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The ball's in his court

Super Bowl, WWE just the start as stadium CEO makes play for biggest events

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Brad Mayne outside MetLife Stadium. He's just started his second year as CEO of the East Rutherford stadium.
Brad Mayne outside MetLife Stadium. He's just started his second year as CEO of the East Rutherford stadium. - (AARON HOUSTON)

All the attention MetLife Stadium has received in the three years it's been open is just a warm-up to February, when the home of the New York Jets and Giants hosts the Super Bowl.

 

For Brad Mayne, the challenge is keeping the spotlight trained on the East Rutherford stadium after the game is played and the TV crews have departed.

The young stadium already has hosted high-profile acts and events — such as WrestleMania, in April, and Taylor Swift's summer tour in July — alongside the home games of two high-profile NFL teams. Last year, it was the top-grossing U.S. venue, but Mayne, now in his second year as president and CEO, wants to get bigger, and is looking at motor sports, international soccer and pop stars to get there.

"There's only a certain number of other events that will sell enough tickets to warrant moving into a stadium," said Mayne, a longtime arena executive in Dallas and Anaheim, Calif.

Among those events may be British boy band One Direction, which "is one of those acts that have become really strong, and we're sure will be moving into the stadiums soon," he said. "So we're going to continue to look for those kinds of opportunities."

Meanwhile, it's already putting other top-flight events on its calendar. Monster Energy AMA Supercross, a high-flying motorcycle racing series that drew more than 830,000 fans last year nationwide, is coming to MetLife in April. In a recent soft ticket sale, the venue outperformed the other 16 stadiums that will host Supercross, Mayne said.

The stadium's ability to draw more than a football crowd is getting noticed by people such as Jim Kirkos, president and CEO of the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"For us, that's a great thing," Kirkos said. "For the region, that's a great thing, because we have the ability to continue to bring people in."

The push to bring new events to the stadium dovetails with a new focus for the state Sports & Exposition Authority, the landlord of the Meadowlands Sports Complex and longtime operator of MetLife's predecessor, Giants Stadium. Wayne Hasenbalg, the agency's president and CEO, said the "the business of bringing events is true competition," so a show of support from a state agency can be critical.

"It's not like it used to be," Hasenbalg said. "It's not like people are knocking on your door saying 'please let us use your stadium.' You have to go out there and compete."

Public-private cooperation stands to pay off for the Super Bowl, as it did when a contingent of state officials, stadium executives and business leaders convinced World Wrestling Entertainment to bring WrestleMania to MetLife Stadium.

But as of now, state support does not extend to financial incentives, which surprised Mayne after having access to funding sources in Dallas and Anaheim. He said "every event is looking for the best deal," though a subsidy is just one of many factors at play.

"The challenge is to know what criteria the event promoters are looking for and offer them an attractive package that makes us a must-play stadium," Mayne said.

But the sports authority's new mandate is still a work in progress after getting legislative approval last year. As the agency develops a formal strategy, Hasenbalg said it has studied incentive programs used by other jurisdictions to attract sports and entertainment events, and "it is something that might be part of what we propose when we finally present our business plan."

As big events go, WrestleMania was a dress rehearsal for the Super Bowl, grossing $12.3 million to become the highest-grossing entertainment event in MetLife's history. It also was a taste of how a major event can pull from beyond the region — more than 80,000 fans from every state and 34 countries attended the show.

Mayne and his team have that on their minds as they look toward events such as international soccer and college football. He pointed to last month's game between Syracuse and Penn State, noting both schools sold tickets on campus, "so there were a lot of people who aren't normally in this marketplace that came in for that event."

MetLife is scheduled host Syracuse and Notre Dame next fall, and again in 2016.

"We're trying to pick up events that are going to bring people into the community who are going to spend money, stay in hotels, use the restaurants," Mayne said.

That mindset resonates with local business leaders such as Kirkos, who said Mayne "really understands the role of organizations like ours." And stadium events can be "the crux" of efforts to raise the Meadowlands' profile as a tourist destination.

"I don't know how you get more visible than the Super Bowl, but the fact of the matter is, we have the tools here to continue to really be creative," he said.

Kirkos, who also heads the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, also said WrestleMania was something of a wakeup call to local business owners. Despite widespread efforts to prepare them, many hadn't spruced up their operations to welcome and handle the influx of visitors.

But Kirkos doesn't expect anyone to be caught off guard for the next big event.

"They're now believers," he said.

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @joshburdnj

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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