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The Texas Rangers’ fast start this season extends to the revamped outfield plaza at Rangers Ballpark.
Over the first three homestands, as soon as the stadium gates opened, team officials saw Rangers fans sprint to a new outdoor bar above center field to grab a seat against a protective railing where they could hang out, enjoy a cold beer and watch the game.
The Budweiser Bowtie at Vandergriff Plaza, the name of the new 12,000-square-foot bar, has four new concession stands plus aluminum tables and chairs for fans to congregate in a sports bistro setting outdoors under protective cover.
Texas Rangers fans watch the action from the Batter’s Eye Club, one of two indoor lounges added to the outfield area.
Photo by:Texas Rangers
The Bud bar is part of an overhaul of the park’s outfield area, a project spanning 55,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. The Rangers and Delaware North Sportservice, their food provider, shared the cost of the $12 million investment.
The Rangers are not alone in their efforts to bring new life to tired food and drink areas to generate more revenue and keep fans moving through the turnstiles. Across Major League Baseball, teams, vendors and their marketing partners are repurposing concession areas, creating vibrant destinations.
Many food-driven facelifts are taking place at the larger ballparks built in the 1990s that now have too many unsold seats. Those seating areas are being redeveloped into branded bars and clubs that cater to all ticket holders. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Progressive Field, Coors Field and Safeco Field, as well as Rangers Ballpark, were all born in that era. As those facilities grow older, teams and food providers are looking for ways to shrink capacity and increase concession points of sale.
Sports architect Populous originally designed three of those ballparks, and recently has done work to redevelop outfield spaces at Rangers Ballpark and Safeco Field.
In Seattle, Populous teamed with the Mariners and Centerplate, the team’s food provider, to redevelop a center-field space into The ’Pen, a standing-room space featuring higher-end concessions that has become one of the hottest singles spots in town.
“We have done a lot of work over the last three years with these older ballparks trying to reinvent themselves, creating comprehensive master plans,” said Greg Sherlock, a senior architect and principal with Populous.
“The key to the success of any food and beverage spot is thinking ahead to develop a complete overlay of a particular vision,” Sherlock said. “At these stadiums over time … patterns have changed with viewing habits, presenting us with opportunities for reinventing spaces.”
On average, Populous finds a half-dozen nooks and crannies in older, bigger parks that are ripe for new food and drink
“It’s not just about building a stand with a glamorous name,” he said. “The problem is teams don’t have a boatload of money so it’s about developing an entire vision for projects that could be completed for the next four to five years.”
Teams short on cash turn to their concessionaires and food and drink partners to help pay for renovations that can run seven figures depending on the scope of the project.
In some markets, malt beverage partners drive the need for branded destinations. Anheuser-Busch, as part of its official MLB beer deal, is tied to about a dozen new Budweiser-branded bars and roof decks at stadiums. In the spirits category, multiple MLB teams have deals with Captain Morgan and Familia Camarena to theme indoor and outdoor spaces, including Rangers Ballpark, Wrigley Field, Coors Field and AT&T Park.
Rangers cool things down
In Arlington, Budweiser and Captain Morgan each have a brand presence at new outfield bars, the first major structural improvements since the ballpark opened in 1994.
The Southwest climate drove the adjustments, according to Matwick. The Rangers relocated office space and a kids zone, and removed aluminum bleacher seats, to make room for upgrades in an outfield where fans had been completely exposed to the Texas sun.
Rangers fans have rushed to the outfield area to try to secure a coveted seat along the railing of one of the team’s new bar areas.
Photo by:Texas Rangers
That has all changed this season. The covered Bud bar, plus the Batter’s Eye Club and Captain Morgan Club, the Rangers’ two new indoor lounges, provide shade and air conditioning, a premium amenity in North Texas.
The new development eliminated about 900 outfield seats but the new concession stands, bars and clubs will offset the loss of ticket revenue, Matwick said.
For the first 18 years at Rangers Ballpark, the batter’s eye area was just a green wall before the new structure was built, featuring a roof overhang on both sides that provides more shaded outfield space near the statue of Nolan Ryan, the team’s owner and former star pitcher.
After studying batter’s eye clubs at Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium, the Rangers decided to dynamically price the new 150-seat lounge. The team markets the club for groups and individual sales, starting at $75 a person per game, a fee covering food and drink.
