Thoughts and pictures of my local minor league baseball team the New York Penn League Connecticut Tigers; a Detriot farm team. We'll still be looking at former Navigators/Defenders players along the way....

Friday, March 07, 2008

From today's USA today........

Baseball and gluttony, two of America's favorite pastimes, are merging in a controversial trend taking hold at Major League Baseball stadiums across the nation: all-you-can-eat seats.
Fans in these diet-busting sections, for a fixed price usually ranging from $30 to $55, are able to gorge on as many hot dogs, nachos, peanuts and soft drinks as they can stomach. Some teams charge extra for beer, desserts and candy.

At least 13 of the 30 major league teams are offering all-you-can-eat seats for all or part of the 2008 season, up from six last year. Some of the teams that offered them last season are expanding their all-you-can-eat sections this season.

All-you-can-eat seats, usually in distant bleacher or upper-deck sections, are allowing teams to squeeze revenue out of parts of ballparks that used to sit empty game after game, team officials say.

"We're getting rid of (tickets) and making the public happy" by offering them a way to save money, says Andrew Silverman, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Texas Rangers. The Rangers saw sales of 616 seats in their stadium's left-field corner take off last year after the seats were designated as all-you-can-eat areas.

Silverman says the Rangers will offer nearly 1,100 all-you-can-eat seats at 48 of the team's 81 home games this year.

The seats are drawing criticism from diet and health specialists who say they are symbols of binge eating, supersized fast food and poor nutrition. At a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the USA is in the grip of an obesity crisis with 1 in 3 adults obese, the idea of setting aside places for fans to gorge on high-fat foods is irresponsible, many specialists say.

"It's disgusting," says Christine Gerbstadt, a registered dietitian and national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). "Why can't people just enjoy the game and eat sensibly?"

Mark Tilson, vice president of sales and marketing for the Kansas City Royals, says it's up to fans to eat responsibly.

"We're not making anybody purchase these seats, or eat seven hot dogs," says Tilson, whose team has 500 seats in its all-you-can-eat section. "We saw plenty of healthy families enjoying it responsibly."

He acknowledges that some fans try to "set personal records" during their first game in the section. By their second or third time in such seats, Tilson says, they eat like they normally would at a game.

For regular fans who have seen teams cater to higher-end clientele with luxury suites and premium seating areas featuring exclusive eating areas or wait service, all-you-can-eat sections represent a grittier, cheaper way to eat at will.

"What attracted me was eating as much as I could," says Toney Fernandez, 20, of Harbor City, Calif., but "then I got hooked by the whole atmosphere: Everybody's friendly and having a good time." He says he went to five games in the Los Angeles Dodgers' section last year and plans to attend 10 games there this season.

Throughout Major League Baseball, the impact of all-you-can-eat sections is becoming clear.

Before last season, the Dodgers didn't open their right-field bleacher pavilion unless the left-field bleachers sold out. Then they began offering 3,300 right-field bleacher seats with unlimited Dodger Dogs, nachos, peanuts, popcorn, soft drinks and water. The section averaged 2,200 fans a game last season — and sold out for one-third of the team's home games.

Before the unlimited food and drink, such seats sold for $6 or $8, if they sold at all. Now, they go for $35 in advance and $40 for game-day tickets. A ticket to a major league game cost an average of $22.77 last season, according to Team Marketing Report.

For Dodgers fans who might have bought a regular bleacher seat in past years and then purchased a hot dog, nachos, peanuts, popcorn and a soda, all-you-can-eat sections could save them $5 or so — and more if they keep eating.

"What's the old saying? A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz," says Dodgers chief marketing officer Charles Steinberg, who won't discuss the precise impact the all-you-can-eat seats have had on team revenue.

Among the clubs with all-you-can-eat seats for the first time this year: the Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks. Besides the Dodgers, Rangers and Royals, those offering them for at least part of last season were the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles.

Ticketholders usually are issued colored wristbands. Special concession stands start dishing out goodies 90 minutes before the first pitch and don't quit until the seventh inning.

