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Arenas and stadiums are awash in craft beers as teams and concessionaires seize the opportunity to capitalize on the trend toward specialty brews.
The U.S. now has more than 2,500 breweries, more than at any point in history, and more than 1,600 are in the planning stages, reported USA Today. Almost all of them are craft brewers.
The lifestyle trend has extended to sports over the past three years, driven in large part by a younger generation whose tastes veer toward edgier and fruitier flavors compared with their father’s old-school domestic brand.
Blue Moon was born at Coors Field nearly 20 years ago. This season, the ballpark will open the 5280 Craft Bar, which will have 52 taps pouring craft beers.
Photo by:Colorado Rockies
For Ovations Food Services, craft beer now represents 25 percent of total beer sales at its facilities and import beers take up another 25 percent of market share, said Doug Drewes, the company’s executive vice president.
“You can see from the day that it was all domestic how much we have truly evolved in this business, which comes at a higher price point for imports and crafts,” Drewes said. “We’re giving fans what they want and it’s turned into a 50-50 mix throughout the industry now.”
Across the country, more teams and concessions firms are refreshing tired spaces at their facilities by turning them into themed destinations tied to local and regional brews. It’s all come to a head — Ovations itself is becoming a craft brewer (see related story).
Take a look at Charlotte, Detroit, Denver and Portland, four big league markets that have seen craft beer projects take over major real estate at sports venues in town. All four cities are in states that are hotspots for microbrew production. For 2012, Colorado, Michigan and Oregon all ranked in the top 10 in the country in annual craft beer production. In addition, North Carolina came in 10th in the number of total breweries with 70 companies producing about 160,000 barrels, according to data compiled by the Brewers Association, an organization devoted to craft brewers.
Charlotte alone has grown to include seven microbreweries over the past three years, said Daniel Hartis, a craft enthusiast who tracks the trend locally through his site, charlottebeer.com. The Charlotte Bobcats recognized the trend, which led to developing the new Craft Beer Garden at Time Warner Cable Arena that opened in October, showcasing nine local and regional brewers sharing a redeveloped space (see related story). Two months into the NBA season, sales are up 39 percent over last season’s old full-service bar space that offered draft beer, wine and hard liquor, Bobcats officials said.
In Denver, the 5280 Craft Bar opens this season at Coors Field, part of a multimillion-dollar rooftop project at a ballpark that was on the front end of the trend when it opened in 1995 with a microbrewery on site. Almost 20 years later, crafts have come full circle at the Rockies’ ballpark.
By definition, the Brewers Association says craft beers are produced by small, independent companies tied to annual production of 6 million barrels or less. In addition, less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer, the group says. In other words, the true craft brewer is not beholden to Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, the top two brewers in North America.
Those two companies still obviously dominate beer sales in sports, and concessionaires are respectful of their
At Denver Broncos games, a 20-ounce draft of craft beer sells for $8.25, compared with $6.25 for the same size domestic beer.
“We have to keep the peace with everyone,” said Justin Kizima, Centerplate’s general manager at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos.
Craft beer covers 50 percent of the total beer taps at Jeld-Wen Field, home of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.
“But no matter how into the craft trend you think you are, everybody’s going to want a Bud Light or Miller Lite at the same time,” said Ben Forsythe, Centerplate’s general manager at the soccer stadium.
The key is striking the right balance among all beer makers to drive sales for everybody, vendors say, which includes showcasing the Shock Tops and Blue Moons of the world, two mass-produced brands owned by A-B and MillerCoors, respectively, and both marketed as craft-style beers.
“They understand if you get the pricing and distribution right, it benefits the entire category because you’re keeping people in the beer category,” said Andrew Shipe, Aramark’s vice president of marketing.
Still, the little guys continue to gain a greater share of total beer sales in sports. Aramark has seen the craft beer category grow significantly at its 11 Major League Baseball accounts, including Coors Field, where Blue Moon was born almost 20 years ago and is still brewed today.
“When you look across baseball, 69 percent of our consumption still comes from A-B and MillerCoors,” Shipe said. “But over the past three years, there has been a shift of 5 share points and now the craft beer category is worth about 20 percent. Ten to 15 years ago, that category hardly existed. It was a blip on the radar screen. Based on trends we’re seeing not only in our buildings but the industry data we get from our beer vendors, domestic will continue to decrease in its share.”
Fresh uses for tired space
Aramark is not alone in seeing craft beer cut into domestic sales at sports facilities. In Denver, widely regarded as an epicenter for craft beer, Centerplate’s taps dedicated to pouring crafts at Broncos games have grown from 15 percent to 21 percent over the past three years, Kizima said. The number jumps to 30 percent by adding the total number of craft beers sold in bottles and cans at the stadium.
