More luxury box reservations made than anticipated

Updated: June 17, 2004, 1:08 PM ET
Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. -- A group trying to entice the Montreal Expos to move to Norfolk has received reservations for more luxury boxes than outlined in a stadium proposal, plus commitments for well more than 5,000 season tickets.

"The season ticket count is right around where we had expected it to be at this point," three weeks into a sales drive to show the area can support a major league team, said William Somerindyke Jr., co-founder and CEO of the Norfolk Baseball Company, which represents a group of unidentified investors.

"But the luxury suites has been astronomical," Somerindyke said in an interview this week. "I expected a good showing from that but probably not that high, that quick."

More than 75 businesses and organizations, including Fortune 500 companies Smithfield Foods Inc. and Norfolk Southern Corp., have pledged $1,000 apiece to reserve luxury suites, Somerindyke said. The stadium plans call for at least 60 luxury boxes, as well as 35,000 to 38,000 seats.

The luxury suites would range from $75,000 to $125,000, depending on location and amenities, while season-ticket packages would cost $810 to $2,835 for 81 home games.

About 1,000 season-ticket deposits and about 40 luxury-suite deposits were pledged before the campaign officially started May 26. The deposits are refundable.

The group is well on track to reach 10,000 season-ticket deposits, Somerindyke said.

"From the support they've gotten to date, I think everybody is hungry for" Major League Baseball, said Gary Brandt, president and CEO of Marine Hydraulics International Inc. The Norfolk shipyard has reserved a luxury suite to use as a marketing tool.

The Hampton Roads coastal region, with a population of more than 1.5 million, is among the largest metropolitan areas lacking a major league sports franchise.

Brandt said he thinks Hampton Roads, home to a number of military bases, has a better than 50 percent chance to snag the Expos.

"I think it's a win because the Hampton Roads area is a melting pot," Brandt said Thursday. "With the infusion of the military here, you have people from all over the country. You're going to be drawing a lot of people who will go to baseball games just to see their home team."

Baseball has been trying to relocate the Expos since the struggling franchise was purchased by the 29 other teams before the 2002 season.

Downtown Washington and Northern Virginia appear to be the leading contenders. Other candidates are Las Vegas; Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Ore.; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Norfolk season-ticket campaign includes billboards and television, radio and print ads. One TV spot features five area mayors wearing business attire and batting helmets.

To keep the momentum going, more than 500 manhole covers designed to look like baseballs are now being put down on streets in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and Portsmouth.

"We really wanted to get the area really pumped up about baseball," Somerindyke said of the campaign. "Manhole covers are something you drive over or walk over every day. We want to ingrain baseball in everybody's minds."

Somerindyke said the group also soon plans to reveal the identity of some of the investors. He said they include a handful of local people as well as "one big name" from outside the area.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press