TEMECULA: Local company is football’s top benchwarmer

For more than 20 years, Chris Miehl has wrangled sideline passes to some of the biggest football games in the country. Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, NFL conference championship games and big-time college rivalry games, he has done them all.

Miehl is the CEO and president of Big Fogg, a Temecula-based company that provides heated benches and misting fans for NFL and major college football teams.

And he has a basic principle that has served his company – which he said racked up over $2 million in sales last year – quite well over the years.

“When the NFL calls, you’ve got to come through,” said Miehl.

One of those calls came in 2009, four days before Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla.

“It was Wednesday and we didn’t have the product in Florida, we only had it in California,” said Miehl. “So I got two guys, rented a Penske truck and we loaded it up and they drove 49 straight hours.”

Big Fogg incorporated in 2000, rising from the ashes of another company, Cool Zone, which was a pioneer in deploying misting fans and cooling equipment on football sidelines.

Miehl said USC was the first football program he approached. Their equipment manager at the time had one question: Fans and water, isn’t that going to electrocute you?

When Miehl demonstrated the product was safe, USC committed to using them during the 1992 season. That year, the sideline misters were deployed at the Aloha Bowl where they caught the attention of somebody with the Buffalo Bills.

One thing led to another and a month later when the Bills traveled to Miami for the AFC Championship game, they had misters on their sideline. The Bills won that game and two weeks later Miehl and the equipment were at Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena.

It was the first of 11 Super Bowls that Miehl – who also happens to be a big football fan – worked from the sidelines.

USC Associate Athletic Director Jose Eskenazi said that personal touch is a trademark of Miehl and Big Fogg.

“You know, for being the main guy at the company he is very hands-on, which is really great,” said Eskenazi. “He’s in the weeds making sure stuff is done right, and he’s got a good crew of guys.

“It’s getting done and done the right way. Because when our coaches and players expect to have the sideline prepared a certain way for the game, we can’t have things not happen that we say are going to happen. And he’s out there with his guys making sure it all gets done.”

Miehl said about about half the 32 teams in the NFL have purchased equipment from him, but most of the company’s business comes from rentals.

Bob Wick, the equipment manager for the San Diego Chargers since 2000, said the franchise has a long history with Big Fogg. Sometimes the company will do the San Diego State game the day before the Chargers play, and just leave the equipment at the site.

“If we ever need it at the last minute, he’s always there for us,” said Wick. “And during the last couple years when our locker rooms were really warm during August, September, he puts cooling fans inside our locker room to keep the locker room cool for the players.”

The company’s heated benches are popular in more temperate climates.

Michigan State University’s head football equipment manager Dylan Martinez said he contracted with Big Fogg to provide heated benches for all four of its November games this season, including two home games and road tilts at Nebraska and Ohio State.

Like USC, Michigan State was one of the company’s earliest customers.

“That last month of the season, November, you’re just looking for any edge,” said Martinez. “Just something to keep the kids warm on the sidelines is huge.”

The Ohio State game in Columbus, Ohio, ended with Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger coming off the bench to drill a game-winning field goal on the final play handing the defending national champs their only loss of the season and catapulting the Spartans into the College Football Playoff.

Martinez stopped short of explicitly crediting the heated bench technology with the victory, but did concede: “I can tell you the kickers sit on it more than anybody.”

The company has branched into industrial work. It was hired by Con Edison in New York after the 9/11 attacks to help keep power transformers cool as electrical service was restored across Manhattan, said Miehl.

Big Fogg has also been contracted for events as diverse as the Special Olympics and Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Next month, Miehl turns 54 and he admits he’s had to make some concessions to age.

“I can still set up a game but I can’t do the all-night driving any longer like back when we were getting started,” said Miehl.

One thing that never gets old, said Miehl, is the charge he gets from being on the football sideline during fall weekends.

“I found a way to attend a football game every week from August to December and get paid for it,” said Miehl.