:: Temecula business helps NFL play it cool

By JOSEPH ASCENZI

Like a lot of American men, Christopher Miehl counts the days until the start of football season.

But Miehl is more than a devoted fan of the NCAA and the National Football League: he is president and chief executive officer of Big Fogg Misting Fans Inc. which designs, manufactures and distributes the air-misting systems - actually oversized fans - used on the sidelines during many college and professional games.

Founded in 1999, Big Fogg has contracts with eight NFL teams and between 40 and 50 college teams, including USC and UCLA, to provide misting fans during games. The Temecula company, which has eight full-time employees and 30 subcontractors throughout the country, also contracts with the NFL for post-season games. Last February, Big Fogg supplied misting fans on the sidelines at Super Bowl XL, which was played indoors in Detroit.

"I've been on the sidelines at three of the last four Super Bowls," Miehl said. "Not many people can say that."

Big Fogg's misting fans range from 12 inches to 60 inches in diameter. They use a high-pressure pumping system to move water through half-inch pipes: attached to those pipes are orifices about the diameter of a piece of human hair. After being pumped through those tiny spaces, the water evaporates in the air, lowering the temperature by about 25 degrees.

"It's the flash evaporation that keeps people cool, not the water," Miehl said. "The water never even hits you."

Big Fogg's fans can be used in places besides football sidelines: the U.S. military has ordered several shipments, and Big Fogg misting systems are also used at concerts and at factories and restaurants, among other places. Restaurants want them for their patios, and factories use them to keep their employees from overheating, Miehl said.

"When we started, the football contracts were probably 80% of our business," Miehl said. "Now it's probably no more than 20%. We could survive without it if we had to, but we wouldn't want to. Football is the fun part of the business."

Big Fogg charges from $1,800 to $100,000 for one of its fans. Football teams used to rent them on a game-by-game basis, but some NFL teams are buying them, at least for their home games.

"They buy them for home games and then rent them on the road," he said. "It's cheaper than carrying them yourself. The college teams mostly rent."

Miehl, 45, grew up in Hamburg, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. He graduated from San Diego State with a master's in business administration in 1984, and spent nearly a decade working as a merger and acquisition specialist.

In 1993 he helped start Cool Zone, a Los Angeles-based company that manufactures misting systems. Six years later, with Cool Zone mired in legal and financial difficulties, Miehl left and started Big Fogg.

On Aug. 16, Miehl spoke with The Business Press about how Big Fogg got started, why he believes it could become a global operation someday and why global warming could help his business.

The Business Press: Where did you get the idea for misting fans?

Christopher Miehl: When we were setting up Cool Zone, we were out in Hemet one very hot day in June. When we were driving back to Los Angeles we passed a dairy farm and saw a farmer cooling off one of his cows with a large fan. That's what started us working on it.

BP: Where did it go from there?

CM: One of us knew some people at USC. They had some contacts, and they agreed to try it. USC was our first client, and we got some NFL contracts from there.

BP: When you left Cool Zone were you able to take that technology with you?

CM: Yes. What we do is different from Cool Zone, which is still in business. They're a competitor. But they didn't have a patent on that technology.

BP: What is it like doing business with the NFL?

CM: They're very tough, they know exactly how they want things done and they negotiate very hard on price. But we've proven ourselves with them, we have a track record, and they know we aren't going to mess things up. The funny thing is, we really don't make much money off the NFL.

BP: Why not?

CM: After 1999, the NFL passed a rule that you can't show your brand if you're conducting business on the sidelines during one of their games. The colleges let us advertise but the NFL doesn't. So when we do an NFL game the fans have to be blank. But it doesn't hurt to do business with something as popular as the NFL. The colleges let us brand. We hope people see the name on the college sidelines and make the connection.

BP: What other uses are there for misting systems?

CM: There are a lot of them. El Torito restaurants wants them. We just signed a contract to install systems in four of their restaurants, on their patios. There are industrial uses, backyard uses, emergency uses. Right after 9/11, we took some fans that were going to a football game and used them to cool some transformers so they could keep getting electricity into Manhattan. The transformers were working so hard they were in danger of overheating.

BP: Where do you think Big Fogg will be in five years?

CM: The world is getting hotter. I definitely believe in global warming. We're a $2 million-a-year company right now. I think we can get to $10 million or even $20 million pretty soon. People are going to need cooling systems like ours everywhere.