The horrible weather that hammered Major League Baseball over the first two months of the season made it tougher for teams, not to mention their concessionaires, to make money.
But in Baltimore, the sun is pushing through the clouds. Delaware North Sportservice reports its food and retail per caps at Oriole Park at Camden Yards have increased by a combined 10 percent over last year, according to Sportservice President Rick Abramson.
In November, Sportservice signed a 12-year deal to run the food and retail operation at the ballpark after the Orioles parted ways with Aramark, their concessionaire since the venue opened in 1992. As part of the agreement, Sportservice agreed to invest $11 million in upgrades to the park, a project that next year expands to Eutaw Street beyond the outfield wall and three restaurants inside the old B&O Warehouse in right field.
In addition to improving food stands, Sportservice opened two new stores.
“Natty Boh,” as it is fondly known in the Mid-Atlantic, is no longer brewed in Baltimore — Pabst Brewing Co. owns the brand and produces it in North Carolina — but it has not been forgotten. First served at Orioles games in 1965 at old Memorial Stadium, Natty Boh is back at Camden Yards after an absence of at least 15 years, and fans have embraced its return, said team spokesman Greg Bader. The rebranded Natty Boh Bar along the first-base side on the main concourse has become a popular hangout during games, Bader said.
Across the concourse, another hot item is the $5 hand-rolled pretzels. Sportservice is selling an average of 500 a game, making them as fast as it can to meet the demand, said Tim Stib, the vendor’s on-site general manager.
For Sportservice, the defining seal of approval came when local food critics gave a rousing thumbs-up to the concessionaire’s version of the crab cake sandwich, a traditional Maryland staple not to be taken lightly by sports food vendors. Officials sampled about 50 crab cakes during their tour of local eateries and decided to go with a premium sandwich made with all jumbo-lump crabmeat. The 5.5-ounce crab cake sells for $14 at the Old Bay Seafood satellite stand on the main concourse behind home plate and another location in the upper deck.
So far, Sportservice is averaging 150 crab cake sandwiches sold per game at both stands, Stib said.
Said Abramson, “Our crab cake challenges anybody’s. To be able to say that you were on the front page of The Baltimore Sun because of your food — not the front page of the food section, but the front page of the paper — is pretty good.”
One old standby, Boog’s BBQ, continues to flourish. Sportservice offers the “Big Boog” with twice the meat of a regular pit beef sandwich. Early in the season, the $15 large item has outsold the smaller $10 sandwich by 5-to-1, Stib said.
On the retail end, Sportservice worked with MLB licensees New Era, Majestic and ’47, a sports boutique brand, to expand the Orioles Team Store on the first floor of the B&O Warehouse and build two more stores on the main concourse.
For 2012, Orioles fans can expect Sportservice to make changes to the Bullpen Picnic Grove, an outdoor pregame meal space in center field, plus the Bud Light Warehouse Bar, Grille 54 and the Championship Cafe inside the warehouse.
The warehouse restaurants are in need of a makeover, Bader said.
Stib said, “We are in the early discussions with the Orioles on what we should do out there, whether it’s a facelift or total renovation.”
STADIUM VISION: The Los Angeles Dodgers and tech firm IOMedia have teamed up to develop new technology on the team’s website exclusively to sell premium seats at Dodger Stadium.
Clicking on the locations for suites and club seats pulls up a list of all amenities tied to those premium products.
In addition to the exterior views, Virtual Venue takes potential buyers inside hospitality spaces for the suites and clubs. Clicking through seat options tied to the Dugout Club, for example, provides views of the Martini Bar and the club’s restaurant.
Clicking on the Buy Now tab takes customers to a separate page set up on the Dodgers’ site by MLB Advanced Media that has promotional videos and more information on the products. A further click on Buy Tickets goes to Ticketmaster’s site to buy club seats and suites.
For suites, a $1,000 deposit is required. Once that payment is made, the new suite holder is contacted by a Dodgers sales representative to confirm the order.
The Dodgers and IOMedia developed the virtual venue as a marketing tool to make it easier for corporate executives to buy premium seats, said team spokesman Josh Rawitch. Previously, company heads buying suites and club seats would often drive to Dodger Stadium and sit in those seats before deciding whether to buy them. The new technology should shorten the sales process by making it more convenient for CEOs to get a realistic view of their premium-seat location, giving them the confidence to buy without leaving the office, Rawitch said.
Prime Ticket Club seats start at $150 down the foul lines, and Dugout Club seats cost $300 to $400 a game for a season ticket depending on location. As of last week, there were 33 suites listed on the Virtual Venue starting at $3,000 a season.
Depending on the success of the effort, the technology could be expanded to the entire ballpark, Rawitch said.
For IOMedia, the Dodgers’ deal is the first time the tech vendor has developed technology restricted to premium seats, said Steve Korian, the firm’s executive vice president.