SBJ/October 24-30, 2011/Facilities

Burgatory’s hotter than H-E double hockey sticks at Pens’ arena

Don Muret
A new gourmet burger-and-shake stand at Consol Energy Center is grabbing the attention of fans throughout the second-year home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Burgatory, situated behind Section 206 in the arena’s upper deck, opened this season as part of more than $1 million in upgrades to the NHL facility. The stand’s “helluva burgers” and “heavenly shakes” are themed after the original family-owned restaurant in suburban Pittsburgh that has been open less than a year. The arena site replaces an old general concessions stand, said David Peart, Penguins senior vice president.

Separately, Burgatory officials signed a three-year sponsorship with the Penguins valued at $50,000 annually covering brand exposure on LED ribbon boards and digital signs on the concourses.

KATELYN ROSE PETRAITIS
“Helluva burgers” and “heavenly shakes” draw fans upstairs at Consol Energy Center.
Mike Hanley
, Burgatory’s operating partner, invested about $100,000 in equipment costs and signed a licensing deal with Aramark, the Penguins’ food and retail provider and the stand’s operator. In turn, Aramark pays Burgatory a percentage of sales, Hanley said.

Early in the season, Burgatory officials are training Aramark workers and managing the stand for quality control, Hanley said.

On opening night, Oct. 11, Burgatory sold 700 burgers and 350 shakes, a single-game sales record for the arena’s food stands. Its limited menu has two burgers, a chicken sandwich, caramel pretzel and triple chocolate brownie shakes, and fresh-cut fries. A half-pound burger sells for $12.50 and comes with homemade chips. The large shakes are $8.75.

As the buzz on Burgatory spreads, hockey fans in all seating areas are migrating to the stand. In some cases, suite holders bypass catered fare to make the trip upstairs to grab a burger, Peart said.

Burgatory and the Penguins first connected through Peart. The Penguins’ executive frequents the original location and is a “big fan and a great customer of ours,” Hanley said.

Signing a deal to bring another popular brand into the arena fit with what Pittsburgh hockey fans were looking for, based on fan surveys and season-ticket-holder breakfasts that the Penguins organized as early as two weeks into the building’s inaugural season, Peart said.

“Yes, it is a burger-and-shake stand, but it is not the kind of food you find in a traditional arena,” Peart said. “Fans wanted local flavor and access to a premium experience.”

Consol Energy Center opened last year with Primanti Bros. sandwiches, an iconic Pittsburgh brand.

The Penguins also discovered through fan feedback that their customers desired a place close by to sit down and eat before and after games. Team officials believe T.G.I. Friday’s, the casual dining chain, fills that niche.

In June, Friday’s opened a streetside restaurant that is part of Consol Energy Center. Friday’s pays rent to the Penguins to operate the space. Unlike the Friday’s Front Row concept at MLB parks in Phoenix and Milwaukee, T.G.I. Friday’s does not extend to an overlook in the seating bowl. It operates more as a retail location than an in-arena destination, Peart said.

Arena manager SMG books 170 events annually, drawing an average of 12,000 spectators, driving enough traffic to make it a viable business, Peart said. In addition, Friday’s draws lunch and dinner crowds from nearby Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy hospital.

The restaurant sits along Fifth Avenue, part of the first phase of development the team is involved with outside the arena.

CLEAN SWEEP: Delaware North Sportservice officials could not be happier with how the MLB playoffs unfolded.

For the first time in its 96-year history, Sportservice had all four teams advancing to the ALCS and NLCS as clients, confirmed Rick Abramson, president of the concessions firm.

Through the league championship series, the 21 playoff games at Busch Stadium, Comerica Park, Miller Park and Rangers Ballpark generated close to $24 million in total food and merchandise sales. Food receipts alone produced about $21 million.

Sportservice went nuts finding squirrels for St. Louis.
For the four teams, the average food and retail per cap was $25.04, the biggest number in playoff history for Sportservice, Abramson said. The figure does not include Rangers merchandise because the team runs that operation in-house.

In St. Louis, as of last week, Sportservice had sold about 8,000 Rally Squirrels, stuffed toys named after the rogue rodent or rodents that disrupted play during two games of the Cardinals-Phillies divisional series at Busch Stadium.

To quickly meet demand, the vendor contacted its sister company, Delaware North Cos. Parks and Resorts, the firm that runs gift shops at Yellowstone and Yosemite. Those two national parks shipped excess toy squirrel inventory to Busch Stadium’s team store run by Sportservice. After those initial $6 toys sold out, Sportservice upgraded to a $12 talking squirrel that’s now for sale.

The squirrel toys and other Rally Squirrel merchandise, a spin on the Los Angeles Angels’ Rally Monkey that took the spotlight during the 2002 World Series, are also being sold at a half-dozen “pop-up” stores that Sportservice opened near Busch Stadium.

SOCIAL GATHERING: The Carolina Panthers are using Facebook and Twitter to sell discounted single-game tickets to their game this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Panthers had 5,000 tickets left to sell for that game and thought it would be a good test to use social media to sell the rest in the corners of the upper deck, said Phil Youtsey, the club’s director of ticket sales and operations.

The team slashed the price of those tickets from $52 to $32, excluding the $1.25 print-at-home fee.

As of last week, the Panthers had sold more than 800 tickets through the promotion and expected to meet their projection of 1,000, Youtsey said.

The offer was available only to those fans signing up for the team’s social media programs. A link directs prospective buyers to Ticketmaster’s site, where they enter a password to get the discount.

The Panthers have more than 333,000 followers on Facebook and about 48,000 on Twitter. “It’s a thank-you to our social media followers,” Youtsey said.

Last Tuesday, the Panthers still had 3,500 tickets left for the game.

Last Sunday’s home game against Washington was the Panthers’ 89th consecutive sellout.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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