SBJ/Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2013/Facilities

No waffling here: New food offering at Turner Field is a hit

Don Muret
The Atlanta Braves caught lightning in a bottle by signing a deal with Waffle House to run a food stand at Turner Field, says Derek Schiller, the team’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.

One month after Waffle House opened for business on the field level near the visitors’ bullpen in left field, its average sales of waffles and hash browns have almost doubled the numbers posted by the grilled sausage cart that sat in the same location last season, Schiller said.

As of last week, Waffle House had sold an average of 160 waffles and 140 orders of hash browns a game, said Pat Warner, Waffle House’s vice president of culture. By comparison, a 24-hour Waffle House restaurant sells about 100 waffles and 160 orders of hash browns a day, Warner said.

The Waffle House stand serves waffles and hash browns.
Photo by: POUYA DIANAT / ATLANTA BRAVES / GETTY IMAGES
At Turner Field, waffles cost $5.75 plain or $6.50 with chocolate chips or peanut butter. Hash browns run from $5.25 to $9 for “all the way” with onions, cheese, ham, peppers and chili.

The deal is a three-way partnership among Waffle House, the Braves and Aramark, the team’s concessionaire. Waffle House employees run the operation using Aramark’s equipment and point-of-sale system.

Atlanta-based Waffle House has seen its success at Turner Field driven largely by the power of social media, Schiller said.

Several Braves players have mentioned the deal on their Twitter accounts, which “has helped push the social following,” he said. Waffle House launched a Twitter account — called @wafflehouseted in a nod to the ballpark’s nickname — that has attracted more than 1,800 followers.

The chatter has extended beyond Atlanta to other big league markets. The Charlotte Bobcats are among three NBA teams that have contacted Waffle House about opening a location at their arena, Warner said.

Keen interest in the Bobcats’ rebranding to the Hornets for the 2014-15 season has led the NBA club to consider more concession options at Time Warner Cable Arena, including Waffle House, said Pete Guelli, the team’s executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer. No deal has been signed.

Waffle House will be conservative in its approach to expanding to other sports facilities, Warner said. Outside of Turner Field, all 1,650 Waffle House restaurants are 24/7 operations, and company officials prefer that business model.

“Turner Field is a perfect fit because we are an Atlanta company,” he said. “Going into other sports venues is not really a path we have decided to go down yet. We like to focus on running our restaurants. We feel we do that well. But it’s been fun with the Braves.”

The partnership extends to a cross-promotion. Waffle House diners can show their receipt at the Turner Field ticket windows and receive a free game ticket when they buy one at the regular price. In turn, fans displaying a Braves ticket stub at Waffle House get a free waffle.

> FIELD OF PLAY: Safeco Field’s first concert proved to be a success for the Seattle Mariners. The Paul McCartney show on July 19 grossed $4.5 million in ticket sales from paid attendance of 45,229.

The Mariners rented the stadium to Live Nation and generated revenue from concessions and parking, said Tony Pereira, the team’s senior director of ballpark operations.

The team finally landed a stadium show 14 years after Safeco Field opened in 1999. The MLB club faces competition from CenturyLink Field across the street, home of the Seahawks, and acts such as U2 and the Rolling Stones preferred to play the bigger building.

“McCartney wanted a smaller venue with a more intimate experience for the fans,” Pereira said.

Squeezing a concert into the MLB schedule is another challenge that the Mariners faced.

“Our show was on a Friday and the team came home on the following Monday for a seven-game homestand,” he said. “We resodded 5,000 square feet of grass. We expected to do some of that, but it wasn’t a huge amount. There were no complaints from the team.”

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

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