The Palace at Auburn Hills doubled the number of craft beer stands.
Photo by:Sean Hodgson
“The allocation speaks for itself,” Kizima said. “It’s important for us to celebrate these brands that reflect the personality of Colorado.”
In Detroit, Delaware North Sportservice and Levy Restaurants have converted underperforming food spaces into craft beer destinations. The state of Michigan has become a mecca for craft brewers, reflected in new offerings provided for Lions, Tigers and Pistons fans.
This season, the Lions ran a Craft Beer of the Week promotion on Facebook, allowing fans to vote for the microbrews they wanted Levy to serve at Ford Field. The craft getting the most votes got a dollar knocked off of Levy’s regular price at the next home game. The response wasn’t overwhelming, drawing an average of 500 to 1,000 responses a week, but it got people talking about their favorite beers in a social forum, providing the Lions with a valuable customer service tool, said Kevin Currie, the team’s director of digital media.
At the Palace of Auburn Hills this season, Levy and the Pistons doubled the number of craft beer stands offering exclusive Michigan crafts and some national brands. Together, they are partnering with local distributors to promote craft tastings at a premium group space in the upper deck.
“Craft beer fans are loyal,” said Chris Quinn, the Palace’s vice president of business development and premium seating. “Our hand wasn’t so much forced [by the trend] but A-B reduced its spend with us, so it gave us an opportunity to generate more sponsorship dollars elsewhere.”
Two years ago, Sportservice started selling Michigan craft beers at Comerica Park at an indoor space in the far right-field corner that was originally a McDonald’s when the Detroit Tigers’ ballpark opened in 2000. The space later became a sliders stand but sales were “never overly impressive,” said Robert Thormeier, the vendor’s general manager. After launching the craft beer concept in 2012 with five brands in a largely unfinished space, Sportservice spent $110,000 in upgrades for 2013 with a woody, Pacific Northwest feel, and expanded its selections to 10 taps and 16 bottled beers.
The move paid off. Sportservice sold about 169,000 cups of beer this past season, more than triple the 45,000 sold over the previous year. Sixteen-ounce pints sold for $8.75, the same price for a 24-ounce domestic draft, Thormeier said. Doing the math, gross sales were about $1.48 million.
“We like the idea of having created a destination where people can go,” he said. “What we found is people go there before the game starts and buy one craft beer and go to their seat, then wait for a vendor or go to the nearest portable or concession stand and see what they have there. Pricing can affect it, but in general people are more willing to pay more for a craft beer.”
Highlighting local ties
Looking at those sales numbers, it’s obvious craft beer is serious business and no longer a niche market. In many cases, these renewed spaces are churning out sponsorship dollars for teams such as the Bobcats and Pistons to cover the cost of converting those areas.
Besides satisfying the tastes of younger fans and generating new deals, the trend also falls in line with teams and
In Detroit, Levy folds craft beers into its new Slows BBQ stand at Ford Field, named after a popular city eatery. The same is true in Denver, where the vendor melds Colorado crafts with locally made sausages at the Land Rover Denver Club, a premium space at Pepsi Center. In both cases, there’s a story to tell patrons behind the history of those homegrown brands that link a piece of the city’s culture with the team’s brand, said Alison Weber, Levy’s chief innovations officer.
In Charlotte, the Craft Beer Garden at Time Warner Cable Arena run by Levy has signs posted on faux-ivy covered columns describing the origins of the nine breweries participating in the program. A shiny stainless steel beer tank serves as the bar’s centerpiece, adorned with copper plates informing patrons that the giant container at one time held suds made by NoDa and Olde Mecklenburg breweries, two separate breweries that are both partners in the Craft Beer Garden.
“It’s almost like going green,” Drewes said. “That’s the difference between imports, which you’re still getting from the national breweries, and the craft business. We’re buying local, sourcing local and selling local and there’s a lot of loyalty to that.”
They’ve been loyal for at least 30 years in the Pacific Northwest, a region where enjoying craft beer is a way of life. It extends to Jeld-Wen Field, where the Portland Timbers are one of the few big league teams to have an official craft beer partner.
The team’s deal with Widmer Brothers, a Portland brewery founded in 1984, was signed in December 2010, a few months before the Timbers’ inaugural season. The agreement reflects the prominent role craft beer plays in the city’s culture.
“We’re creating an experience that really represents Portland,” said Mike Golub, the Timbers’ chief operating officer. “We have sold out every game over the first three years. Our fans arrive early and consume their beer happily.”
The biggest difference between Jeld-Wen Field, a converted minor league ballpark, and other sports venues is that every concession stand in the building offers local brews, a layout completely driven by fan demand. “I don’t have ‘destination bars’ for craft beer,” Forsythe said.
