SBJ/June 23-29, 2014/Opinion

Father’s Day at the ballpark foiled by lack of flexibility

Minor league baseball sells itself as fun family entertainment, and by and large that is what I was hoping to get by arranging to go to a game with my 5-year-old son on Father’s Day.

We never went, disappointingly, for one simple reason: food.

The ballpark we wanted to go to would not allow us to bring in outside food, not even in a plastic baggie. My son has certain dietary issues, I am vegetarian, and we tend not to eat fried foods. We are obviously not the sweet spot of the sports concessions business, especially in the minor leagues.

I talked to an executive at the team who couldn’t have been more polite and nice, but the one thing he could not be was accommodating. That’s because the league in which the team plays and the team’s concessionaire contract require the policy of no outside food.

I asked Pat O’Conner, the president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, about such policies, and this is what he wrote back: “There is no universal policy regarding permissible ‘outside food and beverage’ at Minor League Baseball games. Those decisions are local and could be guided by any number of reasons including, but not limited to, local government (health department and alcoholic beverage control) regulations, contractual relationships with third party vendors, security precautions and club philosophies. In any case, the central office does not govern such club decisions. If fans have special dietetic needs I would like to think our clubs would consider those circumstances independent of any standing policy.”

Of course, there really should not need to be a dietary reason; it is enough that the paying customer wants to eat his or her own food. This is not a movie, where you are in and out in 90 to 120 minutes. In my case, it would have taken an hour to get to the game, figure a half-hour before the game starts, an additional three hours for the game. Then, because it was Father’s Day, the kids were going on the field after the game, and then another hour home. So I was likely looking at a good six hours of my time invested.

Here’s my humble suggestion to teams with such policies: If you are underpricing your tickets because you make it up on concessions, then offer higher-priced tickets that allow fans to bring in their own food. In my case the tickets were about $15. I would have gladly paid $20 or $25 a ticket to enjoy the game with my son if that meant we could have brought in our own food.

Some people love going to the ballpark and enjoying a hot dog and fries, and many teams now sell package deals for food and admissions. But that is not everyone, and whether it’s because a kid is a picky eater, a mother is diabetic, a father doesn’t eat meat, or whatever, sports should be more accommodating.

So alas, Father’s Day at the ballpark was not to be. Instead, nearby parks beckoned, playgrounds, all good fun. But who knows, maybe my son would have become a fan for life had he gone.

Staff writer Daniel Kaplan can be reached at dkaplan@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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