The Rangers installed an 11-foot-tall video board on the back wall behind the club, and early in the season the team has seen another trend developing, Matwick said. Families are spreading blankets on the grass landing to watch the game on the big screen while grabbing dinner from Ryan’s Express 34, a new stand serving burgers from team owner Ryan’s meat company, one of four new concessions behind the Batter’s Eye Club.
“It’s almost become like an outdoor movie theater,” Matwick said.
Fans cannot see the game from behind the Batter’s Eye Club but they can “still hear and feel the atmosphere of the park,” said Shawn Mattox, Sportservice’s general manager at Rangers Ballpark. “They are still engaged in the senses of the game.”
Giants set Anchor
In San Francisco, the new Anchor Plaza & Tap Room serves a similar purpose at AT&T Park, widely known for having some of the best food in baseball despite having one of MLB’s smallest footprints on an 11-acre waterfront property.
The challenge for the Giants and Centerplate has always been to find extra space to grow revenue, which led to concourse clutter blocking fans’ views to the game. Populous resolved some of those issues by designing small
The new Anchor Plaza at AT&T Park doesn’t offer fans a view of the game, but is still a popular gathering place.
Photo by:San Francisco Giants
In the center-field food court, right behind the scoreboard, there was some open space to fill between Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ, Crazy Crab and Outta Here Cheesesteaks. The result is the new tap room and plaza designed after the Anchor Brewery in town, a 116-year-old brand. Anchor Brewing Co. signed on last season as a new Giants sponsor and expanded its stadium presence this year with the tap room.
With the Giants approaching their 100th consecutive sellout, the Anchor tap room provides the focal point that had been missing in center field, said Alfonso Felder, the team’s senior vice president of facilities.
“We needed something in the middle to join everything together, and Anchor, one of the oldest breweries around, is right down the street,” said Bill Greathouse, Centerplate’s senior vice president of sports.
Centerplate officials visited the original brewery to match the same wood, brass and marble finishes for the ballpark site. Fans can’t see the game from the Anchor bar but they can watch it on television while enjoying one of the best ballpark settings in America.
“On a nice day game, it’s great to just eat and drink out there, watch the game on the screens and look at the bay,” Greathouse said. “We are getting great feedback on this from the fans already.”
In St. Petersburg and Toronto, two markets where the Rays and Blue Jays face the challenge of drawing fans to aging domes, the challenge for concessionaires is to create a pleasurable food experience in a sport synonymous with having fun outdoors in the summer.
Centerplate and Aramark, respectively, have developed in-house brands at Tropicana Field and Rogers Centre, piggybacking on local flavors and traditions.
The Everglades barbecue theme brought new life to a restaurant at Tropicana Field.
Photo by:Ronert Crum
At Tropicana Field, Centerplate shook up the menu and decor at the old buffet-style Batter’s Eye Restaurant, which is open to all fans. To create a more inviting space, the concessions firm brought in the Florida barbecue theme first launched a few years ago at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
The issue in St. Pete was not the restaurant’s location as much as it was the atmosphere, said Bill Tracy, Centerplate’s regional vice president.
“A lot of fans had the preconceived notion that it was an exclusive club,” Tracy said. “It was seen more as a stuffy area. We sat down with the team and said, ‘You can’t beat the view; how come we can’t get people in here?’”
Centerplate found the right answer by softening the space, providing a casual, neighborhood dining feel with paper towels and barbecue sauces adorning tables, a 180-degree turn from the old layout. The vendor installed three 1,000-pound smokers to cook ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken. Centerplate charges $7 for sandwiches and up to $22 for a half smoked chicken/half rib combo. The core item is a pulled pork sandwich with wedge fries for $11.
The revamp, financed by Centerplate for less than $20,000, has worked out well. Foot traffic has increased by 40 percent over the old dining format, with a high of 350 to 400 diners coming through the Everglades on a typical game night, Tracy said.
Its success led Centerplate to expand the Everglades barbecue theme to a pair of concession stands elsewhere at Tropicana Field.
In Toronto, a cosmopolitan city that takes food very seriously, Aramark adapted several international food themes at the old SkyDome that reflect the eclectic neighborhoods in Canada’s largest market.
The free-flowing setup and menus inside the roomy Muddy York market on the main concourse are a dramatic shift from a building where McDonald’s ran the Blue Jays’ concessions for the dome’s first 10 years, before Sportservice took over in 2000.
