“I’m going to eat my way through your entire stadium”

18 Feb 2020 5:17 AM | Steve DeLay (Administrator)

That’s what the burly guy from Staten Island told us when we rolled out All-You-Can-Eat ticket packages for the first time.  That was way back before the 2007 season.

Bring it on,” we told him with a smile.  That was because we’d already seen the tremendous upside for using free food as a way to sell more ticket packages.

I was going to use this week’s column to talk about all the various amenities and benefits hard-core fans and even casual fans want with their season tickets and ticket packages. 

But, after I wrote it, I realized that it was a lot of the same old/same old that teams have been hashing about for years.  If you haven’t realized by now that things like payment plans, ticket exchange programs, easy-pay playoff packages and special events with players and coaching staff are cool for hard-core fans, you’re years behind and you need more than this column to catch up.

THE WORLD’S MOST DIFFICULT TURNAROUND

The Single-A short season Staten Island Yankees had been in existence since 1999.  In 2001, they moved from a college stadium to a fabulous new ballpark right next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal with unencumbered views of lower Manhattan.  In 2006, Mandalay Baseball Properties bought out the local owner and we were now 50-50 partners with the New York Yankees.  We were the managing partner.

Here’s what we were told about the problems we would face:

1.     Dangerous neighborhood.  In my first week there, I was warned by over a dozen people not to stray too far from the ballpark.  Way too dangerous.

2.     Limited parking.  The team shared the parking lot with the terminal for the Staten Island Ferry.  The lot seemed spacious.  However, during weekdays it filled up with commuters who parked their cars there and then hopped the free ferry to Manhattan to go to work. By the team’s 7:00pm game time, the commuter cars still filled half the lot, severely limiting where the team’s fans could park.  On weekends it wasn’t a problem. 

3.     Two Major League teams.  Why go to a Single-A baseball game when you could see the New York Yankees or the New York Mets?

4.     Traffic was horrible.  Actually, I might make this #1.  Traffic was indeed horrible on Staten Island, especially near the ballpark.  There were no freeways on Staten Island.  It was all surface roads, mostly with ruts that acted as speed bumps.  Additionally, unlike Manhattan or Brooklyn, train service was highly limited. 

THE ULTIMATE WEAPON

We knew it was going to be a challenge so we rolled out our ultimate weapon, the 5-game plan.

Our 5-game plan cost $75.  $300 for a family of four.  That was $15 per person, per game.  Here’s was our deal:

1.     5-game plan.  You received the best five games on the schedule.

2.     Choice seats.  You’d get seats between the dugouts (remember, hardly any tickets had been sold before).  You get the same seats for every game.

3.     All weekend or holiday games.  This included three fireworks shows.

Pretty mundane so far, eh?  But wait, as they say in infomercials, there’s more:

4.     All-you-can-eat all game long.   Included with your ticket, you could eat all the hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches you want.  Also included is all the soda and water you want.  This is what got the big burly guy’s attention.  He looked like he could pack away the hotdogs.

5.     You get two free gifts.  You’ll get a New York Yankees cap (value $22) and the best gift that the New York Yankees gave out at Yankee Stadium (value: unknown) and we’ll give it to you at our ballpark. 

Was this package popular?  You bet it was.  Turns out people in Staten Island really like to eat!  We sold more than 7,000 five-game plans in just six weeks.  Our salespeople couldn’t keep up with the phones ringing off the hooks once we started marketing the package.  We credit the 5-game package with selling out five games in the 2007 season.  In 2008, we expanded the package to seven games and sold out 17 games.  In 2009 we sold out 26 of the team’s 38 home games, a remarkable turnaround for a team that had never sold out a game.

YOU BRIBED THEM!!!

I can hear all the Naysayers shouting in unison, “You bribed them!!!  You gave away the ranch!  You let them stuff their bellies for free! There’s no way that this pencils out!  You’ll lose a fortune!  You were desperate men doing desperate things!

