Ovations Feeds Fans and Helps Drive Comcast-Spectator's Success

For Comcast-Spectacor, the decision to enter the food and beverage business - like so many other decisions in the past dozen years of growth - just made good business sense for the sports and entertainment company.

"We were looking at situations where we had to bid for both the [food and beverage] and the building management at the same time," says Peter Luukko, president/COO of Comcast-Spectacor and chairman of its venue management division, Global Spectrum.

"We could have partnered with an Aramark or Volume Services - they're good people - but [Ovations Food Services president] Ken Young and I had been very good friends for a number of years, and he had started a small company called Leisure Food Services with [Ovations senior VP] Todd Whitman. They were growing but they needed some muscle and capital to get things going, so we made a decision to do a joint venture with them."

Young and Whitman retained a "fairly decent" stake in the company, according to Luukko, because "they're entrepreneurs and you don't want to kill that spirit." So as Global Spectrum grew, so did Ovations, initially so Global Spectrum could bid on food and building management jointly.

"But we made one strategic decision that turned out to be very smart: We kept it as two separate companies, knowing that there would be a lot of bids that didn't entail food from a facilities standpoint, and there would be a lot of food-services bids that didn't have anything to do with facility management," Luukko says. "You wanted people who concentrated on facilities and people that would concentrate on food, and then [have both] come together in situations that made sense. Also, you have two companies as opposed to one, which is the way to go here."

Apparently so. Ovations' growth has been excellent, Young says, with more than 100 operating units with gross revenue annually in excess of $250 million. "We expect our growth to continue in double digits annually," he adds. "We have very stable management, which has helped our growth."

Comcast-Spectacor isn't a restrictive parent. "They let us operate our business," Young says. "We stand on our own financially, but they are always there for larger capital needs if necessary. Partnering with a group that has been a staple in the sports and entertainment industry and completely understands the business is a very positive factor."

Young says about one-third of Ovations' contracts are with Global Spectrum-managed venues. "In some cases Ovations was initially in the venue and then Global came in afterward," he says, while in others "we propose together when it is in the best interest of the venue. Sometimes, venues want totally independent proposals even when we are proposing in a Global Spectrum building. That is no problem, because we operate independent from Global."

Young applauds Luukko's vision to have independent companies under the Comcast-Spectacor umbrella. "He sees a growing Ovations that can find other segments of the industry to grow in," he says. "Peter's vision may be ahead of the times, but that enables us to be ready and lead the industry."