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Pirates Extra cash bought some fans a suite deal

Sold-out luxury boxes are nicely appointed, close to the action

Sunday, April 15, 2001

By Lori Shontz, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Walking into the luxury suites at PNC Park, said Susan Smith, Pirates director of premium services, should feel like "walking into your living room."

The interior of a luxury box at PNC Park. (John Beale)

Which is true only if your living room has a soft, brown leather couch, granite countertops and a close-up view of the action on the field at PNC Park.

One of the primary reasons the Pirates said they needed a new stadium was because at Three Rivers Stadium, they didn't have the kind of luxury boxes that would allow them to generate increased revenue. PNC Park has 65 luxury suites, about half the number that were in Three Rivers, but they have been carefully designed to cater to the buyers who have paid between $60,000 and $175,000 a season for the privilege.

To start with, they are bigger. A suite at PNC Park encompasses 640 square feet, compared to 325 square feet at Three Rivers.

Focus groups showed that box holders at Three Rivers wanted to control the temperature in their own boxes, more counter space for buffets, a place to hide the unsightly garbage can and a place to hang their coats. All of those suggestions have been adapted in the PNC Park suites, along with a private bathroom.

The 13 Founder's Suites, which are behind home plate, have additional features -- the granite countertops, hardwood floors, crown molding and stone tile in the restrooms.

"Three Rivers Stadium was old," said Vic Gregovits, Pirates vice president for marketing and broadcasting. "Some of these upgrades are just the industry standard."

Fans aren't going to be able to wander into the suites level as they were at Three Rivers Stadium; suites ticket holders will have two entrances separate from the rest of the fans. "At Three Rivers, it was easy to get to the suite level," Gregovits said. "But we're going to have different color-coded tickets, and our staff will restrict access."

All of the suites are closer to the action than they were at Three Rivers. The suite level hangs underneath the stadium's second level, putting the first- and third-base seats 40 feet closer to the action than they were in Three Rivers. The open-air seating outside the box further gets the customer into the atmosphere of the game.

Each suite holder gets 15 tickets per game with the option to buy four more. There are four bar-stool seats at a counter inside the suite that look out at the action, five chairs with wheels outside and six fixed seats two steps down from the suite's sliding glass door.

The Pirates sold all 65 suites during a six-week period in the spring of 1999, thanks not only to the amenities, but to a high-tech sales job. Prospective buyers were invited to get a feel for the new ballpark by visiting a replica of a luxury suite the Pirates built on the 19th floor of Gateway Center One.

When the interested parties arrived, they were treated to a multi-media presentation that included not only highlights of great Pirates moments, but a virtual reality tour of PNC Park. A computerized diagram of the park screen was projected onto a big screen, and Smith and Gregovits could click on various suites to show what the view would be like.

Prospective buyers could check out their sight lines to the field, see what they would observe if they turned their heads from side to side and pick out their company's building from the detail of the city's skyline. And after the presentation, a screen raised and the attendees got a view of the stadium-in-progress.

Everyone got to sample a dessert from the suites' caterer, Levy Foods, which specializes in sweets like candy apples and chocolate turtles. Some of the buyers even got their tour from Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy, who enjoyed playing host from time to time.

"Once we got people in here," Smith said, "our closing rate was really high."

Smith started as the Pirates director of premium sales. Now that there's nothing left to sell, her title has changed to director of premium services, a new position with the club.

The Pirates have control of their luxury suites for the first time; at Three Rivers, the stadium authority managed them. The suites have spawned a new department at the Pirates, the department of premium services, which exists to take care of the customers in the luxury suites.

"It's the first time the Pirates have had a department that its first priority is to take care of the suite holders," Gregovits said. "We can answer questions or solve problems. There will be someone there if someone just wants to have a cake baked for little Junior's birthday party."

PNC Park also has another level of premium seating, club seating, which features extra leg room and plusher seats in the field level and upper deck. Customers pay a one-time fee of $2,000 to $6,000, depending on location, and retain the rights to the seat as long as they purchase season tickets.

Purchase of a premium seat includes membership in one of the private clubs in the stadium.

Next: When it comes to parking, the Pirates want walks

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