The need for a total refresh of Rogers Centre’s concessions led Aramark down a path to provide a strong connection to the city’s heritage after surveying fans to find out their tastes and preferences, said Jeff Curley, the firm’s general manager.
Muddy York, an old nickname for Toronto, has ties to the city’s downtown market dating to the 1930s. At the dome location, Aramark’s food per caps have grown steadily over the past two to three years, due in large part to the renovation and native foods, Curley said.
“Toronto is a food mecca where people love to go out and eat, and part of the success we have had here is understanding what our fans do when they are not at the ballpark,” he said.
Safeco Field has become a singles hot spot in Seattle due in large part to its new outfield concessions layout.
The ’Pen, a renovated space in center field, opened last year at the Mariners’ ballpark, bringing new life to what previously was called the Bullpen Market, a dimly lit, cramped area themed after the city’s famed Pike Place Fish Market.
After its redevelopment, the new standing-room-only setup can accommodate about 3,000 fans. The bars and higher-end food items created by local chefs have turned The ’Pen into a prime destination for the 20- and 30-something crowd on Friday and Saturday nights.
Last season’s food and beverage sales at The ’Pen increased by 67 percent over 2010, with retail jumping 400 percent over the previous year, said Scott Jenkins, vice president of ballpark operations.
Areas such as The ‘Pen at Safeco Field cater to those who put a premium on mingling.
Photo by:Seattle Mariners
In Miami, the Clevelander at new Marlins Park, a spinoff of the decadent South Beach nightclub of the same name, has a swimming pool and body-painted models walking around the event-level bar in left field.
In older parks such as Coors Field, home of the Camarena Loft in the upper deck, and the outfield walkways at Camden Yards, Kauffman Stadium and Citizens Bank Park, teams and their concessionaires are creating more mingling spaces catering to the younger set. Some are tied to seats, such as a tequila bar in Denver; others are open to all ticket holders.
In San Diego, the new left center-field Budweiser Patio at Petco Park is marketed to college students of legal drinking age. In late April, the third of seven College Night promotions on Thursdays attracted 1,000 people to the stadium’s upper deck, with a DJ playing tunes, said Tom Garfinkel, Padres president and chief operating officer.
The upper reaches and outfield spaces at some of the older, bigger parks provide prime opportunities for teams and concessionaires to develop hangouts driven by alcohol sales in areas where it has been difficult to sell seats, said food consultant Chris Bigelow.
The success of the redeveloped outfield plaza at Kauffman Stadium, where there was no outfield access for the park’s first 35 years, continues to amaze Bigelow, three years after it opened as part of the ballpark’s $250 million renovation.
The plaza contains the Bud-branded Rivals sports bar in left field, as well as other attractions that Royals fans gravitate to regardless of their seat location and the distance to those destinations from most of the parking lots behind home plate.
“It has shocked me because the outfield is not naturally where everybody is coming into the stadium,” said Bigelow, a Kansas City resident. “It has been a huge success. When other seats are empty, the outfield plaza is packed.”
In general, the trend fits with urban gentrification in Denver, Cleveland, San Francisco and Kansas City, four cities that have seen an influx of lofts and condominiums built for young professionals in the central business district, said Greg Sherlock, a senior principal with Populous.
“These people are looking for places to socialize and watch the game at the same time,” Sherlock said. “The Clevelander is a combination of both. It is that hip environment; it’s been on South Beach for decades. The brand brings that presence into the stadium.”
In Seattle, Populous worked with the Mariners and Centerplate, Safeco Field’s food provider, to reinvent the old Bullpen Market, opening up the views from behind the bullpens by replacing a chain-link fence with a drink rail in center field.
Project officials removed old concessions that cluttered the space and built new stands on the perimeter, installed a new sound system with several televisions, and installed a fire pit, Jenkins said.
The theming around pitching terminology at The ’Pen extends to a new bar called Caught Looking. The Mariners, in conjunction with Centerplate, run “Singles Night” promotions on weekends with $5 pint specials up to one hour before the game starts.
As a result of the retrofit, home run balls now bounce into The ’Pen and pitchers interact more with the fans in that area, Jenkins said.
The ’Pen’s success prompted the Mariners and Centerplate to open a similar space down the left-field line in the upper deck. The Lookout Landing, which replaced a regular concession area, offers a cocktail bar and provides a spectacular view of the city, Jenkins said.
“We have the busiest concourse space in baseball … and the momentum of The ’Pen has carried over to upstairs.”
