Though it’s very unlikely there will be a buyer, Onondaga County has put Alliance Bank Stadium, the home of the Syracuse Chiefs (Class AAA; International League) on the market as part of a larger effort to find a private operator for its sports and convention venues.
The Chiefs have been the lessee of the ballpark since it opened in 1996. The county sent letters last week to venue managers soliciting proposals to “manage, operate and market any or all of” the ballpark, the Onondaga County Convention Center and the War Memorial Complex, which features an arena and two theaters. Invited to bid on the management contract: AEG, the Chiefs, Delaware North, DSF Sports, Global Spectrum, International Facilities Group, Mandalay Baseball, SMG and VenuWorks. The county also technically offered all of these venues for sale, but it’s highly unlike a buyer will step forward.
Having venue managers for an arena and convention center is a no-brainer; the likes of SMG and VenuWorks specialize in these tasks. But having a venue manager for a ballpark is a completely different matter.
In general, the tenants of an arena and performing-art center have no interest or expertise in managing a venue: you don’t see too many AHL or ECHL teams seeking to manage their own venue because a pro hockey team plays a relatively small number of dates compared to events like concerts and traveling shows.
But most baseball teams are in a good position to manage their own venues because a team plays the majority of the dates in the ballpark. There’s also a financial issue: with the baseball team generating most of the revenues and profits at a ballpark, there’s generally not enough left to sustain a third-party operator. (Outsourcing concessions, of course, is a different matter; that’s where the likes of Delaware North and Professional Sports Catering comes in.) The goal for Onondaga County: decrease the million-dollar annual subsidy for the ballpark.
In fact, there aren’t many examples of a third party totally operating a ballpark: the Memphis Redbirds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) are managed by Global Spectrum, better known for arena and venue management, but that’s a unique situation unlikely to be replicated with a typical private team ownership any time soon.
So we’ll see how successful Onondaga County is in attracting an operator for Alliance Bank Stadium. The county also has to secure a new lease for the Chiefs, with the goal a ten-year agreement. The team will submit a bid to manage the ballpark, and we’re guessing any changes will be limited to concessions.
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