MainGate calls audible during blackout, tops sales forecasts

The power outage Sunday at the Superdome in New Orleans didn’t slow down Indianapolis-based MainGate Inc., which was hired by the National Football League to handle all in-stadium Super Bowl merchandising at the big game.

“We knew there would be unexpected challenges, and we knew how things went would all come down to how we reacted to those unexpected challenges,” said MainGate CEO Dave Moroknek.

Overall, merchandise sales operations at the Superdome “went really well,” Moroknek said, adding “we exceeded the [pregame] sales estimates we arrived at with league officials.”

MainGate and NFL officials declined to release game-day sales figures, but a retail source close to the league said merchandise sales were likely between $4 million and $6 million.

Despite some challenges with lighting and using credit card machines when the power was down, Moroknek thinks the down time during the blackout might have helped sales.

“It helped in a way because people had 34 extra minutes to shop,” Moroknek said. “For the first five or 10 minutes after the lights went out, people stayed in their seats. But then people started to get up to stretch their legs and we did see some traffic in the [Superdome] gift shop.”

Initially, though, Moroknek admits MainGate was in scramble mode.

“There were about 10 minutes where we couldn’t do any sales,” he said. “Not only was power out, but in much of the stadium, Wi-Fi, the Web, was down, and that’s how we process credit cards.”

MainGate, which had 700 people working at the Superdome on Sunday, operated 13 sales stands on the plazas just outside the venue and another 27 stands inside the dome in addition to the main gift shop.

Moroknek’s staff scrambled to get credit card machines up and running, with some stands using cell phone devices instead of hard lines. Moroknek said many of the outlying kiosks operated almost without interruption during the outage.

Prior to game day, MainGate had considered myriad game-day contingency plans due to the aging building’s inherent challenges, Moroknek said.

“It’s no secret, from the standpoint of what we do, the Superdome is one of the most challenging buildings to do business in,” Moroknek said.

The 37-year old Superdome lacks many of the amenities of newer stadiums. Reliable cellular and Wi-Fi service is more difficult to achieve at the venue, and the narrowness of the concourses makes it difficult to set up kiosks and stock products.

“An hour before the game, it’s difficult for a person to move around the concourses,” Moroknek said. “It can make it challenging for us, our vendors, from a logistical standpoint.”

The Super Bowl will be MainGate’s largest single-day of business, Moroknek said. “It’s by far the most insane single day of retail business I’ve ever seen in my career.”

And next year, in New York, Moroknek hopes his firm can do it all over again.

In September, MainGate Inc. and Indianapolis-based Lids Sports Group unseated California-based Facilities Merchandising Inc.—a 24-year incumbent—to win lucrative merchandising deals at this year’s Super Bowl.

Lids handled merchandise operations at the NFL Experience in downtown New Orleans as well as kiosks and stores at several area hotels and malls.

NFL officials said they’ll likely determine which company or companies will handle merchandising at the 2014 Super Bowl in New York by early to mid-summer.

MainGate and Lids will close operations in New Orleans in the next day, and most of the employees will be head back to Indianapolis on Wednesday.

MainGate will offer employees one last chance Wednesday to buy discounted Super Bowl merchandise before selling remaining items this week to a liquidator.

“It’s been a long week and a long month,” Moroknek said. “We’ve had some of our people down in New Orleans for the last 30 days. We’re going to take a deep breath and re-group. Then we’ll see what we need to do to hopefully win this piece of business again. There’s no doubt, we’d love to be a part of next year’s Super Bowl.”

And with good reason. Retail and sports merchandising experts predict the first Super Bowl in New York will be the most lucrative one ever.

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