|By Scott Nishimura, Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Apr. 10, 2010 --Want a table at Bob's Steak & Chop House during Super Bowl week next year?
Friday night probably won't be the best time to snag a reservation at the top-shelf restaurant in the Omni Fort Worth Hotel. Since it's the AFC team's hotel for Super Bowl XLV, set for Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, managers think the restaurant may sell out to groups on peak nights late that week.
"It's going to be great, I can't wait," said Patrick Malley, Bob's general manager, who worked at restaurants in South Florida and Houston during three Super Bowls.
Malley isn't alone. Hospitality managers around the region are equally as sanguine, with 150,000 fans expected to converge on the Metroplex the first week of February for NFL-related activities and parties. Hotels and other venues that have set aside rooms and facilities for the Thursday-Sunday block as part of the North Texas bid are eagerly awaiting decisions this summer from the NFL for placements of groups in rooms, party halls and restaurants.
Want to book a room now? Fans and others are starting to reserve rooms that aren't part of the block, with standard four-day Thursday-Sunday minimums, payment upfront and no cancellations or refunds allowed.
"When you make the reservation, you are buying the room," Al DeBerry, president of the Tarrant County Hotel Association, said. "It simplifies it for the hotel."
The NFL and area convention and visitors bureaus are gently cautioning hotels and venues against setting rates too high, pointing out that only half the region's 90,000 potential room nights are expected to be booked during Super Bowl weekend.
Bad publicity from intense Super Bowl week media coverage could easily hurt the region's efforts to snag future corporate business and bids for more Super Bowls and other major events, officials say. And the Fort Worth Stock Show will be in town at the same time, presenting more pressure to price evenly.
"Let's be reasonable, let's get a fair rate, and let's capture the business," said Jay Burress, CEO of the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Business picking up
The Super Bowl will follow what local hotel managers say is shaping up to be a rebound year for hotels.
Downtown Fort Worth occupancies, spurred by the new Omni and renovations at the Sheraton Fort Worth and other major properties, are up. Managers report an increasing number of corporate bookings for short-notice meetings and room blocks.
In March, the Omni booked two conferences for this month, each with 300-400 rooms during peak nights, said Dan Piotrowski, the general manager. At The Renaissance Worthington, also part of the NFL Super Bowl block, Jim Gabler, the marketing director, took a call last week from a group that wants to rent 150 rooms for a meeting in early May.
"You can talk to anyone in our business, and that's a known factor out there," Gabler said.
Cowboys Stadium is also boosting room rentals in Tarrant County, with football games, concerts and other events bringing business that Texas Stadium didn't generate.
"We'll have 50 to 75 walk-in guests from a typical Cowboys weekend," compared with virtually none when the Cowboys played in Irving, Gabler said. "It's night and day."
Arlington hotels typically sell out, or nearly sell out, for Cowboys games and other major stadium events, Burress said. He expects the city's hotels to sell out for the Super Bowl.
"We're expecting to be full," he said. "The only thing that could stop that would be some price gouging."
Figuring out who will end up in their hotels is the next big development managers are waiting on.
About 30 Tarrant County hotels and 24,000 rooms are in the block for the Thursday-Sunday peak, and the NFL is considering adding more, including two hotels in Arlington. The Gaylord Texan in Grapevine is a major sponsors' hotel. The NFL expects to allocate rooms to the league, sponsors, media and other major groups by Sept. 1, but hotel managers said decisions could come earlier in the summer or even late spring.
Several major Tarrant County venues, such as Billy Bob's Texas, also agreed to be part of the block for the more than 60 NFL, NFL-sanctioned, and independent parties and events expected to be held around the Super Bowl. More than 40 of those events, ranging from the Playboy Party to sponsors' parties to bowling tournaments, are independent of the NFL. And hardly any have been booked at specific venues yet.
DeBerry said the NFL, which sent a delegation to North Texas last week for the second of four major production weeks leading up to the game, is telling prospective venues and restaurants to think bigger than the size of their facilities.
"Don't think the size of you facility limits your opportunity," DeBerry said. "They can build a structure or tents. Don't sell yourself short if you're a venue. Work with your local [convention bureaus]."
Setting higher prices
Some hotels that are part of the block are beginning to sell the rooms they have left over.
At The Ashton, the small downtown Fort Worth boutique where Warren Buffett and Tiger Woods have stayed, Mark Michalski, the managing director, set aside 30 of 39 rooms for the NFL block.
For the Thursday-Sunday Super Bowl weekend, he's sold eight of his nine remaining rooms to corporate clients who previously stayed at the hotel and are bringing guests in for the game.
