Marc Farha (left) and Charlie Thornton have both been with CAA Icon for more than 17 years. (Courtesy CAA Icon)

Romani promoted to chairman, will focus on international

CAA Icon has promoted Marc Farha and Charlie Thornton to co-CEO as the owner’s representative expands to consulting for teams to reopen venues post-COVID-19 and pursues new business outside of sports development.

Tim Romani, CEO since co-founding Icon Venue Group with AEG in 2004, has been promoted to chairman of CAA Icon. Romani will focus on growing the firm’s international business and fill the role of adviser to Farha and Thornton.

CAA Sports acquired Icon Venue Group in 2016, four years after Romani bought AEG’s share of his firm.

Farha and Thornton have both worked for the company for more than 17 years. 

Farha works out of Charlotte. He has worked with Romani since the development of Pepsi Center in Denver in the late 1990s, a few years before Icon Venue Group was formed. 

Thornton, based in Denver, where the company is based, joined Icon in the early 2000s after working on the construction side to build Invesco Field at Mile High (now Empower Field), home of the NFL’s Broncos. At the time, Romani was the owner’s representative for the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, owner of the stadium.

Uncertainty dominates the development of arenas and stadiums because of the pandemic, but CAA Icon so far has weathered the storm. Its eight projects under construction, six in sports, are categorized as essential work and continue to evolve with minimal interruptions due to the coronavirus. 

As a result, none of the 90 full-time employees have been laid off or furloughed, Farha said.

The crisis has opened a new line of business, which CAA Icon officials refer to as recovery advisory services.

As leagues and teams work together to plan for reopening their buildings in the coming year, they have turned to experts such as CAA Icon to consult on new policies and upgrades required to bring fans back to the venues. 

The firm is working with Major League Soccer, plus the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates, and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks, among others, to complete facility assessments. The Penguins have been a CAA Icon client for 13 years, since the development of PPG Paints Arena. The Pirates are a new account, Farha said. 

The work extends to examining back-of-house and fan-facing spaces, eliminating touch points, reinventing food and retail concessions, repurposing security and entry sequences and determining the appropriate technologies to apply in all those areas, Farha said. 

In Milwaukee, CAA Icon is helping Wisconsin Center, the  city’s convention facility, develop new procedures to get its employees back to work. It’s consulting on a $425 million expansion project that’s been put on hold because of the pandemic.

“There hasn’t been an industry more decimated by the pandemic than sports and entertainment,” Farha said. “We felt an obligation to help. We provide recommendations as they first try to figure out how to open their offices to eventually welcoming fans back into their venues.”

Thornton’s most recent project has been Allegiant Stadium, where CAA Icon is owner’s representative for the NFL Las Vegas Raiders’ $2 billion facility, which the team opened Monday night with a victory over New Orleans. 

As Thornton wraps up those duties, he turns his attention to another project in Las Vegas. Xpress West is a $5 billion high-speed rail line project proposed between Los Angeles and Vegas. CAA Icon is responsible for developing train stations along the 170-mile rail line, which could potentially include a stop near Allegiant Stadium, Thornton said. Groundbreaking is expected later this year.

The job came through the firm’s relationship with Wes Edens, whose Fortress Investment Group is spearheading the project. CAA Icon was the owner’s representative on the team side for Fiserv Forum, whose primary tenant, the Bucks, is co-owned by Edens. (Fortress is funding a similar high-speed rail line from Miami to Orlando.)

“We’ve always been willing and able to jump out of the sports realm, primarily based on our relationships,” Thornton said. “The process remains the same on all of these projects. We’ll pursue other lines of business.”

The industry has changed dramatically over the past six months and CAA Icon is keeping a close eye on where it’s headed as Farha and Thornton make the transition. Their new roles allow them to provide greater support for the group as a whole, Farha said.

“We’re more concerned with fiscal year 2021,” he said. “If this (pandemic) continues, the projects that we thought might go into next year may get pushed to 2022 or 2023. A lot of funding is based on hospitality taxes, which could determine whether they get kick-started again.”