SBJ/April 26 - May 2, 2004/Facilities

Rangers hope Rawlings will get ball rolling again at Ballpark eatery

Rawlings All American Grille will work to fill seats on non-game days.

The Texas Rangers anticipate that the new Rawlings All American Grille at The Ballpark in Arlington will lead to a rebound in non-event revenue, said Rick McLaughlin, the team’s executive vice president of business operations.

The restaurant, operated by Sports Destination Entertainment of Scottsdale, Ariz., opened last month, replacing Friday’s Front Row Grill. The firm signed a five-year lease with the Rangers that includes a five-year renewable option.

The company is an authorized licensee of Rawlings Sporting Goods and pays the Rangers a percentage of sales. The restaurant is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Another Rawlings restaurant opens next year in Frisco, Texas, as part of Southwest Sports Group’s development around 7Up/Dr Pepper Ballpark and the NHL Dallas Stars’ practice facility.

The Rangers were among the first MLB teams to incorporate brand-name restaurants into their stadiums when the Ballpark opened in 1994 with Friday’s Front Row Grill.

“This restaurant was the No. 1-grossing unit in the Friday’s chain and had tremendous success in the early years,” McLaughlin said. “But the concept started to lose some of its appeal. It started to get stale. We mutually agreed to go in different directions.”

Friday’s representative Amy Freshwater said Front Row Grills at Miller Park in Milwaukee and Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix are performing well.

McLaughlin said: “Candidly, we saw off-season business drop over the last couple years.”

“Rawlings will be more aggressive in marketing for non-game days, which is one of the reasons we chose them,” he said. “They’re looking at game-day business as icing on the cake.”

Dirk Smith, vice president of corporate development for Sports Destination Entertainment and former travel director for the San Francisco Giants, said: “We secured ESPN Radio to do a Rangers postgame show from our location. We made an alliance with 13 Fox Sports affiliates and are working with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.” The restaurant does cross-promotions with the cable television network and the newspaper.

Rangers owner Tom Hicks discovered the restaurant a few years ago when he stopped at the original location in San Mateo, Calif., to watch a Dallas Stars playoff game while in town on unrelated business, Smith said. It was then known as Scores Legendary Sports Restaurant.

McLaughlin said, “He liked the energy and the feel and the food and the service. He had our real estate group talk to them about opening one for the Frisco RoughRiders.”

Sports Destination Entertainment closed the location last June, acquired a license with Rawlings and reopened the place in August as Rawlings All American Grille.

Smith said his firm would be interested in opening restaurants at other ballparks depending on the location and the potential to attract non-game-day business. “The opportunities are limited because not every stadium would necessarily work,” he said. “Not every one is a perfect fit.”

He added, “We had not envisioned ourselves necessarily going into a sports facility and this fell into our lap.”

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