Author: Dave Brooks
Date: May 30,2007

AEG has partnered with a Hartford company to take over two Madison
Square Garden Entertainment contracts in the Connecticut city.The
first is the Hartford Civic Center, home to the MSG-owned Hartford
Wolfpack of the American Hockey League, an affiliate of the
National Hockey League’s New York Rangers, who play at
Madison Square Garden in New York. Despite losing the contract, MSG
officials have decided to keep the Wolfpack as tenants in Hartford,
said Rangers COO Glen Sather during a press conference Tuesday. The
team agreed to stay at least four more years and possibly until
2013, when its lease ends. The second facility moving to AEG is the
40,000-seat Rentschler Field in East Hartford, home to the
University of Connecticut’s Huskies Football team. AEG will
collect about $150,000 a year plus incentives to run the facility
beginning on July 1, according to Connecticut’s Office of
Policy Management Senior Policy Advisor Mike Mehigan. Based on
performance, AEG could also get a cut of concessions and parking
revenue.The management shift began in March after the Connecticut
Development Authority terminated its Civic Center contact with MSG
and brought on Northland AEG, a partnership between AEG and
Northland Investment Corporation, the largest private property
owner in Hartford with $500 million in assets representing 4.2
million square feet of real estate.More bad news came for MSG in
May when the state announced it was pulling the plug on MSG’s
Rentschler Field contract, arguing that with a base of operations
nearly 100 miles away, MSG had become too “remote.”
“Since [MSG] lost the Civic Center deal, they really lost
their base of operations up here and we were concerned about them
remotely operating this field basically out of New York,”
said Michael Cicchetti, the state’s deputy budget director. A
clause in the contract with Connecticut Development Authority
allowed either party to terminate the deal should the Civic Center
contract no longer be in effect. The state put out a Request for
Proposal in March and received responses from AEG, Global Spectrum
and SMG, with SMG later pulling out of the talks. “We chose
Northland AEG because we liked the business model, liked the
connection to soccer and that they owned the content was very
important to us,” said Mehigan. The five-year deal has a
$250,000 guarantee requiring AEG to book 10 non-UConn football
events, seven of which will be soccer. For every event AEG
doesn’t delivery, it will pay a $25,000 penalty fee. The
Civic Center will continue to host Wolfpack games, with Northland
AEG taking over responsibility for the day-to-day business of the
team including marketing, sponsorships and ticket sales, while
Madison Square Garden and the Rangers will retain ownership of the
Wolf Pack and continue to be responsible for on-ice team decisions.
Northland AEG’s Civic Center contract runs six years and will
pay the state $1.5 million annually in rent, Cicchetti
said.Northland has been working for some time to bring an NHL team
to Hartford in hopes of revitalizing the downtown area. Company CEO
Lawrence Gottesdiener has said he would like to eventually see a
new NHL facility replace the Hartford Civic Center. But for now,
Gottesdiener will try to nurture the Pack. Though they have the
AHL's best overall record in their 10-year existence, the team drew
an average of only 2,674 fans for four home playoff games this
year. In the regular season, the average attendance was 4,563
— 18th of the 27 AHL teams.”We have the best of both worlds –
the best of the AHL while we pursue the NHL and a new arena,”
Gottesdiener said in a statement. “It's a win-win, and we're
looking forward to more championships.”AEG is considering bringing
a new Major League Soccer franchise to Rentschler, said AEG’s
Sims Hinds, vice president of business development. “We plan
to use the space for exhibitions for MLS soccer and we see the
potential for a franchise,” Hinds said. “The facility
is close to two MLS teams being the [AEG-owned] New York Red Bulls
and D.C. United. Hartford seems like a natural market.”Hinds
said AEG is ready to grow Hartford, which is the biggest television
market without a major league franchise, according to a 2004 report
by Nielsen Media Research. Hinds said he wants to use Rentschler
Field for international soccer matches, a potential Major League
Lacrosse team and music festival on par with the AEG-owned
Coachella and Stagecoach festivals in Indio, Calif., and the
AEG-booked Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle. UConn is also the alma
mater of AEG Facilities COO Bob Newman. The stadium will also be
looking at hosting some concerts in a 33,000-seat configuration,
although the talent-pool for events of that size is limited, Hinds
said. Rentschler Field is currently booked to host the Police Tour,
and Hinds said AEG is in the process of developing a stadium
network with its own soccer-specific facilities for AEG-sponsored
touring acts.Hinds said the company will maintain the majority of
employees at both facilities, although it has yet to name a general
manager for either facility. Northland AEG will be headquartered at
the Hartford Civic Center.Hinds said the new management partnership
will make several improvements to both facilities. The Civic Center
will get some new signage, along with an improved concessions
point-of-sale system. Rentschler Field will see $200,000 in
improvements, including a possible multi-function marquee.
Rentschler Field will also gain an improved tailgating area in its
parking lot with bathrooms and some concession stations. Hinds said
Northland AEG is actively pursuing naming rights deals for both
facilities.Interviewed for this story: Michael Cicchetti, (860)
418-6501; Sim Hinds, (336) 841-0371; Mike Mehigan (860) 251-8141 x