World Class Beverages Indiana

April 21, 2010

Take Beer out of the Ball Game?

Victory Field, IndianapolisI just spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Victory Field with my lovely wife and daughter enjoying a sunny day of baseball and a few good beers. Sitting on the outfield grass I couldn’t help but feel blessed that the beer gods had smiled enough on me that local brewers like Oaken Barrel, Sun King and Upland would be represented at the ballpark in addition to great brews from Bell’s, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium. Truly, I was blessed to have such choices.

But why can’t every ballpark, stadium or concert venue have such choices? It’s a question I am often asked about and a situation I sometimes despair over.

Why can’t there be great craft beers at venues like Verizon Wireless, Conseco Fieldhouse or Lucas Oil Stadium?

For starters, there are a few great beers at some of those places albeit not a large variety. Upland Brewing has a stand at Lucas Oil Stadium and some of their beers even make it into the club area. And Ram Brewing has a similar situation at Lucas Oil. But the fact is that they both pay big money to be there. Cash money. I don’t know exactly what Upland or Ram pay, but I do know that a year ago I was quoted the figure of $20,000 to have a craft beer presence there similar to the one that Upland and Ram have.

That’s $20,000. Per season. Per stand.

You might argue that those locations sell a lot of beer and I would agree with you. But you have to sell a very large quantity of beer to make up for a $20,000 expense. Probably more beer than is reasonable to sell at 10 NFL games from one stand. Good luck with that.

The brewers who participate in those venues and pay those fees expect that they are going to get a lot of good public exposure for their brands, enough to make up much of the expense. Budweiser, in particular, has a very large presence at Lucas Oil Stadium. Go to a game there and you’ll see dozens of Bud Light taps, plenty of bottles and a number of Budweiser references around the stadium on signs, banners and concession areas named for Budweiser. I’m guessing that getting that kind of attention costs a great deal more than $20,000. I’m sure we’re well into 7 figures when we talk about Budweiser and Lucas Oil Stadium.

But that’s how they sell Budweiser: on marketing. Craft beer brands sell based on the product in the bottle, with perhaps a great story about the brewery to back it up.

In the world of sporting venue concessions there is no level playing field. Having a presence at a large sports or concert venue is not up to the brewery, the distributor or the consumer. It’s about who is willing and able to pay. It’s a situation that sits very much in favor of the big brewers and works against the small ones.

The concessions at Lucas Oil Stadium are under contract to a company called Center Plate. Center Plate operates the food and beverage services there and arranges contract for those brands who pay to be there. Center Plate is happy to tout their “upscale” and “local”  hot dog offerings in web articles like “Stadium Concessionaires Ready to Play Ball” but they’re only going to “play ball” when someone is paying them to play. That’s the harsh reality and very few small brewers are in a position to spend that kind of money.

Locally, Center Plate also operates concessions for O’Reilly Raceway Park, Murat Center, Indiana Convention Center, Indiana State Museum and the Indianapolis Zoo while Victory Field, Verizon Wireless Center and Conseco Fieldhouse concessions are operated by Aramark.

Author’s Note: If you’re looking for great beer at Victory Field try the Guinness Pub stand behind section 108. In addition to Guinness and Harp, they’ve got bottles of Upland, Bell’s, Sierra Nevada and cans of Sun King beer while the stand behind home plate sells Oaken Barrel’s “Victory” (aka Indiana) Amber and Oaken Barrel’s Razz Wheat is in one of the Centerfield Plaza stands.

Author’s Warning: Don’t think that just because you’re sitting way out beyond the left field fence that a home run ball can’t come crashing right into your Osiris Pale Ale, splitting the plastic cup into two pieces that won’t hold any of the remaining beer. And don’t think that you won’t show up on the local news that evening during the game highlights looking like a cowardly fool avoiding the same home run ball in the process of losing your beer. Learn from my experience and protect your beer!

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5 Comments »

  1. Don’t forget that after a brewery pays to play, there’s the little matter of negotiating the concessionaire’s discount. Not only is the mark-up per cup tremendous, but it comes on top of a reduction in the price to the concessionaire.

    Comment by Roger A. Baylor — April 25, 2010 @ 9:08 am | Reply

    • Roger – I appreciate your point but I will say that in fairness to Center Plate that they never requested anything like that (a discount) from us.

      Comment by Bob Mack — April 26, 2010 @ 9:12 am | Reply

  2. Maybe not in Indy. Maybe nowhere else in the world. But I’ve heard the story too many times, from too many small brewers. Bob, no disrespect intended here, but if WCB wasn’t asked to discount, it may be because your corporate parent already made the call.

    Comment by Roger A. Baylor — April 26, 2010 @ 12:39 pm | Reply

    • Roger – no disrespect felt and your point is well taken. I’m sure it happens. It just didn’t occur in this case and I was politically insensitive enough to bring a vendor into this discussion by name I thought I’d at least mention that they did not ask for that.

      Thanks for your comments. Your insights are many and valuable.

      Comment by Bob Mack — April 26, 2010 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

  3. […] team – the Indians (how clever). We have a fantastic ballpark and they have some pretty good craft beer selections too – everyone […]

    Pingback by saved up my useless thoughts « Cheaper Than Therapy — August 27, 2010 @ 8:54 am | Reply


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