Here are some concessions upgrades and concepts at MLB parks that have teams, vendors and fans tipping their caps.
■ Progressive Field: Sportservice’s $30 craft beer got all the attention last year in Cleveland, but Your Dad’s Beer stand
A beer stop for the the budget minded.
Photo by:Cleveland Indians
■ Petco Park: Tom Garfinkel, San Diego Padres president and chief operating officer, reached out to fans in the offseason on Twitter and through a team blogger to identify their favorite local brands. The feedback resulted in Hodad’s burgers and two Mexican restaurants, Bull Taco and Lucha Libre, joining Sportservice’s new menu items this year. Bull Taco is part of The Pier, a new concessions theme behind home plate that replaced the park’s original Westwinds sushi bar.
Hanging out at Dempsey’s Brew Pub.
Photo by:Baltimore Orioles
■ Citizens Bank Park: Aramark expanded its Chickie’s & Pete’s stand to a new indoor location at Ashburn Alley to satisfy demand for the iconic Philly sports bar brand and its signature crab fries. Also new this year is Dessert Alley by the left-field foul pole, selling homemade funnel cakes, doughnuts, cupcakes and milkshakes. The $3 cupcakes are the size of a softball, and Aramark sells about 100 a game. “It doesn’t sound like a huge number but we’ve seen guys with microbrews in one hand holding cupcakes in the other hand,” said Kevin Tedesco, Aramark’s general manager.
■ Yankee Stadium: Baseball’s plushest park is only 3 years old, but the team and its in-house concessionaire continue
Checking out the Manhattan skyline from the Malibu Rooftop Deck at Yankee Stadium.
Photo by:Legends Hospitality Management
■ Salt River Fields at Talking Stick: One year after the Arizona spring training complex opened, Ovations Food Services converted an old stand down the third-base line that served chicken dishes into a martini bar to match the volume of the Salty’s margarita stand down the first-base line. The Blue Martini is tied to the national chain of nightclubs by the same name. At the minor league level, Ovations opened a branded outdoor bar in right field at Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides, the Baltimore Orioles’ Class AAA affiliate. The bar fills undeveloped space and addresses the need to attract a younger crowd.
The 2-foot-long Boomstick.
Photo by:Delaware North Sportservicee
■ Nationals Park: Not to be outdone by Sportservice, competitor Levy Restaurants created the monstrous 8-pound StrasBurger, made with ground brisket, chuck and short ribs. The $59 specialty item, named after Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, will be served only about a half-dozen times at the Red Porch restaurant in center field. These “Man vs. Food”-style gimmicks are perfect for fans munching along with the sport’s leisurely pace, said consultant Chris Bigelow. “You are not going to sell a lot of them, but a bunch of guys will think it’s fun to take on the challenge,” he said.
■ Others: Aramark’s “extreme nacho makeover” at its 11 MLB accounts has led to creative chip combinations. Toppings range from pastrami, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing at Citi Field to vanilla bean ice cream with Hershey’s syrup and caramel sauce at Angel Stadium. The nachos sell for $7 to $9. Separately, Aramark has jumped on the food truck trend to sell tacos at Kauffman Stadium, Asian noodle bowls at Coors Field and lobster rolls at Fenway Park. When those teams are on the road, Aramark plans to move the trucks to other tourist attractions in town to keep them busy.
Concessionaires and teams at every major league venue have in recent years instituted programs to reduce their waste, ranging from placing recycling cans next to trash cans in public areas to using compostable plates, cups, cup carriers and straws.
Now with a few years of data under their belts, they can see the financial benefits that have complemented what was likely an initial nice public relations glow, and tackle the primary source of that waste.
“Food is now the No. 1 material sent to landfills each year,” the EPA’s Jean Schwab told the Stadium Managers Association this year at that group’s annual conference.
As part of composting efforts, a worker at CenturyLink Field gathers food waste from a suite.
Photo by:Seattle Seahawks / Sounders
The most effective way of reducing food waste, according to a Food Recovery Pyramid designed by the EPA, is (logically) to prepare less food. However, concessionaires and their team partners universally agree that this approach comes with a major risk that may outweigh the benefits: running out of food during a game. And with the margins so high on more popular concession items such as hot dogs, kitchens are willing to overprepare.
However, teams have found that after they have conducted an audit — either independently or by using the EPA’s online tools — and created a benchmark of food waste, solutions become more clear.
