:: RETAIL: Temecula’s Big Fogg helps chill the NFL

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There’s probably no bigger sports fan than Chris Miehl, but don’t expect him to take sides.

That’s because every weekend he provides big fans known as misting machines and heated benches on the sidelines of dozens of professional and college football teams.

More than a business, the Temecula-based company called Big Fogg, allows its owner Miehl (pronounced “Mile”) to indulge his greatest passion: a love of sports while he’s helping players either chill out or warm up. 

“Big Fogg is one of the few companies that offers those services,” said Kenny Farr, football equipment manager for the University of Oregon’s Ducks in Eugene. “They do it all: the shipping, the setup and the takedown. It’s nice that they handle all the logistics when we’re at an away game for one night.” 

It’s grueling work, but Miehl, a boyish looking 51, is like a kid in a toy shop. “We’ve worked nine Super Bowls in the past 11 years,” he said gleefully. On Feb. 3 the National Football League hired his company to supply its misting fans to both the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Since Miehl launched Big Fogg in Temecula 13 years ago, he’s signed on lots of big names and is earning some big money.

“We let the kids dictate whether they want the misters or just the fans,” said Kyle Fetterly, head equipment manager for athletics at Syracuse University, a longtime customer.

Besides 50 college teams and the National Football League, his company’s roster of prestigious clients also includes Disneyland, SeaWorld, American Idol, movie sets, Phish concert, Woodstock, the Coast Guard, Guantanamo, Cuba, the Green Zone in Iraq, Major League Baseball, the Olympics, the World Cup, National Hockey League, Professional Golfers’ Association of America, Major League Soccer USA, Lance Armstrong Race Team and NASCAR.

Last year Big Fogg’s annual revenues hit $2 million, with sporting events accounting for one-third of that. The rest comes from commercial, industrial and residential sales, including more than 1,000 restaurants. Sixty percent of his income is from sales, 40 percent is from rentals, he said.

Market projections show that figure could grow to $10 million within the next five to seven years, mostly because of climate changes. Big Fogg is poised for that leap, Miehl said. The company has expanded it offices to Florida, Louisiana and Texas, employs subcontractors all over the country and has upped its inventory to 80 products, including humidity control, dust suppression and odor control misting systems. Nearly 40 percent of the equipment is made or assembled on the 3,000-square-foot premises in Temecula at 42095 Zevo Drive. 

“It was tough from 2009 to 2011,” said Miehl, who lives in Temecula with his significant other and her two kids. “But this year has been really good.”

During the 2013 NFL season, Big Fogg supplied its misting fans and heated benches at 10 of the 12 playoff games, as well as the Pro bowl in Hawaii. During the 2012-2013 football season, Miehl’s technicians provided equipment at more than 200 games, including the NCAA Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame. At the Rose Bowl, the company set up both heaters and misters because of the uncertainty of the weather at game time. Several years ago at the Sun Bowl Game in El Paso, Texas, Big Fogg installed its heating benches for UCLA while the opposing team, Northwestern University, used the company’s misters.

Bob Wick, head equipment manager for the San Diego Chargers, swears by Big Fogg’s equipment. “It would be a lot of work to buy our own, hook up and store the misters ourselves,” he said. “Chris always is right there to run and fix everything.”

Before misters, football teams had to rely on towels soaked in buckets of ice or a garden hose to cool down the players, said Dino Dennis, head equipment manager for the University of Southern California, one of Miehl’s customers. Bigg Fogg’s systems pump water at 1,000 pounds per square inch, which sprays the mist that’s blown by heavy-duty fans. The machines can drop the temperature around a sideline bench by 10 to 25 degrees.

Miehl, who earned his MBA from San Diego State, is proudest of building Big Fogg from scratch and without outside capital or partners. After leaving Cool Zone, a competitor he helped co-found, he launched Big Fogg (so named, he said, after a hangover one morning that left him in a “big fog”) out of his bedroom apartment in San Clemente.

With almost no cash, Miehl relied on his experience with mergers and acquisitions and the connections he’d made at Cool Zone. Business began trickling in after he supplied USC with the misting machines for a game against the University of Washington. But Miehl said he got his big break when teams in the NFL knocked on his door — no mean feat.

League spokesman Dan Masonson points out that for every 1,000 companies that want to do business with the NFL, only one will be tapped. The league rigidly controls its field, because 120 million people are watching professional football on any given weekend, he said.

“You can’t screw up with the NFL,” Miehl said. “Our job is to make them look good. It’s not easy, because they demand perfection,” So when the league called Big Fogg a few days before the Super Bowl in Tampa in 2009, the company’s staff drove its cooling products from Temecula for 50 hours straight cross country — and arrived in time for the game.

When the NFL wanted 12 heating benches in January 2011 at the NFC Championship Game in Chicago, Big Fogg’s crews battled blizzards and hazardous conditions to ship equipment from all over the US — and made deadline.

Much of Big Fogg’s success comes from Miehl’s resilience. The company had booked its busiest football weekend of the year in mid-September before the tragedy of 9/11 cancelled all the games. Soon afterwards, Miehl moved his misting fans, languishing in storage in Syracuse and Rutgers, to Ground Zero. His equipment helped cool down the overloaded transformers and restore power to New York City.

“As far as we’re concerned, Big Fogg doesn’t have any competition,” said Raj Narayanan, assistant general manager of the minor league baseball team, The Lake Elsinore Storm. “They’re phenomenal. They’re knowledgeable and timely and here if we need anything. They keep everything cool without making the ballpark look unsightly.”