With the NFL season now under way, fans are hearing one of their favorite questions: "Are you ready for some football?" But at the New England Patriots' stadium-mall complex, fans are also asking, "Are you ready for some shopping?"
That's because team owner Robert Kraft has built a large new mall next to Gillette Stadium that costs as much as the stadium itself: more than $300 million. And other franchises are watching to see if it brings in some "super" profits.
Other stadiums have some shops and accommodations next door, but nothing like this. Patriot Place will have a football museum, a four-star hotel and spa, and a medical clinic tied to Harvard University. Of course, it also will have dozens of restaurants and stores, including Bass Pro Shops and Circuit City, which have already opened.
Hoping For Year-Round Patrons
Brian Earley, who is supervising the development, recently showed off a TV-network-themed sports bar, complete with vertigo-inducing video screens. Its patio has a clear view of the football field, where the turf glinted under the stadium lights.
"A venue like this, for people who want to come down to Patriot Place, you're getting as close to the action as you possibly can, without actually having to have a ticket," Earley said. "There's no other venue like this in professional sports."
But Patriot Place is not just for any given Sunday — it's for Monday and Tuesday and every day of the year, even when the Patriots are not battling it out on the field.
"We see this as becoming the No. 1 dining and entertainment destination in all of New England," Kraft said.
Kraft is the business mind behind Patriot Place. Unlike most owners of sports franchises, he footed the bill for Gillette Stadium without public money. That means he's paying back some big loans. It also means he can do what he wants with all the parking and plumbing he paid for.
"I realized that if we were going to make this work financially, eventually we'd have to do other things around it," Kraft said. "I dreamt of being able to have a development down there, and that was always part of my long-range plan."
Fan Reaction: Mixed Approval
Kraft broke ground on the stadium eight years ago in the Boston suburb of Foxborough, Mass. His team has won the Super Bowl three times since. But will the integrated sports-shopping center prove as successful?
At least one recent visitor to the complex thought so.
"I think it's a huge attraction. It's gonna be a big hit, a big hit," said Dave Rando, who had come down with his girlfriend, Jessica Colella, on a weeknight, all dressed up to celebrate his promotion at work.
Rando is a big Patriots fan — Colella is not. But both of them were pretty taken with the place.
"It appeals to a male," Rando said, "because you have the shopping area for the female, drop her off" — here Colella laughed — "and then you've got the stadium right here. So it all kind of adds up, everybody wins."
But Patriot Place is not a winning formula for another customer. Patrick Tansey and his wife and two kids checked the place out for dinner. They don't really see what the big deal is about an empty stadium.
"It was convenient today because we were in Foxboro," Tansey said. "I don't that it's going to be any closer than any other malls around. I don't know how much shopping I'll do."
A Closely Watched Bet
Abraham Madkour, editor of the Sports Business Journal, says today's economy makes Patriot Place all the more ambitious.
"I think it's a tremendous risk, with an enormous upside," Madkour said.
With retail taking a beating, the flip side is that Kraft may be able to take his ownership of a pro sports team and stadium to a whole new level of moneymaking. And Madkour says other team owners are envious.
"What you see in the last 10 years," Madkour said, "is more and more teams saying 'Out of runway.' And what that means is, there's only so many more tickets they can sell."
There are also only so many corporate sponsorships. And if Patriot Place really takes off, Madkour says, watch for other team owners to copy from Kraft's playbook.
Curt Nickisch reports from member station WBUR in Boston.