SBJ/May 7-13, 2012/In-Depth

Bars, local chefs, models in swimming pools. At these spots, who needs a game?

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
The ’Pen is just one example of how teams and their food vendors are targeting younger demographics by designing new branded bars and clubs for those whose primary interests lie in meeting someone new at the game.

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.”

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