Super Misting Fans advance to big games

MIST SYSTEM: Big Fogg Misting Fans of Temecula helps football players keep their cool on the bench. 

Friday, February 3, 2006

By MARK KAWAR / The Press-Enterprise

Driving near Hemet more than 10 years ago, Christopher Miehl saw a herd of cattle being cooled by giant fans, beginning a chain of events that has led him to Detroit this weekend for the Super Bowl.

Miehl had been working for a company selling low-pressure backyard water-misting fans when his inspiration struck. When he saw the bulky bovines keeping cool, a thought popped into his head: Bulky football players need misting, too.

After a bit of tinkering with nozzles and industrial-sized fans, his company at the time, began marketing the misting fans to college and NFL teams.

Today, Miehl’s Temecula-based company, Big Fogg Misting Systems Inc., supplies misting fans to more than 30 college football teams and about half the 32 teams in the National Football League. This year’s Super Bowl contenders, the Seattle Seahawks and the Pittsburgh Steelers, are customers.

Television viewers will probably be able to see the company’s Big Fogg Misting Systems logo plastered on the fans behind the players’ benches.

The 2-foot diameter fans spray water through eight nozzles to create a fine mist. The misting cools the air and “flash evaporates” before it reaches the players, lowering the temperature by about 25 degrees without getting the players wet.

The company sells misting fans or rents four to six misting fans and two company technicians for a game. Most college teams rent, while the NFL teams are more likely to buy the misting fans, he said.

Colleges usually rent the misting machines on a game-by-game basis, he said, but some have seasonal contracts.

Miehl and three other Big Fogg Misting Fans employees will be on hand at the Super Bowl to change the level of mist to match the temperature and humidity at the game — an easy task for this year’s Super Bowl, he said, because the Detroit stadium has a dome.

“The players love it,” said Dino Dennis, head equipment manager for USC. “Back when I was playing (in the 1960s and ’70s) we used towels soaked in ice water. Sometimes we’d just use a hose. This is much better.”

USC became Cool Zone’s first football customer in 1993, and switched to Big Fogg when Miehl started the company.

Christopher Miehl got a boost for his emerging sports misting business in 1994 when the Aloha Bowl used its fans. The Summer Olympics in Atlanta followed in 1996.

UCLA is also a Big Fogg Misting Fan customer. Assistant Athletic Director Mike Dowling said the misting fans don’t just make the players more comfortable; they give the team an advantage. 

“Our sports medicine staff thinks that body temperature has some effect on the way players perform on the field,” he said.

Miehl said he was worried when he first started renting the misters that some teams would be too macho for them, but he’s not encountered that attitude.

“They care about winning,” he said. “If he thought he could have gotten even a small competitive advantage, (famously tough Green Bay Packers coach) Vince Lombardi would have used these, too.”

Most of Big Fogg Misting Fan’s sports business comes from football teams, but the company also supplies mist machines to some Major League Baseball teams and auto racing crews. The company’s nonsports customers include Harrah’s casinos, Temecula wineries and composters who want to suppress their smells with misting.

In November, the company got an order from the U.S. military to supply 23 misting fans to cool troops at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Miehl said he’s traveled as far as Kuwait to install misting systems. He said the company is developing new uses for its misting technology, including a misting system for golf carts.

In addition to misting fans, the company also rents heated benches to football teams for cold weather games, though this is a small part of its business, Miehl said. UCLA and Oregon also use the heated benches for some games.

Miehl founded Big Fogg in 1999, after leaving his previous company. He said starting the new company was easy because he took most of sports clients when their contracts ended. 

Miehl moved the new company to Temecula from San Diego in 2002 for the lower cost of doing business.

Big Fogg has 15 employees during the peak summer season, and its sales reached $3 million last year, Miehl said. His goal is $4 million this year.

Miehl, who grew up near Buffalo, N.Y., went to San Diego State, where he got his master’s of business administration degree.

After working for Geneva Capital Markets, a mergers and acquisitions company in Irvine, he started Cool Zone in 1993. He said he left the company because he didn’t have confidence in its finances. 

“It’s a real kick to be able to go around from game to game, seeing all of my favorite teams,” said Miehl. 
This will be his fifth Super Bowl. He won’t predict a winner because both teams are customers.
“I’m going to be working,” he said. “But I’m also going to be at the Super Bowl, so it’s not a bad job.”