Sports Authority sees the light, pulls plug on giant signs at football stadium

From my window on the edge of Highland, I can see the headlights of all the cars racing by on I-25, the psychedelic Ferris wheel at Elitch's, the glowing signs of Xcel, the Sheraton, Century Link and even a church stretching across downtown and the Platte Valley. But Sports Authority Field at Mile High is dark.

Which is fitting, because for months it seemed that city officials were completely in the dark about Sports Authority's plans to turn the stadium into the world's largest billboard. Last fall, Sports Authority had agreed to pay $150 million over 25 years Mile High Stadium naming rights, taking over from Invesco, the investment firm that left town not long after the new, taxpayer-funded stadium opened.

But the company had much grander plans for putting its stamp on the stadium, including lit-up signs almost ten feet high and 178 feet long that would ring the top of the stadium. Northwest Denver neighbors have been complaining for months that those signs would be blindingly bright -- not to mention a violation of both city's codes and basic aesthetics. Why, they would even dwarf the infamous IKEA logo down south!

And in the end, Sports Authority blinked. After three hours of public -- and cranky -- comments before the Denver Planning Board, followed by some criticism from the board itself, a Sports Authority rep said that the company would change the plan, removing the most offensive parts. Basically, the signs visible from outside the stadium will be limited to the same spots where the Invesco name was once seen. And they'll keep the glowing ring of red lights at the top of the stadium -- which were a great addition to the skyline over the holiday season.

Smart move by Sports Authority. The last time people got so riled up over a football field, it was when the Metro Stadium District, which wanted to build a new facility for the Broncos, announced that it was selling the naming rights -- a prospect that so incensed a local barkeep that he decided to get involved in a campaign to save the Mile High name, and launched a political career in the process.

Although John Hickenlooper lost the naming-rights fight (the Mile High name at least rated the tail end of the title), today that barkeep is the governor of Colorado.

Denver's new football stadium opened just over a decade ago. See highlights of its history in our post "Top 10 moments in 10 years of Invesco Field at Mile High -- soon to be Sports Authority Field."

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Well, technically, the IKEA sign was something I researched in the infancy of IKEA planning stages.  You see, I met the former VP of Real Estate for IKEA, and he had the only franchised store in north america, and was having difficulty working with government resources in Washington State, trying to get a sign enlarged.  They ultimately decided to put signs on every lamp pole in the city, Washington State, invested in a theater for the local school district, and even sponsored other city and local events like a Parade. 

They were able to do this because they were a franchised store, and had the budget and ability to make these types of decisions as well.  

When I first identified the land for an IKEA in Denver, identification of land owners, land valuations, from working with multiple city, county, planners and assessors, I first made my presentations to the franchise-owner and later to IKEA Corporate (over the phone).

I made the recommendation that the signage be visible from at least a few exits away and people from LoneTree, can see it.  Because it was originally LoneTree's community design standards that first snubbed IKEA.  (Google "LoneTree Snubs IKEA" there's an article at the Denver Business Journal about it.)  The sign accomplishes this, everyone knows where IKEA is, and most importantly, the sign obtained all approvals, including FAA approvals necessary because of it's proximity to Centennial Airport.

That said, I enjoyed meeting the family owners of the store, they're very nice, and I suppose you can say they're like Sam Walton's family.

I was never really that much into their furniture, but their business operations seem to be one to model all business.  There are a number of books about the subject, as well as articles published in Harvard Business Review.   

I would start with reading Ingvar Kamprad's "Testament of A Furniture Dealer".  It's a 5-10 page document, and is about the company culture which companies in my mind, should strive to create-- empowering employees to be able to make good faith decisions that benefit customers, and the company alike.  Bjorn was also big on Community's social aspect as well, and was a model for that.

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