Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ryerson University Master Plan and Purchasing Maple Leaf Gardens

It has been announced that Ryerson University (alma matter of yours truly) has partnered with Loblaw Inc. and unveiled a new 60 million dollar plan that will retrofit Maple Leaf Gardens and turn it into a state of the art recreation facility for Ryerson students as well as retail space for a "Joe Fresh Style Loblaws".

Included in the plan is:

-A NHL-sized rink
-A four-lane, 200-metre running track
-Basketball and volleyball courts
-1,200-capacity bleachers
-A fitness centre
-A high-performance gym
-Food concessions

Loblaw Inc. is the current owner of the vacant building. As a result, this deal could not have gotten done without their involvement and a store being featured on its main floor. This is more than a victory for Ryerson University--it is a victory for Toronto as a landmark of this city and the surrounding area will be restored and brought back to life. This is better than a retrofitted condominium, a boutique hotel, or a Wal-Mart. This space will be used for students to maintain healthy active lifestyles, improve school spirit and be a place of learning. Anytime you can turn a vacant, dilapadated building and turn it into a place of learning is a win for the good guys.

For Ryerson University, the benefits are huge. Here's a plan which outlines what I encourage Ryerson University to from this point forward and what this announcement could mean for Ryerson in the years ahead:


Athletics departments do not turn around over night and unlike the NCAA, Canadian universities cannot give out scholarships for top high school athletes. As a result, there is extra importance placed on facilities and personnel. Adding a state-of-the-art facility to Ryerson's resume will make it that much more of a destination for high school athletes and Ryerson is encouraged to ensure that coaching staffs, trainers and management are well experienced, respected executives of interuniversity sport. This began with the hiring of coach Roy Rana for the varsity men's basketball teams and must continue to make Ryerson an ideal destination for athletic talent. Broadening recruitment staff will only help reach the best athletes available and help make sure every pitch is customized to the student's needs.


With a hockey arena on campus with seating structures designed to seat (I estimate) a couple thousand spectators, Ryerson must acknowledge a potential to capitalize on the novelty of a new arena and keep students interested in interuniversity sports. This involves making available full-time positions with the goal of generating revenue for varsity athletic events through ticket sales, concessions, and sponsorships and partnerships.

The new facility must:

-feature individual seats
-concession options as well as a liqour license
-offer an entertaining in-game experience
-be comfortable, inviting and professional
-simulate comparable sporting entertainment
-have competitively priced tickets

If they can manage to accomplish these requirements in designing both the basketball and hockey arena, they will be able to maximize revenue and attract the student population to games. An average attendance of 800 fans per game could generate significant revenue. If tickets are competitively priced at $3 and the average fan spends $5 on concessions, $6400 per game is not unrealistic. The money could then be added towards broadening sports programs. Combined with an added increased in student enthusiasm towards athletics, there could be strong support to fund other interuniversity athletics. Ryerson students voting in support of an increase in tuition to fund this facility is proof of a desire for improved athletic spirit.

Local Area

Maple Leaf Gardens is located on the Northwest corner of Carlton Street and Church Street, two city blocks from the north end of Ryerson University's main campus. While the recreation facilities will promote student traffic between the two locations, Ryerson's next step must be to connect the main campus to Maple Leaf Gardens with further university infrastructure. This will encourage traffic of the new facility and make the in between area controllable, nevermind the potential university buildings that could occupy this space.

On the space is three private residential highrise buildings (yellow) which are used by many students and a series of early 19th century homes (green). The blue indicates Ryerson buildings and the Red is Maple Leaf Gardens. It should be noted that the block is generally unpleasing to the eye.

Ryerson does not own this land, so they would need to acquire it house by house by highrise which is an expensive option. This is probably unavoidable but obtaining the land is crucial to create more space for students, improve the surrounding area (which Ryerson must see as a responsibility), and connect it to the athletics centre.

The best way that Ryerson University can leverage this space is through student housing. It represents an extraordinary potential to increase varisity athletics attendance and general use of the facility. Western University in London, Ontario accomodates just over 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students on campus while having less students enrolled than RU, which features living space for just over 800 students. And while Ryerson attracts a significant ratio of commuting students within the Greater Toronto Area, perhaps this is a function of its lack of living quarters. In any case, Ryerson needs more student housing for an ever increasing undergraduate and graduate student population. Retrofitting these high rise residential towers and 19th century homes could be an option to consider without having to build entirely new buildings.

A student housing population of 2,000 individuals makes a 10% success rate of varsity sports attendance at key home games a likely possibility with a giant coordinated effort (such as a one or two-off residence night) resulting in solid attendance numbers and increased revenue per game.

