held by season ticket holders who were offered seats across from the club. Yormark said he had the “luxury” of having available seats for those fans to move into.
“A year or two from now when our hockey team continues to go back to the playoffs and hopefully, knock on wood, win a championship, I would not have had that opportunity,” he said.
He said sales so far are “pretty good” and he anticipates being sold out by the middle of the hockey season. Yormark said he’s confident that there’s a market for the product, despite the lingering effects of the recession.
“You’re always concerned about the economy,” he said. “But we still think the timing’s right. At the end of the day, Club RED can be a magnificent tool for a company to drive its business. There is a significant need to relationship build with your clients. What better way to do that than in Club RED?”
Davie-based landscaping business DynaServ was one of the first companies to buy Club RED memberships, trading up from the four ADT Club seats it had previously.
While company president John Reed said DynaServ owner Joseph Sirotkin and his wife Beverly should be the ones to break in the tickets, the company will use them throughout the year as rewards or incentives for employees.
The company bought the membership bundle that includes all concerts, events and hockey games.
“We got the total package,” Reed said. “You figure the whole thing out, it’s really a good deal.”
HYDE AMERICANAIRLINES ARENA
Whereas other clubs boast at least the option to reserve seats with a prime view of the action, Hyde AmericanAirlines Arena is more about partying before, after or between plays — or while listening to them.
There will be no view of the court from the super-exclusive club, except on screens. But the operators — who opened Hyde Lounge at Staples Center, a place the Los Angeles Times described as feeling “like a souped-up private jet teeming with high-rollers of every age and demographic” — believe it will become the place to be seen at the arena.
Los Angeles-based hospitality, real estate and entertainment company sbe also has Hyde Lounge locations in South Beach, Hollywood, California’s Mammoth Mountain and Las Vegas. The company opened the chic SLS Hotel South Beach earlier this summer; executives said sbe’s presence here made Miami a natural choice for an expansion into the arena. Levy Restaurants will partner with sbe on food and beverage at the lounge.
The venue will be open to season ticket holders and will charge a cover, though that amount has not yet been announced. Eventually, the lounge might accept reservations, said Michael Talansky, sbe’s director of operations.
“Hopefully if we’re successful, this will be the spot everyone wants to go to,” he said. “It’s not going to be a place just anyone in the arena can walk into.”
Eric Woolworth, president of the Miami Heat’s business operations, said the team has been looking for years to add a nightclub. The Grey Goose Lounge added some luxury cachet, but Woolworth said it’s small and can’t accommodate many people. After looking at local nightclub operators, the Heat decided sbe would be the best fit, especially because of their experience at Staples Center.
Construction is underway in the court level area that used to house part of the Miami Sol’s old locker room and a starbox lounge. Neither sbe nor the Heat would reveal the cost of the project or what they expect to make in revenues.
“It’s a partnership, so we’re sharing the costs to build the space and then that will translate to the operations and revenue split after the success of the venue,” Talansky said.
While Woolworth said he expects the space to be profitable, he is keeping those expectations reasonable.
“It’s not a very big space,” he said. “Hopefully it makes a positive contribution. But I think any of us would be fooling ourselves if we thought it would move the needle very far.”
The grand opening is set for the Miami Heat’s home opener on Oct. 30 with soft openings as early as September. Hyde AmericanAirlines Arena will be open during Heat games and other events at the arena initially; eventually, the operators could consider options for times when no events are scheduled.
Talansky said sbe and the Heat are working together to figure out packages and membership possibilities — a process complicated by the fact that season tickets to see the reigning NBA champions are already sold out. The Staples Center Hyde Lounge has a $5,000 membership level.
Woolworth said he’s not worried that the lounge’s intended audience will be scared off by high prices.
“There’s a segment of our fan base that has not only shown us but told us that it’s about enhancing the fun factor and raising our level of amenity,” he said. “There’s not that much concern about what it’s going to cost.”