Because the food and drink often is self-serve, voracious fans totter back to their seats with as much as they can carry. With little or no money changing hands, lines move quickly. To stop bracelet-wearers from supplying other rows of fans with food, some teams limit fans to four to six items a visit.

The Dodgers operate the biggest section; the Braves seem to have the fanciest menu. It includes beer, for $65 a seat. The Cardinals have the most sections: 10 all-you-can-eat buffets, plus beer, for $65-$200 a game. The Diamondbacks are creating the most expensive section at their park, Chase Field. Their 72 seats run $75 a game. But fans have to buy them as a season ticket, So the cost is $6,075 a seat.

Not everyone's a fan. Author Neal Pollack calls all-you-can-eat seats "the worst American culture can offer." He says he sat in the Dodgers' section last year and it "was a gluttonous orgy of stupidity.

"The smell … was unbearable," Pollack recalls. "By the end of the game, it was like sitting in a sewer."

Teams emphasize that such seats can help budget-conscious fans — families, teens, college students and office groups — save money at a time when many fans have complained about the rising costs of attending major league games.

'It's like a rite of passage'

It's no coincidence that the Marlins, Rays, Royals, Pirates and A's are among those either adding all-you-can-eat seats or expanding such sections this season.

Those teams drew the fewest home fans in the majors last season. They see free-flowing food and drink as a way to get people into their stadiums.

After drawing 1.37 million fans at home in 2007, the worst in the majors, the Marlins are creating a 400-seat section along the third-base line of Dolphin Stadium.

The Rays, with the second-lowest home attendance, will test a 500- to 700-seat area for groups of 20 at Tropicana Field, spokeswoman Carmen Molina says.

The Pirates, with the fourth-lowest attendance, have high hopes for their new 164-seat section at PNC Park, team President Frank Coonelly says. He predicts the concept will attract budget-conscious parents.

"As a parent of four kids, I remember that every inning it seemed they would like a hot dog or popcorn," he says. "Either I would have to say 'no' and deal with them whining or head back out to the concession stand."

For the Cardinals, formerly owned by the beer-making Busch family in a city where breweries are a source of pride, the decision to offer beer in all-you-can-eat packages isn't surprising.

It's a delicate subject, however. Last year, manager Tony La Russa pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in an alcohol-related car accident.

Michael Hall, the team's group sales director, says the team didn't have any significant problems with alcohol in the sections last season. "These areas are controlled," he says. "If we recognize people are not drinking responsibly, we won't continue the service." Major League Baseball stadiums stop serving beer at the end of the seventh inning.

Meanwhile, many baseball fans embraced all-you-can-eat seats with gusto last season:

• At the Braves' Turner Field, some fans had hot dog eating contests, says Derek Schiller, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "It's like a rite of passage. You buy your ticket and figure out how many hot dogs and nachos you can eat."

• The Royals tout their section with the slogan "Eat, drink and be merry!" At one game, a teenage boy scarfed down a dozen hot dogs, nachos and a couple of bags of peanuts. The feat was so impressive, he was interviewed on the game's TV broadcast, Tilson recalls. Then there was the pregnant woman who bought the seats because she was craving ballpark food. "She just went to town," Tilson says.

• At Oriole Park at Camden Yards, there were father-son hot dog eating contests while college kids competed to eat the most nachos, says team spokesman Greg Bader. The team is enlarging its all-you-can-eat section to 1,300 seats this season, up from 800 last year.

How much is too much?

So how much food do fans in these seats consume?

Ron Ranieri, general manager of concessionaire Aramark at Atlanta's Turner Field, calculates that a typical all-you-can-eat customer downed: 3.35 hot dogs; one 20-ounce soda; one 7.9-ounce bag of peanuts; one 3-ounce order of nachos and 32 ounces of popcorn.

Those numbers are "insane," the ADA's Gerbstadt says. They equate to more than three times the daily recommended calories and carbohydrates, four times the saturated fat and sodium, and seven times the fat suggested by the Agriculture Department's 2005 diet guidelines.

