SBJ/Aug. 5-11, 2013/Facilities

Cubs renew deals with Levy, Ovations

The Chicago Cubs have renewed deals with Levy Restaurants and Ovations Food Services for two high-profile food and retail contracts in Major League Baseball.

Chicago-based Levy protected its home turf by signing a seven-year agreement to continue operating concessions, suite catering and merchandise at Wrigley Field.

The renewals come as the Cubs consider $300 million in renovations to Wrigley Field that would greatly enhance food and retail operations, including this concept for the upper level.
Photo by: CHICAGO CUBS
Levy has a 28-year relationship with the Cubs dating to 1985, the year it began running premium food service at the ballpark. The vendor took over all food and retail operations, including general concessions, in 2005. Aramark and Legends were finalists for the Wrigley deal, Cubs President Crane Kenney said. In the end, seven months after the Cubs issued a proposal, the contract remained with Levy.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” food consultant Chris Bigelow said after being told of the renewal. “They have been very aggressive financially.”

Ovations, meanwhile, signed an eight-year deal at the Cubs’ new $84 million spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., which officially opens next year. Since 2006, Ovations has filled the same role at HoHoKam Park, the Cubs’ former spring training facility. Tampa-based Ovations also has deals with three other spring training parks.

The extra year on Ovations’ deal reflects Levy’s contract at Wrigley, which was set to expire after the 2014 season. Now, both agreements run through the 2021 season, confirmed Alex Sugarman, the Cubs’ senior vice president of strategy and development.

Sources pegged Wrigley Field’s current annual food and retail revenue at $35 million, down from a high of $45 million a few years ago when the ballpark consistently drew capacity crowds of 40,000. Despite the downward trend, it remains a marquee account in MLB.

Sugarman refused to disclose Levy’s financial commitment other than to say it runs parallel with the Cubs’ plan to privately finance a long-awaited, $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field.

A source familiar with the negotiations said Levy — owned by Compass Group, the world’s largest food service company — committed $40 million to be spent on food-related upgrades as part of the renovation, but that number was tied to a 10-year deal, and “stuff can change real quick” in the eleventh hour of negotiations.

The Cubs are covering most of the investment to ramp up the food operation in Mesa, the source said.

For Levy, the renovation should greatly improve its back-of-house operation, increasing efficiency and speed of service. Built in 1914, Wrigley’s tiny kitchens and commissaries present unique challenges that food providers do not face at newer facilities. The proposed upgrades address those issues by adding 30,000 square feet of food preparation and commissary space and increasing points of sale by 50 percent, Sugarman said.

The plan is for Levy to blend more local foods into its menus, similar to what it has done at Barclays Center, a building the Cubs toured as part of their research. Since it opened in September, the NBA arena has drawn raves for its “Taste of Brooklyn” brands.

“We are looking at opportunities to expand local partnerships and bring more authentic, Chicago-only flavors to fans as well as leveraging smart technologies to elevate hospitality,” Levy President and CEO Andy Lansing said in an email.

On the merchandise side, the renovation will more than triple the amount of square footage tied to retail, including a new 5,000-square-foot team store built at the corner of Sheffield Avenue and Addison Street near Gate D. To date, the ballpark’s size restrictions limit retail to about 2,000 square feet. The new park in Mesa will have multiple team stores, Sugarman said.

“Our goal is to expand operations in [both buildings] with a much broader selection of retail items to push our brand,” Sugarman said.

As of last week, the renovation was awaiting the signature of Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, whose family owns the team, after city officials approved the project. But there is still a holdup. The Rickettses issued a statement that they will not start construction until rooftop owners across the street from the park sign a pledge not to sue the Cubs if they find out new advertising signs tied to the project block the views of rooftop patrons watching the games.

“The Ricketts family has stated until remaining issues can be resolved with the rooftops, they will not begin investing in the restoration project,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said.

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