“It’s one of those things, especially in the sport of soccer,” he said. “If I didn’t have [crafts] readily available, our fans wouldn’t be happy with us. Honestly, that’s what we’re here to do, to make sure they feel they’re being listened to and give them what they want.”
The Portland Timbers have an official craft beer partner.
For Centerplate, the key is providing price flexibility to fit every fan’s budget. “I know what Moda Center and CenturyLink Field [in Seattle] are doing and we always try to stay a little bit behind them in pricing because it’s important to the client,” Forsythe said.
At Coors Field, the 5280 Craft Bar is part of a major retrofit spanning 38,000 square feet along two levels down the right-field line, above the Rockies’ bullpen. In the Mile High City, it has initially been named for the distance of a mile, 5,280 feet, but will most likely have a sponsor by opening day, said Greg Feasel, the Rockies’ executive vice president and chief operating officer. The bar itself will have 52 taps pouring craft beers. About 300 ticketed seats will be connected to the bar but it will be open to all ticket holders, he said.
The project, designed by Populous, Coors Field’s original architect, was driven in part to eliminate excess seating at the 50,445-seat stadium, Feasel said. At the same time, it will celebrate the heritage of what still remains as the only big league facility in sports tied to a working brewery.
“Coors Field is the home of Blue Moon beer,” Feasel said. “We produced a 20th anniversary ale here last season and couldn’t make enough of it in the brewery. It took off. This new bar will be an iconic place where you can have your picture taken and post it. It fits that spot.”
The Charlotte Bobcats are using the new Craft Beer Garden at Time Warner Cable Arena to help drive the team’s rebranding campaign.
The NBA club is changing its name back to the Hornets for the 2014-15 season. The old Charlotte Hornets had a strong regional connection when they led the league in attendance for seven consecutive seasons. Bobcats officials hope the rebrand recaptures some of that old magic.
The Craft Beer Garden reinforces those regional ties. Five of the nine microbreweries partnering in the beer garden brew their products in Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, four cities within a three-hour drive of Charlotte. The other four operate in Charlotte.
The menu board at the Craft Beer Garden highlights the variety of craft brews available. Nine microbreweries partnered with the Bobcats to create the upper-deck location.
Photo by:Huntley Paton
The Bobcats invested $75,000 to remake the space and signed three-year deals with each of the nine brewers participating in the Craft Beer Garden for a total value in the low-to-mid six figures annually, Guelli said. The same craft selections are available at regular concession stands on the main concourse and in club areas.
Dandelion Market, a pub in Charlotte’s downtown district that went exclusively craft beer on tap in 2010, also pitched in financially, Guelli said. The pub partnered with the Bobcats and Levy Restaurants, the team’s concessionaire, to bring all nine brewers together. The brewers sell their kegs directly to Levy.
Dandelion Market has a separate deal with the team, said Tom Timmons, the bar’s co-owner, a New York transplant who grew up watching Bobcats assistant coach Patrick Ewing play for the Knicks. In turn, Dandelion Market serves as the beer garden’s presenting sponsor and unofficial “restaurant captain” to ensure the stand’s quality, Timmons said.
As part of both agreements, the brewers and the pub receive digital sign exposure in the arena, hospitality, and experiential marketing tied to local brewery events at the arena. Before Bobcats games, two-man bands play on a small stage set up at the Craft Beer Garden.
“We have an initial investment that we hope to get back through doing events [at the arena] and driving traffic back to the restaurant, before and after games,” Timmons said, “especially as they relaunch the Hornets’ brand going into year two.”
Bobcats President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Whitfield said, “We want it to be more about the state of North Carolina and the breweries that represent it from east to west … and help them grow their brands as we continue to grow ours.”
For NoDa Brewing Co., a 2-year-old Charlotte beermaker participating in the beer garden, driving traffic to its tap room isn’t as important as getting people tasting their beer at Bobcats games and chatting about it on social media, said co-owner Suzie Ford.
“You reach so many different people at the arena, all segments of the city,” Ford said. “We’ve seen an increase in talk on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which is exciting. They’re taking pictures of the beer garden and tagging us.”
NoDa Brewing also has taps in place with Delaware North Sportservice at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. It also signed a deal with Ovations Food Services to serve its beers at BB&T Ballpark, the Class AAA Charlotte Knights’ new ballpark opening downtown in April.
“Going back two years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to do this because it’s only been since that time that we’ve had that amount of local breweries,” Timmons said. “It’s given Charlotte its own identity.”
Ovations Food Services is getting into the business of brewing its own beer in South Florida.
The Tampa-based concessions firm is developing its first brewery at Jungle Island, a tropical theme park in Miami.
