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Bruins hope practice facility becomes a money-maker

The Boston Bruins are banking on the appeal of sharing a practice facility with the likes of team star Zdeno Chara.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Boston’s big-name players are excited about the new state-of-the-art practice facility the Bruins are building in Brighton.

And the hockey players are looking forward to using it, too.

The new rink is scheduled to open in 2016 as part of the massive Boston Landing development by New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. And it’s not just an upgrade for stars such as Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, but also a potential event space for corporate partners, such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Hallmark Health.

The team’s home arena, TD Garden, cannot accommodate all the requests it gets for corporate events, private functions and advertising, so the Bruins hope to redirect some of that business to the new Brighton facility. The Bruins and the TD Garden have the same owner — business magnate Jeremy Jacobs.


“We’re wondering what we can offer our corporate partners that someone else can’t offer them — that’s an experience they can’t buy somewhere else,” said Bruins president Cam Neely. “Is there an opportunity to bring people behind the curtain, so to speak?”

Top sports franchises already have mastered the art of profiting from their home arenas on nongame days. The Red Sox use Fenway Park for everything from European soccer matches to wedding ceremonies. The TD Garden hosts concerts, skating events, and once was even rented by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to use as an enormous war room on Election Night in 2012.

But the Bruins’ plan for the Brighton practice rink reflects how some sports teams are turning the places where players scrimmage and run drills into legitimate attractions.

Not every team can pull this off. Clubs with little history or shine — think Milwaukee Bucks or Carolina Hurricanes — struggle to sell game tickets, never mind function space at practice sites.

Franchises with rich traditions and loyal followings, however, are realizing the marketing value of anything that makes people feel as if they have gained special access. A team’s practice facility is usually smaller and more intimate than the game venue, lending a quality that can make an event seem particularly exclusive.


The New York Yankees’ spring training facility in Tampa carries enough cachet to be a popular site for weddings.Mark LoMoglio/Tampa Yankees

“It’s the power of the Bruins as a brand,” said Stephen A. Greyser, a sports marketing specialist at Harvard Business School. “They will make it convenient for people who are hot about hockey to have a Bruins-esque experience there, to have a sense of being associated with the Bruins.”

The Los Angeles Kings, winners of two of the last three Stanley Cups, offer a prime example. Team owner Philip F. Anschutz also has a 135,000-square-foot practice facility, the Toyota Sports Center, that includes a sports bar. Fans can buy gym memberships, and even throw kids’ birthday parties there.

The New York Yankees’ spring training field in Tampa is not only the home ballpark for one of the club’s minor league affiliates but also a concert venue, a photo backdrop for rent at $100 per hour, and the site of fantasy baseball camps that charge participants as much as $4,950 to spend a week pretending to be pros.

Maybe the biggest practice facility gold mine will soon belong to the Dallas Cowboys, who are constructing a multiuse megaplex on 91 acres in Frisco, Texas. It will include a 12,000-seat indoor stadium that the team will use for practice but will also make available for high school football games and other events, such as cheerleading competitions.


Most striking, though, is that the project, called Cowboys Alley, will also include residences, a hotel, dining, and retail.

The Bruins facility in Brighton will not be owned by Jacobs. The club has signed a letter of intent for a long-term lease with the real estate development arm of New Balance, whose 14-acre Boston Landing project includes a new company headquarters, a hotel, and another sports complex.

But the rink will have a pro shop, where the Bruins can sell merchandise, and the team will be able to book corporate functions and sponsorships there. At Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, where the Bruins have been tenants since 1987, the club has seldom — if ever — hosted events, according to rink manager Bob Rotondo.

Moreover, the money the Bruins will make from events in Brighton carries a powerful added value: It will be exempt from the National Hockey League’s revenue-sharing program, which funnels some profits from successful teams to struggling ones. Neely declined to discuss specifics about corporate events the club may host in Brighton. But whatever the Bruins collect, they can keep.

For the Bruins, a new forum capable of holding corporate functions is consistent with other recent moves marketed at business clientele. A $70 million Garden renovation project underway this offseason will expand the Legends Club restaurant and bar for season-ticket holders, many of whom are businesses, and add dozens of new video boards where companies can show ads.


An executive club, known as the TD Garden Business Network, debuted during last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs and uses a mix of social media and in-person gatherings to facilitate schmoozing during hockey and basketball games.

Bryan Hoertdoerfer, whose Manchester, N.H., dental practice is a Bruins corporate partner, said he’s eager to find out what the team has in store at the new facility. He’s attended corporate functions at the Garden and meets players when a rough night on the ice lands them in his dentist’s chair. But an event at the practice rink would be something new.

“It could have a behind-the-scenes feel,” Hoertdoerfer said.

Callum Borchers can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.