Amway Center sold out its 60 suites in 18 months

Magic suite holders have their choice of artwork, finishings and furniture.

In the heart of a downtown market where a fifth of the office space sits vacant and home prices are at a 12-year low, buyers are on a waiting list to land a prime piece of real estate.
 
For the same price as a lakefront home or, say, a half-dozen condominiums, Orlando high rollers have ponied up as much as $295,000 each to buy, for one season, the 60 executive-style suites in the new Amway Center, which opens Oct. 1.
 
Promoters tout the suites' seating for 16, the flat-screen televisions, the Herman Miller-style designer leather chairs, and the granite counters. But the biggest difference between the suites and the old skyboxes at the Amway Arena is the altitude: The new suites are just 19 rows above the basketball floor — the second-lowest position for executive suites in the National Basketball Association. In comparison, the climb to the old skyboxes was more than double that.
 
Those skyboxes, said Orlando Magic President Alex Martins, were the worst seats in the house.
"Here you were trying to create hospitality experience for corporations and groups and fans, and you're seating them in the worst seats in the building," Martins said. "It was the old generation of sports facility, where they were public-assembly space and didn't focus on amenities."
 
The old arena's 29 skyboxes were the equivalent of Class B commercial space. Fewer than half sold for the Magic's last season there, at prices of about $90,000 each — a relative bargain compared with the new suites, which start at $135,000 per season.
 
The Magic employed several marketing strategies in persuading Orlando's business community, which had cooled on the skybox concept, to spend even more money on club-level boxes during one of the toughest recessions on record.
 
For starters, the team's management employed market research to weigh "price elasticity," or what the market was likely to bear, and opted to limit the number of suites to 60, even though sports complexes elsewhere have 100 or more. Chicago's United Center has 250.
 
To help erase prospective buyers' memories of the old arena's skyboxes, the Magic opened an "experience center" in April 2008. It featured a full-scale mock-up and three-dimensional renderings of the suites. They also offered video to show patrons virtual views from each space, whether it was from the lower-priced corner suites or the higher-priced ones at center court.
 
Buyers could also choose from a variety of artwork, finishings and furniture packages, with combinations of sofas, lounge chairs or barstools and elevated tables. In addition, the suites come with two passes for the parking garage adjacent to the center. The final carrot was giving buyers access to suites during concerts — though certain private events, such as an upcoming James Taylor concert, which involve an outside group leasing the entire arena, are not included.
 
The result of this marketing approach: The Magic sold out the suites in 18 months.
 
"As you can imagine, the old skyboxes were so high up, they were less than ideal," said Wyndham Vacation Ownership Chief Executive Officer Franz Hanning, whose company had a skybox and has purchased one of the new suites. "We knew the success we had with the old box, which wasn't a very desirable location at all. There were not many of these lower-level suites, so I was pretty convinced they were going to go pretty quickly."
 
Even during a sour economy, Hanning said, the purchase made sense because Wyndham gets the basketball schedule far enough in advance to invite customers and prospective buyers to see their home teams compete against the Magic. In addition, it's a way to reward key employees.
 
"In these tough economic times, the two stakeholders we have to take care of the most are our customers and our employees," Hanning said. "This suite allows us to take care of both of those."
 
The Magic would not disclose other owners, but the city of Orlando and Orange County government both have a suite. The city owns and operates the building, and the county helped fund the facility with its hotel-tax collections.
The suites, though, are still too rich for some.
 
Mark Wylie, executive director of Associated Builders and Contractors in Orlando, said many of his members have "really nice seats" in the new arean, but he was unaware of any who had purchased suites.
 
"They would rather be right on the floor than up in one of the boxes," Wylie said. "It's a numbers things for a lot of contractors. It's hard to justify that kind of investment when they're on such a tight budget. They generally are not entertaining 10 or 15 clients but would maybe purchase four or six tickets together."
 
Magic officials continue to market 13 "hospitality spaces" that rent by the event, each with room for 24 to 60 guests. The hospitality suites are on different levels of the new arena, including some on the IOA Founders level that is 19 rows off the floor. Prices for those spaces range from $1,500 to $8,000 per event.
 
Martins said the one-event suites are ideal for businesses that want to reward employees by leasing a suite on a particular game night — or for parents who want to treat a child to a birthday party during something like Disney on Ice.
 
 
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