SBJ/September 3-9, 2012/Facilities

Things are sweet in Sugar Land at new minor league park

Don Muret
Roger Clemens’ return to professional baseball last month put the cherry on top of a banner season for the Sugar Land Skeeters and Legends Hospitality Management, their food and retail provider.
The Skeeters, owned by Opening Day Partners, are a first-year minor league team playing in the independent Atlantic League. They have struck gold in Sugar Land, an upper-middle-class suburb of 87,000 residents situated about 25 miles southwest of Houston.

As their inaugural season begins to wind down, the Skeeters have drawn an average of 6,600 fans a game at Constellation Field, a new ballpark with 6,000 fixed seats, said Skeeters President Matt O’Brien. For Clemens’ appearance Aug. 25, the team attracted a crowd of 7,724, which included the sale of lawn seats and standing-room-only tickets. At that game, Legends reported a per cap of more than $18 for food and merchandise, said Michael Bekolay, the concessionaire’s vice president of operations.

The food per cap alone was about $15 for the Clemens game, a slight increase over the regular-season numbers. All told, per caps hover in the $14 range for food and $2 for retail, Bekolay said.

Those food per caps are on the high end for minor league baseball, confirmed Ken Young, president of Ovations Food Services, a Legends competitor, and owner of the Albuquerque Isotopes and Norfolk (Va.) Tides, two Class AAA teams. Those two clubs, plus Memphis, and Bowie and Frederick, both in Maryland, are all Ovations accounts and generate top-end per caps of $12.50 to $13. Providing ample points of sale and personnel and larger sizes at higher price points are key for producing $10-plus a head in fan spending, Young said.

In Sugar Land, where Legends, the Cowboys-Yankees joint venture, signed a 10-year concessions deal, the vendor has kept most prices at a reasonable level, Bekolay said. The most expensive items are $10.50 for hot dog and burger combo meals.

“The portions are huge,” he said. “The value is in the food and non-alcohol [items]. It’s family driven.”

Legends serves its in-house brand Bent Buckle BBQ for Skeeters games, with beef brisket cooked in a $25,000 smoker at the park. In addition, Legends sells its own line of Chef Crafted Collection barbecue sauces, rubs and flavored ketchups at the team store.

“The lift [in concessions revenue] was unexpected,” Bekolay said. “But if you look at the park itself [with a small waterpark in right field] it is more of a family entertainment center that also hosts a baseball game.”

“It seems like there are more kids running around in bathing suits than hats and gloves,” he said.

HOGS’ HEAVEN: The University of Arkansas, pending approval by the school’s board of trustees, will move ahead with three projects tied to its ambitious $300 million facilities master plan.

A new video board is just one of the upgrades planned at Arkansas, where several projects are up for approval.
Photo by: UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS ATHLETICS
One piece is the construction of an indoor practice facility for baseball that also can be used by the track and field team for its throws area. The new building, estimated at $8 million to $10 million, will be adjacent to the Randal Tyson Track Center, a 12-year-old facility.

The flexibility of the dual-sport building is something Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long believes is unique and will “put us ahead of our competitors” in baseball and track, he said. Both programs are highly ranked at the Division I level.

A second project, a $20 million to $25 million new basketball practice facility, is sorely needed. Arkansas is the last SEC school without a separate building where its teams can practice, Long said.

The third project is a new student-athlete academic and dining center, with a construction estimate of $18 million to $23 million. The board of trustees is to meet Thursday and Friday to approve all three deals.

Last weekend, a $4.6 million video board made its debut at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The north end zone screen stretches 167 feet across, the widest video display in college football.

In overall square footage, Arkansas’ new board is the second-largest at an on-campus stadium, behind Texas.

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

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