For example, donating leftover game-day food has been standard practice for years for a number of teams. However, local laws and transportation issues have often provided hurdles that can discourage the practice. Concessionaires universally praise the 2008 Federal Food Donation Act, an extension of the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, a federal law designed to encourage businesses to donate leftover food to nonprofit groups, without fear of civil or criminal liability.
As a direct result of that legislation, the NHL and its 30 clubs since 2010 have teamed up with Rock and Wrap It Up!, a New York-based agency that matches teams with local groups that provide food to the needy. The organization, which also works with about two dozen stadiums, vets groups in a team’s market that can handle pickup in a refrigerated truck and handle storage on-site. At the end of each game, unserved, wrapped edible foods are frozen, then picked up by nonprofit groups at no cost to the concessionaire or the team.
TD Garden, for example, has donated an average of 15.5 tons of food per season the past three seasons to the Boston Rescue Mission through Rock and Wrap It Up!
As part of its partnership with Rock and Wrap It Up!, the NHL’s 30 clubs have combined to donate more than 205,000 pounds of food in each of the last two seasons to local food banks.
The NHL is monitoring not just game-day donations of each club, but expects that in a few months every team will make its individual environmental and energy use data available to every other club.
“Our goal is to have a metrics system fully operational with accurate reporting before next season,” said Paul LaCaruba, who handles the NHL’s sustainability initiatives. He said about 10 of the league’s clubs now use an online spreadsheet template set up by the league to enter game-day donation, recycling, composting and landfill data.
Delaware North Sportservice also will roll out a company-wide software platform this year, intended to have all of its business units — not just its sports venues — share data and best practices. The company last year created the office of environmental affairs and sustainability and tabbed Anne Marie McManus to head the process. McManus is an environmental engineer who has spent nearly three decades in the field.
“Environmental affairs are today’s issues, and sustainability deals with tomorrow’s,” McManus said. “My job this year is to help reduce sustainability barriers our business units face by setting up infrastructure like corporate-wide purchasing, sharing best practices and developing national contracts for waste disposal.”
Although Sportservice saw a 22 percent increase in the number of events at Cleveland’s Progressive Field from 2007-11, the 682 tons of waste that were hauled from the ballpark to the landfill last year was down 46 percent over 2007.
Brad Mohr, the Cleveland Indians’ assistant director of ballpark operations, said the team saved more than $250,000 in total waste disposal costs from 2008-11 as a result of operational and attitudinal changes.
In 2009, a local company that provides biofuel to a truck fleet began going to the ballpark regularly to collect 10 to 11 tons of used cooking oil annually. After a year of collecting the oil in buckets, Sportservice paid for new pumping equipment, and now the only costs involved belong to the company picking up the oil.
In 2010, the Indians worked with a local composting company to start a coalition of downtown businesses, including the Browns and Cavaliers, to put together a route for trucks to haul away compostable waste. The Indians’ six-game test run at the end of that season generated five tons of compost. More than 20 tons were generated after the program was fully implemented last year.
Mohr said that last year the garbage man came 99 times to Progressive Field, down from 254 “pulls” in 2007. Each visit costs an average of $550, compared with the $7 it costs to pick up each compost tote. And he said that 2011 was the first year that the average visitor generated less than one pound of landfill-bound trash.
Once Sportservice and the Indians began auditing what was being thrown away, they were able to better manage inventory. As a result, three tons of food were donated from Progressive Field to area food banks last year, down from six tons in 2010.
CenturyLink Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC, was selected in 2006 to participate in a pilot program through the EPA WasteWise Partnership program monitoring its food waste disposal. After benchmarking its numbers with stadium concessionaire Levy, longtime partners Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola joined the effort, and last year only one quarter of the waste produced at the stadium went to the dump (see chart).
Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, composted 60 tons, or 36 percent, of its food waste in 2005, saving nearly $6,000 in disposal costs. The team last year diverted 56 percent of its waste, or approximately 165 tons, away from landfills. The average annual savings in trash removal over that seven-year stretch was nearly $11,000. The club also gives away an average of 20 tons of cooking oil for use as biofuel.
While most clubs are still in the early stages of tracking the financial benefits of reducing their volume of waste, some in the industry are already looking ahead to the next phase. Venue-generated compost can be repurposed on-site as mulch and fertilizer. Cooking oil can be converted on-site to power vehicles and other equipment. Such efforts would not only further reduce haul-away costs, but reduce the venues’ carbon footprint.