Serious Challenges for ‘CEO of Fun’

Christie sees expanded role for new sports authority chief.

The Meadowlands Sports Complex, which operates under the direction of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
AP Photo/Mel Evans.

In its latest effort at streamlining state government, the Christie administration has proposed moving the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority into the Department of State.

With the change, the NJSEA, currently part of the Department of Community Affairs and primarily responsible for the Meadowlands Sports Complex and Monmouth Park, would remain an independent authority and would gain responsibility for the Division of Travel and Tourism and the Motion Picture and Film Commission.

Implementing the repositioning—which requires legislative approval—would fall to Wayne Hasenbalg, who became president and CEO of the NJSEA in January. Hasenbalg previously served as Governor Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff for policy and planning.

The governor describes Hasenbalg as Jersey’s “CEO of fun,” but the 1984 Seton Hall Law School graduate has plenty of serious business on his plate, including the 2014 Super Bowl and the future of Xanadu, now called American Dream. We asked him about some of his key challenges.
Why is NJSEA becoming part of the Department of State? Over the last few years, it became apparent that big events like the Super Bowl, WrestleMania, Formula 1 racing and others are really good for New Jersey and the region and have great economic impact. The thought was, why not create a similar model to attract those kinds of events throughout all of New Jersey?  
The NJSEA was once a huge moneymaker. What happened? Horse racing’s decline had a lot to do with it.  The horse racing industry isn’t what it was. Also, the trend we see now, for example, is a venue like MetLife Stadium. It is owned by the Giants and the Jets. They financed it, they built it and they get the revenue. 
What economic impact will the Super Bowl have when it comes to MetLife Stadium in 2014? The estimates are as high as $500 million in revenue to the New York/New Jersey region. It’s not just game day, it is a week or two of events that are going to be held at that time. There is the fan experience, where tens of thousands of people will go and bring their kids to enjoy activities and throw or kick a football.
Why should tourism end up in the NJSEA? It is part of a comprehensive marketing approach, since we are also promoting New Jersey. Besides tourism, we will also be reinvigorating the Motion Picture and Film Commission. Bringing production to New Jersey has a dynamic economic impact.  We are going to compete to bring events and jobs to New Jersey that will have a ripple effect throughout the state.  

Will you still be building and operating facilities?
  We are being repositioned out of that business.  We will not be running facilities any longer.  The Izod Center is the last facility that we operate.  In terms of workforce, it is down significantly. We went from 280 to under 100.  It is a much more scaled-back agency, and the people who are there now have been there for a long time and are extremely valuable.
What’s the status of American Dream? It is my top priority and something I work on every day. People keep asking if it is going to be open for the Super Bowl. I am more interested in when it is going to open. And I am optimistic it will be open for the Super Bowl, and that work will begin soon. A major hurdle was cleared in April with the posting of the final supplemental environmental impact statement…This clears the way to move forward toward the necessary state and federal permits. So in short, significant progress is being made on the permitting and financing fronts.

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