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Arena Marketing Report Hidden 

Councilmembers unaware of report showing lukewarm fan interest

A marketing report that appears to have been buried by the city staff showed a lukewarm response among potential basketball fans to buying tickets to events at a new arena. Most of those surveyed seemed willing to try out the new arena once it's built, but only on a limited basis at first.The report, which also made general design suggestions for the arena, emphasized the importance of making the new uptown arena a "populist," "unpretentious" place with a main lobby that makes everyone entering the building feel welcome. Then in the next paragraph, it says a private club bar -- which wouldn't be open to general admission ticket holders -- should overlook the entrance.

"The theme of unpretentiousness should be communicated through the use of non-opulent finishes," the report reads. The consultant's report, which cost the City of Charlotte $150,000, never defined "non-opulent finish," but made it clear that the "populist" theme at the new arena wouldn't go so far as allowing general admission fans into bar and dining areas restricted to high-priced seat and suite holders.

The report warns against creating "exclusionary environments," but at the same time suggests that the food vendors located closest to mid-court should be "differentiated" from others further away with additional food offerings, since they're located closer to premium seating.

The report was produced by IMG Solutions, which is part of the sports consulting company founded by Max Muhleman, who helped Hornets owner George Shinn bring the team to Charlotte. Muhleman has been a longtime supporter of the city's effort to build a new arena uptown, and at times helped the campaigns for a new arena by writing pro-arena editorials and speaking to groups.

Because the fee for the study was buried in a list of arena budget expenses which city staff initially told him were for legal services, Charlotte City Council member John Tabor was surprised to find that the staff authorized $150,000 for the study. Tabor had never seen the study when we asked him about it. The inch-thick report, which was delivered to the city staff in November, wasn't passed on to council members, say Tabor and council member Don Lochman, neither of whom were given a copy.

The consultant's report, which analyzed the desires of potential ticket buyers, found that new ownership is not a decisive factor for most potential ticket buyers and that the "pains and anger" engendered by the previous team ownership remains. On the flip side, people are excited by the prospect of a new arena downtown as long as the building is a "unique" one.

"The eagerness for an exciting new building will likely turn negative if the new arena is a look-alike," the report says.

If the report is an accurate indicator, city leaders will have difficulty accomplishing their goal of having pedestrians stroll to the new arena after work. Several respondents who work downtown said they'd have to drive home to get the kids first. And they want parking at reasonable rates within two to three blocks of the arena, an important factor which the report says "will weigh strongly in their perception of their game and event experience." Whether those spaces will be available to general admission ticket holders is unclear, since the report recommends that club and suite holders be given parking passes and that parking space location preference given to suite holders. Populism, as we know, won't stretch all the way to the parking decks.

The report also found that season tickets are no longer the rage with potential NBA fans, as they were when Charlotte built its first arena on Tyvola Road. According to the report, potential fans had moderate to low levels of interest in buying season tickets. Instead, they were interested in single-game ticket purchases or mini-packages of 10 to 12 games.

While many of the 245 people surveyed indicated that they were excited by the prospect of a new arena and a new NBA basketball franchise, the study also noted that many fans say they have "lost interest" in the NBA. Reasons cited include "street ball style," fewer recognizable names and quality of effort and the attitude of some players.

"There appears to be a significant amount of indecision among higher income, most-capable season ticket buyers," according to the report.

There was only a small positive interest in buying permanent seat licenses, or PSLs. Those surveyed said their interest in PSLs might be greater if a PSL entitled the seat owner to first right of refusal for tickets for non-NBA events such as concerts. While IMG did not appear to have seriously analyzed the interest in corporate suites, it noted that during a business-led drive last year, there were 62 expressions of interest in leasing the 70 luxury suites the arena will likely hold.

IMG Solutions predicted that average game attendance would be 13,000 to 14,000 with an aggressive marketing campaign, and that an especially compelling building design could add at least 1,000 more.

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