Partly in an effort to justify higher price points needed to keep stadiums in the black, Major League Baseball (MLB) general concessionaires have greatly expanded food and beverage options in the sport's 30 venues.
New items in 2004 range from fish tacos at Petco Park in San Diego to beer-battered fries at Turner Field in Atlanta. Lobster rolls are being added in Boston's Fenway Park, while foccaccia dippers will be served at Coors Field in Denver. Other interesting new items include clam chowder (Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland), Kettle Korn (Pittsburgh's PNC Park), and root beer floats (Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Fenway Park). Prices were not yet available for these items. All concessions prices must be approved by the teams and the clubs receive anywhere from 35-45 percent.
According to Major League Baseball, the average fan spends $11.40 on concessions per game. With an average attendance of 28,032 per contest, it's easy to see how even a 2 percent price hike on food items can result in significantly higher concessions revenues.
The general concessions manager of each stadium is responsible for determining what to offer, and Jim Houser, chief operating officer of Sportservice, said the average MLB park features around 100 concessions items. Houser's company, a subsidiary of Delaware North, handles concessions for nine MLB teams. “You could really only do hot dogs and peanuts in the older ballparks. When the new parks started coming in, the teams and [concession companies] pushed variety to increase per caps. That's when you started seeing ribs and sushi and things like that.”
Sean Rooney, chief operating officer at Aramark – which has 13 MLB contracts – echoed those sentiments. An increase in ethnic minorities and women attending events has changed the menu also, he said. Women, who make up almost 50 percent of the stands now, “order more grilled chicken sandwiches and salads and things that they perceive to be healthier,” he said.
Rooney said no two stadiums offer the same choices. Concessions companies have learned what fans in specific cities like over the years, and tailor their menu to those regional tastes. “Crab cakes do real well in Baltimore, and we've got sushi on the West Coast in Anaheim,” he said. “Barbecue has really taken off in Atlanta and Texas, and in Philadelphia, of course, the Philly cheesesteak is huge. Really, though, the Philly cheesesteak is getting popular throughout the country.”
“Baseball is an eating sport,” said Scott Ncginn, general concessions manager at Minute Maid Park in Houston (home to the Astros). “It's a slow-paced sport and people have an opportunity to get up and make concessions trips during the game.” Besides hot dogs, the most popular items at Minute Maid Park include nachos ($6.50 for regular; $6.75 for supreme, which includes chili and sour cream), a chopped BBQ baked potato (which is topped with BBQ beef; $5.25 for a regular, $7 for a large) and build-your-own burritos ($6.50; choices include fajitas, grilled vegetables, lettuce, tomato and onions). New York Dogs (sauerkraut, deli mustard and celery salt) and Texas Dogs (chili, cheese, onions and jalapeno peppers) are offered at $5. Additionally, Ncginn said he offers hand-dipped ice cream as opposed to soft-serve for dessert. It is served in a plastic souvenir helmet and sells for $4.50-$4.75.
At Wrigley Field in Chicago, General Concessions Manager Curt Radle said he will debut a Bosco stick this season (a large, cheese-filled bread stick), at two for $2.75. The park also offers Philly cheesesteaks and a “Wrigley Pig,” which is a BBQ pork patty with grilled onions, but Radle said he is limited with what he can do at the historical venue. “We have an enormous amount of variety that we don't get credit for, but we have space restrictions and can't really do a whole lot.” Like everywhere else, hot dogs reign supreme at Wrigley. A regular-sized dog goes for $2.75, while a Chicago-style sells for $4. All-beef, kosher, foot-long hot dogs are priced at $5.25.
Shawn Mattox, Sportservice's general manager at The Ballpark in Arlington (home of the Texas Rangers), said, “The only really new thing we're doing this year is a low-carb menu at some of our portables.” While the pricing has not yet been set for those wraps and salads, Mattox said one of the more popular non-traditional offerings in Arlington is a turkey leg for $5.25, a catfish plate for $6, loaded baked potato for $5.25, garlic fries for $6 and fajitas for $4. “We want to provide offerings that help compete with the restaurants.”