That's not counting the beer and desserts many fans also polish off. Those who eat even close to such amounts on a semi-regular basis, Gerbstadt says, are at added risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and erectile dysfunction.

"This is something you do once in a lifetime, and pray you don't get a heart attack," she says. "They're eating the equivalent of four days of food, or twice what the average person eats on Thanksgiving Day. I hope these people have tons of Pepto-Bismol."

Fan consumption was "not excessive," the Braves' Schiller says. There's a difference between people who patronize unlimited buffets at restaurants and those who try it at the ballpark, he adds. "People go to those places because they're hungry. The primary reason for coming to Turner Field, even with all-you-can-eat, is baseball."

The Pirates' Coonelly notes the team offers all-you-can-eat salads in its new section.

The A's offer salads, fruit cups and garden burgers at other stands for fans who want healthier food.

"Eating one extra hot dog won't be the source of health issues in the U.S.," says Jim Leahey, the A's vice president for sales and marketing. "We recognize there's certain fans who are vegetarian and want healthy alternatives. We have 35,000 seats. If the 1,000 (all-you-can-eat) seats don't appeal to you, we have plenty of alternatives."


Blogger KRB said...

I went to a game once at AT&T and had seats in the upper deck in left field. By the time I walked up all the ramps and stairs I could have done the all you can eat and not gained a pound. So put them all in the upper deck top row and by the time you walk from your car to the top its a push.

12:22 AM

Blogger thehondohurricane said...

I'd hate to have a seat below the "all you can eat" sections. I can picture a group gorging themselves with food, drink, etc. and then leaning over the railing and puking into my section!

8:06 AM

Blogger VonSchell28 said...

And isn't Dodd Stadium about to do this too? Eww.

9:28 AM

Blogger thehondohurricane said...

I'm not sure if I missed it or it's a legitimate "I didn't know", but in reading yesterday's game recap by Giant Jottings, there's Justin Knoedler catching...for the A's. Anyone know the details?

9:33 AM

Blogger greg8370 said...

Good pickup Hondo on Justin. I didn't know about his status either. A google search shows the A's signed him as a minor league free agent after the 2007 season ended.
Don't remember anything on McCovey's about it.

3:33 PM

Blogger greg8370 said...

As for the all you can eat thing I rather have it up in Lou's!

3:34 PM

Blogger VonSchell28 said...

Yeah!! Lou's would be Awesome!!

4:39 PM

Blogger thehondohurricane said...

I've had it with the Giants and whoever else is responsible for this garbage. Check out today's Giant website. The headlines are (and I paraphrase) Pat Misch starts strong and then goes bad. What a bunch of BS. This kid hasn't pitched more then an inning in a long time and after 3 innings he loses it. What were the asshole Giants expecting? Pat's being handled the same way the Giants treated Valdez and look what happened to him. I just hope Pat can escape these idiots soon with his arm intact and land with an organization(Twins or Rays?) that will use him properly. I'm really beginning to feel ashamed to tell people I'm a Giant fan when I see how some of these young kids have been abused. Sorry about the emoting, but Pat was one of the more personable Navigator/Defender and a favorite of mine, and it really pisses me off to watch him get shafted year after year by a last place organization.

Hey VonSchell28, what happened to Michelle28? I expect Tyler's history in Norwich.

8:27 PM

Blogger VonSchell28 said...

I figured out my password!! Ahaha. We can't completely say he is history for CT, cause thats what most thought last year, and there he was. But of course I do and don't want him in CT. Cause I want to see him play at a higher level DUH!! but Ill miss seeing him play live which will make me have to stay up till 1 AM listening to him play in Cali. hehe.

And I'm glad I figured out my password cause I do a blog like Greg, and i didnt really wanna start over new. Lol.

9:06 PM

Blogger greg8370 said...

Pat should be the #5 starter at least but these guys don't have a clue. Feels like Sanchez but who knows with this crew running things.

11:15 PM

Blogger J said...

I don't understand. How much stuff are people eating that they save money with these seats?

I've never seen anyone eat that much food, and I've been to many, many ball games.

4:56 PM


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