Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Tribe In The Media: NY Times Article On Tribe's Deal With Yankees

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This installment of The Tribe In The Media is an article in today's New York Times about the controversy generated by the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in the new New York Yankees baseball stadium.

Mohegan Sun’s View: Don’t Blame Us
By Richard Sandomir
New York Times
April 9, 2009

The view from behind the tinted windows of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in the center-field bleachers of the new Yankee Stadium is a lovely, unimpeded one.

If Jeffrey Maier had interfered with Tony Tarasco’s attempt to catch Derek Jeter’s home run in the 1996 American League Championship Series in the current stadium, fans in Section 239 would have seen it — but only on the television sets embedded in the walls.

All this rightly concerns Mitchell Etess, the president and chief executive of the Mohegan Sun. The hotel and casino, based in Uncasville, Conn., was already a Yankees sponsor and extended its presence last May with a naming rights deal through 2011 for the sports bar.

“We don’t want to be held responsible for the impact the facility has on the view of seats there,” Etess said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “We had no say in the construction of the Stadium, and I’m certain that this was designed long before we made the deal.” The Mohegan Sun has nothing to do with the running or the profits of the sports bar; it only has its name on it.

Etess said it wasn’t until recently — “along with everyone else” — that he learned the sports bar was part of the bleacher protrusion that will obscure the views of up to 1,048 fans. For their trouble, the Yankees belatedly cut prices in Sections 201 and 239 to $5 (all others pay $12 to $14).

Alice McGillion, a Yankees spokeswoman, said Etess almost certainly was not told of the shadow that would be caused by the sports bar/bleacher cafe. “Since there are no obstructed seats in the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar, it wouldn’t necessarily have come up,” she said.

But the reality that the Mohegan’s name would be on the 4,900-square-foot sports bar that blocks fans’ views is a material fact that should have been disclosed by the Yankees and also pursued by the hotel-casino — especially because it’s not cheap to buy the naming rights. The Yankees and the Mohegan Sun would not disclose the price of the deal.

Jim Andrews, a senior vice president of IEG, a sponsorship research, valuation and consulting company in Chicago, said that the minimum price was probably $1 million but that the “multiplier for new Yankee Stadium was probably two or three, so it’s probably $2 million or more.” But, he added, “You’re not paying to be associated with an obstructed view.”

He said he was surprised that the Mohegan Sun didn’t demand to see how the sports bar/bleacher cafe would be built. “If I’m the Mohegan Sun, I’m not happy,” Andrews said.

Ross Sheingold, who runs the New Stadium Insider blog, said by e-mail that the Yankees, not the Mohegan Sun, were to blame. “The Yankees are likely too stubborn to do this,” he wrote, “but it might not be a bad idea to tear the sports bar down and go back to the drawing board.”

Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, said, “I don’t think so,” when asked if the team would take those 1,048 seats out of circulation, paint them black and expand the batter’s eye.

He said the team could have had no seats or unobstructed ones in that area. “The decision was to do obstructed seats — those few seats — and we’re pleased,” he said. “They’ve sold out.”

The goal was to cash in on the center-field expanse that the Yankees had not monetized in the old stadium where the batter’s eye was. Having cut the original $12 list price of those 1,048 seats by $7 will mean losing about $600,000 this season if all 81 home games sell out.

But that will be more than made up by revenue from the sports bar’s rights fees, food and beverage sales, tickets ($90 to $95 each) and memberships (of a price not yet announced) to certain season-ticket holders, and from the concession sales at the bleacher cafe.

The team is certain that its fans are happy with $5 seats in these recessionary times. “People like you might have a problem, but fans are eating them up,” Levine said. “They’re in phenomenal demand, at $5. The average paying customers don’t have a problem yet.”

Yet. Only fans who attended the two exhibition games against the Cubs last Friday and Saturday could judge the views, and not all were pleased. The real test will start on opening day next Thursday. Will fans paying $5 accept the discount view for the discount price? And will they try to ameliorate the obstructions by wandering to the terrace at the bleacher cafe for a better vista?

Last Friday, security hustled fans lingering on the terrace back to their seats after they bought their food. But Levine said: “They can stand in the terrace as long as they want. There are no hall monitors.” But, he said, if too many fans stand there, safety concerns might lead security to direct people back to their seats. “It’s a common-sense approach.”