Jeff's Plan

Trying to be as detailed as possible, here is what I suggest for Ryerson University's north expansion.

-Expanding marketing/sales staff with full-time employees with goals to generate revenue through ticket sales and sponsorships
-Expanding recruitment staff, hiring well respected CIS coaches
-New Recreation Facility to feature 2,000 individual seats for hockey, 1,200 for basketball
-Several concessions available
-Expansion of a second campus pub within recreation facility
-Purchasing buildings in adjoining area
-Buildings to be retrofitted for 2,000 new beds for undergraduate students including living spaces for 500 graduate students
-Improvements to surrounding infrastructure to continue university culture (greenspace, university banners, signage, etc)
-Explore opportunities to broaden interuniversity athletics (football, baseball)

Ryerson has a long way to go just to keep up with the pace of enrollment, but this is a golden opportunity to capitalize on the novelty of a new athletics facility and to build a sustainable spirited student culture proud of both their in class achievements and on field achievements. The university has been very agressive in their expansion and there is every reason to believe that this will continue in the future.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What is a Classy Organization?

I've been thinking. I always hear someone say something like "Oh the Angels, what a classy organization". Or "Angels always take the classy route".

Likewise you also hear "The Isotopes, what a classless organization".

1)What does that mean?

2)What does classy mean to people, and why do people call some organizations classy and others not?

3)Does being classy translate into money?

I really don't know the answers to these questions but I think I will speculate a bit.

One, I think what people perceive about an organizations class rating depends alot on their own personal touchpoints with the organization and if there have been limited touch points (Let's say I'm a Manchester United fan living in Alaska) then it depends on what they've heard from other people (and if you're a Man U fan in Alaska chances are your no one you know in person has had all that many touchpoints either). After that, how the team does and the situation surrounding the team probably also have implications. By situation, I mean things like, is the organization corporately owned? Do they make a lot of money? Is the team any good? Are fans generally optimistic on the state of the team?

Ideally, I think your best situation is a privately owned team with visible ownership showing an interest to win and do win, and have stayed out of controversy. I think that this description more or less fits teams like the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Red Wings, Patriots, Celtics, and Manchester United. There's no doubt that the Yankees and Red Sox print money, but they really fit all other categories. Nobody [unbiased] says the Yankees don't have class. And by controversy, I'm not talking about steroids. I don't think individual player ethics factor into the organizations class ratings. I do think signing convicted criminals factors into an organization's perceived class.

But factors such as time are part of the equation. I thought about whether or not any NHL team would fit into this category. Eventually I realized that the Red Wings were the best bet but other than them, no other team is always really good, no team continually pleases their fans (like the Red Wings do anyways). So you have to build a track record of transparency, good ownership, winning, optimism. A positive space around the team.

Then once all of this has been accomplished, there may be one specific incident that can realyl take your organization from having class to being classy. A large scale tribute to someone who died aways seems to qualify. Not acknowledging appropriately someone who died could be class-rating suicide. A player leaving the team on a sour note might not turn a team around overnight but certainly contributes.

Lastly, I think that to be considered classy, you go through a whole bunch of steps that would cause you to make a lot of money to begin with. That having visible management would make you competitive and that winning makes you money in so many ways anyways. That said, if someone can find me an organization that is usually bad but is considered classy, I'm really all ears.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Making Your Product Available: Radio

A couple of days ago, Chuck Swirsky, radio play-by-play for the Chicago Bulls and ex-Toronto media personality commented on how great it was that the Bulls embraced their sports content in radio form. I must agree.

See the goal of any sports team, and company for that matter is to increase the distribution of a product as much as possible. This allows more people to have your product and more people to grow attached to it, use it. Radio is just as important as television (maybe more) because it is much more versatile. It can reach out to all sorts of people and isn't exclusive to location, income, or even time. Radios are welcome at workplaces, they're installed in cars and most personal listening devices are capable of tuning into stations. Radios are cheap, and radio feeds can be picked up through the internet anywhere in the world. The same cannot be said for television or live video feeds.

On top of this, financially, being able to claim that your radio network can reach an unlimited amount of people worldwide has significant implication on sponsorship/ad revenue on radio stations. Radio play-by-play also invited people to tune into pre and post game shows, daytime talk shows and other relevant discussion about the team being covered. Again, television does not always allow the type of coverage for a sports team that radio can provide.

In conclusion, when teams are committing to radio, they are committing to making their product as widely distributed and available as possible. They are allowing people to invest a small amount of time or commitment in the team and in a grassroots method allowing them to build on that commitment. The wide distribution creates fans and gives a competitive advantage over the competition.

