Holding Court

Many planners would pay top dollar for a batch of field- or court-level seats at a sporting match in order to add a fun social aspect to their meeting. But what happened the night of November 19 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, just outside Detroit, brings to light one of the potential drawbacks of doing so: The group is surrounded by thousands of strangers whose behavior cannot be predicted, nor fully controlled.

In fact, during the basketball game played that night between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers, the rowdiness of a few spectators triggered a violent response from several players, who charged into the first several rows of seats and began pummeling not only the culprits, but also innocent bystanders. Chaos erupted, and dozens more fans began throwing cups of beer and soda, bags of popcorn, and even a chair at the Pacers as they tried to flee the court, and other spectators rushed for the exits.

Since then, some planners are looking to coordinate their groups' visits to sporting events so that attendees are close to the action, but partially removed from the general audience. And they're finding more ways to achieve this goal, since many arenas are new or renovated to have special facilities that cater to groups.

For instance, at the MCI Center in Washington D.C., there is a restaurant on one end of the arena on the mezzanine level that can be reserved by groups of up to 100. It provides an unobstructed view of games, and is considerably lower to the arena floor than most traditional sky boxes.

Minor-league sports facilities increasingly provide such options too, with one advantage being that those arenas are small enough so that groups feel an intimacy with the game. In Austin, TX, the Travis County Exposition Center is home to not only the Ice Bats pro hockey club, but also the Star of Texas Rodeo. There is a large group-only restaurant and bar at one end of the arena, and an open-air mezzanine bar area at the other. The best part? Per-person cost, with catering, is comparable to an individual seat at many major-league sporting events.