SBJ/July 28 - August 3, 2003/Other News

Eagles digest response to announced outside food ban

The Philadelphia Eagles were re-evaluating a ban on outside food at their new Lincoln Financial Field with concessionaire Sportservice last week after local media took harsh exception to the end of a decades-old tradition: buying a hoagie sandwich at a deli to eat at an Eagles game.

The episode put the spotlight on policies regarding bringing food into NFL stadiums, which vary from team to team. The NFL's "best practices" guidelines recommend that teams do not allow fans to bring food and drink into the building, said Risa Balayem, Detroit Lions spokeswoman.

The Philadelphia Daily News gave Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie an earful.
Emotions ran high in Philly, where the Daily News started a petition in protest and WIP-AM suspended top-rated host Angelo Cataldi over remarks he made on the topic.

As one food service representative who preferred to remain anonymous pointed out, "Even when Veterans Stadium opened [in 1971], the big thing was to bring a hoagie in." To say otherwise is "like telling people they can't put up a Christmas tree."

Eagles die-hards were just as outraged with how the franchise positioned the outside-food ban. President Joe Banner said the new policy fell in line with increased post-9/11 security measures. The media pointed out that the Eagles now control all revenue sources. Jokes and headlines with exploding hoagie references ensued.

But the fact remains that as major league sports franchises go online with new venues, concession revenue plays an ever-increasing role in retiring debt service, noted Doug Drewes, regional vice president of Centerplate, which with 10 accounts is the largest NFL food provider.

"That is truly the norm these days, with these aggressive deals," he said. "Teams need to capture as much revenue as possible to offset the building costs. The concessionaire [also] needs some protection. That's basically what it boils down to."

Bruce Sommer, executive director of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, agreed. "Most buildings have exclusive contracts with concessionaires and that violates the agreement," he said. "It's also part of how you pay for the building."

The Eagles need only look to their in-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to discover what Steelers officials believe is a reasonable compromise. At Heinz Field, owned by the city and county but operated by the Steelers, patrons are allowed to bring in small (8-by-11-inch) containers and bottled water with the cap removed.

"We're user-friendly. Now, if they bring in a six-foot hoagie or three pizzas, that's different," said Jimmy Sacco, stadium manager for PSSI Inc., a Steelers subsidiary. "But we're a little lenient. If somebody is carrying a submarine sandwich in their hand, we don't turn them away."

Giants Stadium, owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, also allows outside food. "Other stadiums have tried to come up with valid reasons for the ban, one being security. But we never wanted to go down that road," said Tim Hassett, stadium senior vice president.

"Tailgating cuts into our concessions far more than bringing in your own food. Our parking lots hold 30,000 vehicles. As a result, we lose concession money. But that's the price of doing business in the NFL."

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