The one room remaining: the presidential suite, at $795 a night, with a four-night minimum and upfront payment. "I'm sure we'll be sold out," Michalski said.
Some larger hotels in the block are waiting to see what group assignments they get before putting their leftover rooms up for rent.
The Worthington put up 400 of its 504 rooms for the block but isn't selling anything else yet, Gabler said.
It's possible that the NFL could assign one to three major groups to the hotel that could effectively buy it out, Gabler said.
If the NFL assigns a group to the Worthington for 200 rooms, "we need to make sure it's not 250 that they really need," he said. "And we certainly don't want to overbook the hotel."
Hotels can set their prices for NFL block rooms May 1, based on a formula in their contracts that includes base rates for each property and inflation.
Gabler expects the Worthington to rent its rooms outside the NFL block starting at $375 a night. He expects the rooms in the block to be priced similarly. That compares with a current published rate of $239, he said.
At the Gaylord Texan, the general manager, John Imaizumi, set aside 90 percent of his 1,511 rooms and all meeting space for the NFL block.
He's holding back all of his rooms for Super Bowl weekend, awaiting the NFL's decisions.
"We're getting a ton of inquiries," he said. "I can't contract yet."
How much you can expect to pay for a Super Bowl stay?
DeBerry, who also is area director for Tharaldson Hospitality and manages two Fort Worth hotels, expects to see rates countywide of $199-$299 for limited and mid-service hotels, compared with $129-$159 normally. For full-service hotels, he expects peak rates of $299 and more.
At his hotels -- the Fairfield Inn & Suites at Interstate 30 and University Drive, and the Hampton Inn off of Interstate 20 -- DeBerry is charging in the "mid-$200s" for Super Bowl weekend, compared with $149-$159 normally.
In Fort Worth, the average rate today is $98 citywide and $148 downtown, said David DuBois, the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau chief executive.
For Super Bowl weekend, he expects an average citywide rate of $150.
A quick Internet scan of Tarrant County-area hotel rooms for the Super Bowl weekend reflected rates ranging from $80 to $500 for standard rooms.
DuBois said it's his goal to have at least 60 percent hotel occupancy citywide -- about 30,000 room nights out of 50,000 -- for the weekend. Fort Worth has 2,600 hotel rooms in the block, and 10,000 more that aren't.
"If we can run 75 percent over three or four nights, I would consider that to be very successful," he said.
Occupancy rates up
In pushing hotels on their pricing, DuBois also pointed out that downtown occupancies are up sharply -- 74.4 percent in February, compared with 62 percent for the same month the prior year -- while citywide rates edged up to 62 percent from 60 percent.
The convention bureau has launched a new hotel booking engine on its Web site, and has distributed copies of its Fort Worth Playbook: Everything You Need To Plan a Winning Event For Super Bowl XLV to meeting planners.
"We are aggressively trying to figure out how to sell the other 10,000 rooms that aren't part of the NFL block," DuBois said.
Frank Supovitz, the NFL's senior vice president of events, reinforced that message at a series of events in North Texas last week.
At one recent Super Bowl, a major hotel near the stadium declined to participate in the hotel block and held out for $800 per night, at a 10-day minimum, Supovitz said. Later, the hotel dropped the minimum to seven nights, but retained the price. "They were empty," he said.
Super Bowl fans are notoriously finicky on price, Supovitz said, "and when they walk, they walk somewhere else, and by the time that's determined, the opportunity is lost."
During the NBA All-Star Game, held in February at Cowboys Stadium, some Arlington hotels ran into a pricing wall with consumers, Burress said.
Rates ranged from $300 to $700, he said, but the hotels dropped the highest rates to less than $300 a week before the game.
"The $500, $600, $700 were the numbers that were not being booked," Burress said.
Regarding the Stock Show's overlap with the Super Bowl, DeBerry said, "the Stock Show is an every-year event. They don't want to have customers feel they got gouged."
DeBerry expects some hotels will create special deals for Stock Show participants. "It may be different than the four-day block that's set up for the NFL," he said.
Operationally, hotels are setting their plans for the big game.
Omni expects to bring in a dozen managers from some of its other hotels to help in Fort Worth, in areas including security, food and beverage, and housekeeping.
As the AFC hotel, Piotrowski is preparing for extra pressure on the food and beverage service. "The teams are up early, the fans are out late," he said.
Assisting in transportation, security and what AFC families do in their free time are also considerations, Piotrowski said.
"By the end of the week, your team's exhausted," said Piotrowski, who scouted this year's game in Miami. "These are solid 20-hour days."
Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808
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