“We’re going to brew our beer and open our own ale house,” said Doug Drewes, Ovations’ executive vice president. “It comes under the zoo category. The theme park is near Miami Beach, at the port, near AmericanAirlines Arena.”
Ovations’ client is Iconic Attractions Group, which took over management of the 10-year-old park in June. The company runs the building and is the vendor’s partner in the project, Drewes said.
Ovations has a beer-making partner it can’t yet identify, Drewes said. Project costs are to be determined. “We’re in conceptual design now,” he said. “We hope to start construction in the next six months and complete it by the end of the year.”
The ale house theme will be tied to the park’s name, which will most likely undergo a change in title, Drewes said. The business plan is to develop a destination for both tourists and local residents in Greater Miami.
In the future, Ovations officials believe they could partner with teams to develop microbreweries at arenas and stadiums. Coors Field opened with a microbrewery in 1995 but it is run by the Blue Moon Brewery, a subsidiary of MillerCoors (see related story). Aramark, the ballpark’s food provider, operates the Sandlot restaurant where Blue Moon is brewed but it has no responsibility for making those beers, company officials said.
“Back in the day, it was the Budweiser Brewhouse, a mock image of a Bud brewery selling Bud beers,” Drewes said. “Now it’s evolving into the real thing.”
The use of mobile technology to drive concession sales at sports facilities remains spotty with low adoption rates across many major league markets, according to teams, food providers and technology firms.
More teams and concessionaires are testing mobile payment systems, both through self-ordering on fans’ smartphones and tablets operated by concession hawkers and waitstaff, but they’re getting mixed messages about whether the convenience is worth the investment.
This season, Delaware North Sportservice has conducted weekly fan surveys at five NHL arenas for feedback on the technology. To this point, it is difficult to say whether hockey diehards fully approve of those systems, said Todd Merry, Delaware North’s chief marketing officer.
Despite sluggish adoption rates in sports, vendors such as Bypass are reporting rapid growth.
“It’s a real conundrum with this whole thing,” he said. “In the places we’ve tested it, we’re not seeing a huge amount of traction.”
Aramark continues to test different mobile technologies to improve the fan experience, including iPads for club box holders to self-order food for Flyers and Sixers games at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, said Andrew Shipe, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Across the street at Lincoln Financial Field, Aramark has seen less than 1 percent participation among the 9,000 club seat holders using the Eagles’ mobile application integrated with an ordering system supplied by tech vendor Bypass.
“It’s something we continue to try and make people aware of but they’re not really gravitating to it,” Shipe said.
Aramark’s surveys indicate that fans are still adjusting to providing credit card information when ordering from their mobile devices. It’s not an everyday occurrence compared with shopping at retail, Shipe said.
In addition, especially during a three-hour baseball game, fans like to get up and stretch their legs, and “other than grabbing a beer or a hot dog and peanuts that are vended, getting more bulky meal items is something they would rather go get,” he said.
“We’ve gone to the extent of putting [messages] on the Jumbotron and in cupholders to make them aware of it,” Shipe said. “It just hasn’t caught on as much as we thought. If you’re not getting the revenue, the labor model and everything else does not justify the actual technology.”
It could be as simple as this: Veteran concessions executives such as Delaware North’s Jim Houser believe as long as people still have to go to the bathroom, they’re also going to visit the concession stand, eliminating the need to order food by phone for in-seat delivery.
Despite the resistance in some markets, mobile concessions systems continue to grow at a rapid pace in sports.
As of January 2014, Austin-based Bypass had 69 deployments — 29 in pro sports — and 99 percent of its total transactions processed last year were by fans using credit cards tied to mobile devices, said Brandon Lloyd, the firm’s president. In 2013, Bypass revenue grew by more than 700 percent while averaging four new installations a month, Lloyd said.
Adoption rates vary significantly, ranging from the Eagles’ miniscule percentage to 13 percent of the 6,200 club seat holders at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, Lloyd said.
At Arrowhead Stadium, another Bypass installation, the Kansas City Chiefs and Levy Restaurants, their premium dining partner, tested several pieces of mobile technology this season, including credit card payments processed by beer vendors working the stands.
The Chiefs did not have hard numbers for the total number of fans using mobile payments, but average transactions were up 60 percent for vendors using Samsung Galaxy S3 handhelds to accept credit cards, compared with those not using them, said David Young, the team’s vice president of stadium operations. In the club lounges, cocktail revenue per server using larger Samsung tablets customized by Bypass increased by 25 percent over waitstaff that did not use the technology, Young said.
Kansas City plans to continue using mobile technology in 2014 and could expand to other parts of the stadium, he said.
“As ticketing moves [to] mobile and venues improve connectivity, and the relevance of game-day applications to the fan experience improve, self-service volume is likely to increase,” Lloyd said.