SBJ/August 4 - 10, 2003/Facilities

Aramark weathers the rain in a slow start to baseball

Liza Cartmell, president of Aramark's sports and entertainment group, is responsible for food and retail operations for the dozens of sports venues managed by the Philadelphia-based firm, including Wrigley Field, Coors Field, Reliant Stadium and the Wachovia Center. SportsBusiness Journal facilities writer Don Muret interviewed Cartmell during the 2003 International Association of Assembly Managers national convention in New Orleans last week. Aramark's second quarter earnings report is due Wednesday.

SBJ: There was some indication from the first quarterly report of 2003 that your Major League Baseball business could be soft. Can you comment on that?

“As we open the new Phillies ballpark next season, we will work with the team to ensure that those fans that wish to bring something small into the building will be permitted to do so.”

Liza Cartmell,

Cartmell: Certainly there was really bad weather all spring, and we being so heavily present on the East Coast had a disproportionate share of our games get rained out. Fortunately, the weather has picked up. I think we certainly have some teams that are up and some that are down. I think that's the way it goes traditionally. Overall, I expect to still see baseball be softer this year.

SBJ: Any further explanation? The economy?

Cartmell: No, I just think there are certain newer buildings, those that have been built since Camden Yards [in 1992], that are starting to see softness develop in their overall attendance patterns, compared to what they had hoped to do. I think all of the professional sports teams are facing an important moment with having to reconnect with their fans.

SBJ: Do you foresee further industry consolidation within Aramark in terms of acquiring other food-service companies?

Cartmell: I think Aramark is always looking for good opportunities to build out geographically as well as industry specialties. I would expect that we would continue to look.

SBJ: How have things been since you acquired [fellow concessionaire] Fine Host in 2002?

Cartmell: I think it's taken a little longer to assimilate, just because it was so complicated. The Ogden acquisition [in 2000] was all within sports and entertainment, and it was much simpler for us in some ways to integrate. Fine Host was very complicated. It was really a small Aramark. It had representation in multitudinous businesses; it had schools, convention centers, stadiums and arenas and correctional facilities.

SBJ: The NHL, in its attempt to speed up the game, has significantly decreased the time it takes from start to completion. How has that affected business?

Cartmell: We've seen a diminishment in per caps as a result. I really couldn't quantify it because you've got several factors going on with every team. We think it's a couple points, but we're not really comfortable enough to be able to isolate it.

SBJ: I'm sure you're aware of what happened with the Eagles and "Hoagiegate." How has Aramark handled the issue of bringing outside food into the stadium, and how will you handle that from now on in Philadelphia?

Cartmell: We work with every building to establish a policy that they are comfortable with. We feel that you always have to be respectful of the traditions in that marketplace. As we open the new Phillies ballpark [Citizens Bank Park] next season, we will work with the team to ensure that those fans that wish to bring something small into the building will be permitted to do so, but it would need to be something reasonable.

SBJ: Because now there is a "Joe Sixpack" bill in the works in Pennsylvania that would allow fans to bring food into sports venues. Have you heard about that?

Cartmell: I haven't heard about it. It would be hard seeing that enforced or enacted. A lot of these building owners have specifically negotiated for these kinds of rights. I think it's purely a matter between you and your fans.

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