I decided last week that I wanted to buy a luxury football suite. xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxThe idea was not mine, I must confess. Albie Del Favero, the Scene’s publisher, first broached the notion.
“Bruce,” Albie said one day, “what say we go buy us a suite?” I thought for a while. Albie thought for a while. Then he said, “Got any idea who we might split one with?”
Over the next few days, a couple of calls came in from the offices of TENNFL, the group promoting the suite sales. TENNFL wanted us to attend a presentation for prospective suite buyers. Several time slots were available; we picked a Thursday meeting in a NationsBank dining room. As it turned out, Albie had a scheduling conflict. I was to be a one-man delegation from the Nashville Scene and its parent corporation, City Press Publishing Inc., at the Dream Suite preview presentation.
Before the meeting, I did some math. Since the total tab for a suite was going to be in the $100,000 range, I figured, we would have to share a suite with, say, about 10 other companies.
I sketched out potential partners, people with whom we had solid business relationships, people who just might like to have a key to a pro football suite. My list of priority partners included Futons Unfolding, Cindi Earl Fine Jewelry, Faison’s Restaurants, Davis-Kidd Booksellers and The Corner Market. We knew them; they knew us. We figured they had a little extra money, and that they sometimes had clients they might want to entertain. Davis-Kidd, for instance, could close a bookstore appearance by Maya Angelou by treating her to an Oilers game. Jody Faison could let his 12th & Porter waiter-of-the-month take a couple of friends up to the suite.
Even at $10,000, of course, we were still going to take a pretty big hit. I figured that, once we had lined up other companies to share the burden, we’d have to make it clear, right up front, that everybody would be responsible for his own chips and beer. Nobody was going to mooch off the Scene. And nobody would be paying those top-dollar beverage and snack prices at the stadium. I figured we could even save on housekeeping: We would put a little piece of paper on the refrigerator divvying up the suite-cleaning assignments. (Cindi loads the dishwasher; Jim and Emily Frith check the T.P.)
In my new role as the Nashville Scene’s professional football liaison, I was growing excited about closing the Dream Suite deal. I walked into the NationsBank preview luncheon feeling like I was on top of my game. I was led to a room furnished with polished hardwood tables. The carpet was a deep blue, flecked with red, and the walls were decorated with somber paintings: landscapes, sailboats and rocky ocean-front scenes. I breathed deeply. I was in the company of heavy hitters. I was, for all intents and purposes, one of them.
Someone gave me a large folder; on the cover there was a football player, along with the words, “Live the Dream.” I sat down, tingling with excitement about joining this great, common enterprise, a common cause for the entire business community. I was so glad to be a part.
My tablemate for lunch was the chairman of a locally based health-care company, which, he said, owns about 40 hospitals in smaller markets. One table over was DeWitt Ezell, president of BellSouth Tennessee. Seated near him was Jerry Benefield, president and CEO of Nissan Motor Manufacturing in Smyrna. Sam Bartholomew and Lew Conner, two of the city’s leading attorneys, were there. In the corners of the room, bankers sprouted up like weeds.
Sipping my fruit tea, I opened the folder only to find a contract staring me straight in the face. It was called a “Dream Suites Limited Partnership.” I looked at the color photographs of dream suites and envisioned the helluva rocking party the Scene could throw in such a place. Then I was interrupted by lunch.
Lunch was a chicken breast in a dark, spicy sauce with a side order of wild rice and string beans with carrot shavings. Dessert consisted of a heavily conflicted banana cream pie topped with a strawberry and chocolate sauce. Except for the dessert, lunch was an unqualified success.
Suddenly, a hush fell over the room, and a young man, tall, with close-cropped hair, started speaking. He was Bill Wainwright, coordinator of luxury suite sales. He was wearing the same gray suit that 39 other guys in the room were wearing.
“What kind of advantages does a suite have?” Wainwright asked rhetorically. “It’s tough to name them all.” Bill’s a straight shooter, I thought. I like that in a man.
Wainwright began by telling a story. He said that one of his suiteholders in Houston used to have regular seats in the stadium. According to Wainwright, the man brought a lot of business clients to Oiler games. The man started complaining that, since he always had a beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other, “he couldn’t entertain his guests. He always had his hands full, and he was always having to get up and order more hot dogs and beer.” Wainwright said the man got fed up and bought a suite. “Suites are about contact with the customer. It’s a good way to do business.”
The slide show began. Dean Albright, a chipper woman from Muhleman Marketing, the firm handling all suite sales, said that the “excitement in Nashville’s civic and corporate support has been phenomenal.” She flipped to a slide depicting a suite. “You have a bar, you have televisions, you have chairs.” She added that the TVs are programmed to show any NFL game you want to watch. The next slide showed another suite. “The renderings do not do the suite justice.” Later came a slide showing the private club that all suite owners can use. “It’s as nice as any private club you’ve ever been in,” she said.
Then we were into the bucks. Suites between the 40-yard lines cost $125,000, Albright said. Between the 30- and 40-yard lines, they’re $95,000. Suite prices decrease the further downfield you go, all the way down to $50,000 for those between the goal line and the end zone.
Price increases would be slow and gentle, we were assured; applications were due soon. You would have to write a check before Dec. 13 if you wanted to be assured of being considered a “top priority” purchaser of a suite.
The pluses went on. The Oilers, Wainwright pointed out, are not just another football team. “They are really fan friendly,” he stated. Once a year, for instance, the Oilers take all of the suite owners on a road trip to a football game, and the team picks up the airfare and hotel rooms. “And we don’t take you to Green Bay in December,” he assured us.
The suites themselves aren’t sealed off from the actual game, he added. They have sliding glass panels that open onto the field below. If the weather is chilly or too hot, of course, they can be sealed up for climate control.
The suites also come equipped with options on two Super Bowl tickets, which Wainwright described as “great marketing tools for clients.” Suite owners also get VIP parking passes, private entrances, local telephone service, a bathroomand more.
Toward the end of the presentation, Sam Bartholomew, chairman of the local “Just Build It Committee,” offered a few comments. He said that “candidly, suites have been going very, very quickly,” and he added, “If you can close today, you need to close today. Some of you may need board approval or whatever, but these things are going fast.”
As the presentation came to a close, someone asked whether any checks had already come in that day. “Benefield,” someone said. Everyone looked at Nissan CEO Jerry Benefield and offered a round of applause. He had apparently brought his check. He nodded, smiling.
I rose to leave the meeting with the folder under my arm. People in the room were beaming. Many were shaking hands with the NationsBank bankers who had sponsored the lunch. Thanks were offered all around.
Riding back down on the elevator, I decided that I would report back to Albie that, this year, a suite might be a little beyond our reach. I would say that I liked football as much as the next guy but that the contract would lock us in for several years. All told, I decided, buying a suite might make us seem pretty big for our britches.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t want to be in some climate-controlled suite anyway, far removed from the action. I wanted to be out in the middle of the crowd, sitting next to people in blue jeans and T-shirts, yelling at the refs and throwing peanut shells to the ground. I wanted to drink a beer just like the next guy, eat nachos, gorge on hot dogs. I wanted to feel the stadium roar and feel the air tremble. I wanted the football experience.
We are now inquiring about some PSLs.
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