In about 140 characters, I communicated my agreement at Chuck, who responded:

Thanks, Chuck!

You can read Chuck's blog at http://blogs.bulls.com/ or find him on twitter @swirsk054. He continues to one of the most fresh and entertaining personalities in the world of sports and Chicago is lucky to have him.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Washington Redskins Sue Season Ticket Holders

Hi all, I've had some time off but am getting back into the swing of things with some news and ideas I figured I should comment and talk about.

Washington Redskins sue season ticket holders.

On Oct. 8, the Redskins sued Hill in Prince George's County Circuit Court for backing out of a 10-year ticket-renewal agreement after the first year. The team sought payment for every season through 2017, plus interest, attorneys' fees and court costs.

In response:

"The Washington Redskins routinely works out payment plans and alternate arrangements with hundreds of ticket holders every year," Donovan [general counsel] said. "For every one we sue, I would guess we work out a deal with half a dozen."

The total judgement was for $66,000 or .00066% of star defensive tackle, Albert Haynesworth's record contract of 100 million dollars over seven years. Clearly the organization is looking to stay afloat and hopefully break-even. I wonder if they're paying someone $60,000 a year to just look up all the unpaid season ticket accounts.

I won't even get into the morality of suing your own fans, but financially the move makes little sense. What are the chances that a 72 year old season ticket holder has grandchildren in the Washington area? And what are the chances that they are also Redskins fans (because of her!)and might want to take over the season tickets one day for their grandmother's beloved Redskins? What exactly are the chances that anyone in this lady's family wants to spend a dime on this team? Her friends? Anyone who reads this article?

The negative press was entirely forseeable and I would not be surprised to see the costs of suing your fans exceeding the money recovered from unpaid season subscriptions, and the complete loss of goodwill that the team had. I would encourage the Redskins front office to take a lesson in ethics, customer service, and public relations. Never take your fans for granted, nevermind bankrupting them.

The justification for suing these fans seems to be that they only sue one for every six. How about not suing them at all, cancelling their subscription or maybe relocating them to a less expensive seat and forgoing the cost due to the hard times? Why not appreciate the fan's dedication for years of time and money spent and pick them up for a season? I understand that giving tickets away for free is generally a bad idea but in this situation, there is a heckuvalot of good will to be gained from a program designed to help fans keep their seats, or keep them in the game.

Low employment rates and bad credit don't necessarily last forever. Good times happen again, and the Redskins will regret the day that they decided to take to court, the several hundred people who supported them through thick and thin.

It just reeks of coldness and greed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Maximizing Fan Value at Minimal Cost

Account Executives and Ticket Representatives continually look for ways to maximize value for the fan: and why not? The economy has caused people to rethink their disposable income spending habits and sports have taken a major hit. The time is now for these executives to sink or swim: they must find ways to increase their value on their product while maintaining or even lowering price.

Recessions don't last forever. The economy is an endless cycle of peaks and valleys, and with those, come people's buying habits. In tough times, customer retention is more important than the average amount of money spent per client. They will remember your willingness to negotiate, or for finding them a cheaper ticket package, or giving them a good deal. I believe that this goodwill will be remembered during the good times, and will make a very loyal customer out of them. And after all, people have some fairly jaded views on sports as entertainment--overpaid athletes, poor in stadium service, cold hot dogs, warm beers. A good deed goes a long way in a weary world. It's a very attainable competitive advantage.

So in searching for ways to generate value while maintaining price structures, look for ways to eliminate costs in going to the game without devaluing the product (the ticket, the game itself). Executives may want to try food voucher campaigns, giving season ticket holders a voucher for a hot dog and a drink for every game. If it costs $0.20 (if that) to prepare a hot dog, and a drink, then the maximum expense to the team is $16. In exchange, they have retained a customer which could be worth $1,500 in season tickets in tough times, and $5,000 in season tickets during good times. And for those 81 nights each season, they won't have to cook dinner, which saves them some money as well. Customized jersey giveaways help as well, though not as directly related to basic expenses of everyday life that you try and eliminate.

You may even want to include a partnership with a local hotel in the area. Hotels are similiar to sports entertainment in that they rise and fall with the economy, and very often they give up empty hotel rooms for bottom basement prices which can be found on places like hotwire.com and priceline.com. If you incude the price of a one night stay ($40, as comparable to priceline.com) in the season seat package of $1,000, the added cost is almost meaningless compared to the overall seat price, and you can offer them a complete weekend vacation to watch their team. Include a special meet-and-greet with a player before one of those games, and you've created an incredibly amount of value for only $40.

Whether teams adopt this particular idea isn't the complete point. It's about making the value perception to the fan as big as possible in comparison to the cost of the organization.