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Outlaw man.

THE SCOUTING REPORT ON FIVE-YEAR DENVER BRONCOS veteran Mac Freeman: Prototypical linebacker build. Six-two, 210. Influenced by Giants legend Lawrence Taylor. Five broken collarbones. Team player. May be underrated for his position.

The thing is, while Freeman does his work at Invesco Field, you won't see him in a helmet and pads. He's vice president of stadium operations for the Denver Broncos's Stadium Management Co.

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On a Sunday afternoon in November, if the beer is cold, the security staff pleasant and the roar of three U.S. Air Force jets perfectly timed to coincide with the final note of the national anthem, Freeman and his staff deserve the credit. But they don't expect to get it.

"In this business, if we do our job we should be unnoticed," Freeman says.

A former manager for Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Freeman is poised to make an even bigger impact on the Denver sports scene. Broncos CEO Pat Bowlen has appointed him vice president of Edge Sports and Entertainment, a Broncos subsidiary that will introduce to Invesco Field this summer the Denver Outlaws, one of four new Major League Lacrosse teams.

In the meantime, Freeman and his staff will host close to 300 corporate events at Invesco Field this year, ranging from rah-rah sales meetings in the locker rooms to on-the-field extravaganzas. Outfitted with plush meeting rooms and carpeted club facilities, Invesco is a generation removed from its spartan predecessor, Mile High Stadium.

"We're not building the same type of buildings that we used to," says Freeman. "What that has done is allowed us to go into other businesses."

NEW STRATEGY

To understand what a former East Coast concert promoter is doing in the sports business at all, you have to go back in time.

In the good old days of professional sports, there was a script for how things worked: A cigar-gnashing oil executive with cash to burn would buy a team from its first-generation patriarch, overpay for a has-been athlete, start hemorrhaging money in year two, realize smart people owned real estate and treasury bonds, not sports franchises, and six years later, on the brink of bankruptcy, sell the team to the next fool for double what he paid, claiming that was the plan all along. Then that guy would do the same thing. This scheme worked perfectly well for decades.

But sometime beginning in the mid-1990s, something happened. The world of professional sports was infiltrated by smart people. You saw a stadium sitting empty during the off-season. They saw an underexploited asset. You saw four independent teams in the same city. They saw an irresistible opportunity for consolidation. You saw a guy in a vest selling beer. They saw a chance to renegotiate a supply-chain contract.

The biggest change to occur in the sports business--and it's happening in every league, in every city--is a recognition that it's possible to earn a profit not just by holding and selling teams, but by operating them.

The Outlaws are a perfect example. Freeman is a bona fide lacrosse fan who played the game through college, cracking his collarbone twice. But the businessman in Freeman sees the team not as a collection of talented competitors but as a source of "programming" for Invesco Field. The idea is to flow an incremental revenue stream from new events and customers across an infrastructure that includes a stadium, ticket-sales operations, a marketing staff, security and more.

With six games at Invesco this summer, the Outlaws easily could draw 50,000 or more to a stadium that otherwise might sit empty for those dates. That's especially important at a time when the live-concert business is in the doldrums, Freeman says. Outlaws tickets will be relatively cheap at around $50 for a family of four, and Freeman thinks the team should appeal to more of a purist lacrosse fan than the Colorado Mammoth, the Kroenke Sports Entertainment lacrosse team whose game presentations at Pepsi Center mix the live-action sport with a raucous rock-concert vibe.

In addition, Edge Sports will continue to work other live events. Freeman, a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, says the Denver area is the perfect place to be in the sports business. "Denver has outperformed markets twice its size," says Freeman. For a sports guy, that's a field of dreams.

STEWART SCHLEY WRITES ABOUT SPORTS, MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY FROM ENGLEWOOD.

READ THIS AND SCHLEY'S PAST COLUMNS ON THE WEB AT COBIZMAG.COM AND E-MAIL HIM AT ss_edit@comcast.net
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Title Annotation:Mac Freeman
Author:Schley, Stewart
Publication:ColoradoBiz
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:754
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