To the charges that we bribed the folks of Staten Island to come to our games:  Of course we didn’t.  A bribe is something illegal. What we offered, among other things, was to feed them at their expense.  Yep, we considered the food in this package to be prepaid food

PREPAID FOOD

Here’s how it worked:

  1. Raising ticket prices.  We raised the ticket prices in the choice sections (basically more than half the seats) from $12 to $15.  There was no backlash on raising the ticket prices by $3 because nobody went to the games to know what the prices were in the first place.  What mattered was the fans felt like $15 for a ballgame and unlimited food and drinks was a good deal.
  2. Negotiating with the concessionaire.  We negotiated with our concessionaire to pay for net food and labor costs.  We also agreed to give the concessionaire a $1 on each person who received a wristband to enter the All-You-Can-Eat line.  This was their profit for each person.  In essence, the team became the largest customer for the concessions operator.  We covered their food costs and paid them a profit for each person on the AYCE plan.  They grudgingly accepted our reasoning.  It was really quite simple.  Which would be better for the concessionaire:  7,000 mouths at the stadium or 800 mouths?  Even though the 7,000 mouths got plenty of hot dogs and such, those mouths didn’t get any ice cream or beer or peanuts or popcorn unless they paid for them.  Since we served the All-You-Can-Eat from a buffet line near our concession stands, all that other stuff was right there for them to easily purchase.  Believe me, 7,000 mouths would buy far, far more than what 800 mouths would buy even if you fed the 7,000 mouths with hot dogs, hamburgers, soda, and water.
  3. The total cost for free food and drinks.   It averaged out to a little less than $3 per game per five-game holder.  So, in effect, considering that the ticket price had been $12 the year before, this was like prepaid food.   When the fan missed a game, the prepaid food was like the prepaid ticket; there was no refund.  So, if the fan missed the game, there was no expense for the food that the no-show didn’t eat. 

FREE FOOD AT STATEN ISLAND WASN’T OUR FIRST RODEO

We started our free food strategy in 2004 with our Double-A team, the Frisco RoughRiders.  We did it in the three highest priced sections.  Here are those deals:

OUR FIRST FREE FOOD PLAN

Area

Number of seats

Price/Game

Food

1st row

130

$50

Buffet*

2nd thru 7th rows

886

$35

Buffet*

Other

1,500

$18

Hot dogs, etc.**

* The buffet was in an air-conditioned restaurant in the second deck behind home plate.  Also included was free beer and wine.

** The food here was all-you-can-eat hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, and all the soda and water to wash it down with.

We routinely sold out the top two priced plans on ticket packages.  The costs were a little different in Frisco:

NET TICKET REVENUE

Area

Price/Game

Food & Drink costs

Net ticket revenue

1st row

$50

$12.50

$37.50

2nd thru 7th rows

$35

$12.50

$22.50

Other

$18

$3.50

$14.50

The ‘Free Food Strategy’ was the principal reason we were able to get far higher net ticket prices than anybody in minor league baseball at the time. 

We liked this concept so well we started to include free food with group tickets.  This led to over 90% of our tickets in Frisco being sold with some sort of ‘free food’ attached to them.  And, all this free didn’t lower the concessions PER CAP for our games.  We usually ranked in the top two in our league.

CHANGING HISTORY

History shows that for years teams have used promotions like $1 Beer Night or $1 Hot Dog Nights to try to sell tickets.  These promotions started in minor league baseball but have recently made their way in to a number marketing plans of big league sports teams. 

History also shows that Major League Baseball teams expanded that concept and have All-You-Can-Eat sections in their tough-to-sell seating areas.  These sections are for walk-up fans only.  Fans can walk up to the box office the day of a game and buy a ticket in that section for $35-$50 and challenge themselves and their friends to eating prodigious amounts of hot dogs, nachos, pizza, and popcorn. 

The problem with these promotions is that they focus on the walk-up buyer and it requires the fan to buy a ticket to just one game. 

These teams have a far different motivation in using food to help sell tickets.  They’re looking at a few more tickets for one game.  We’re looking at selling a ton of ticket packages to multiple games that will lead to more sellouts.  In Staten Island, we used food to sell out not just one game, but 26 out of 38. 

Our ticket plans were designed to have that walk-up buyer trade up to at least a five-game plan. 

We wanted to take that walk-up buyer and provide an inducement to increase their frequency of attendance a little bit.  We have no better marketing tool than food to help us do that. 

Food has been a potent marketing tool to increase our number of sellouts.

IF YOU’RE SELLING OUT, DON’T BOTHER

If you’re a team that’s already selling out or close to selling out, you most likely don’t need to include food with your ticket packages to sell more tickets.  Hallelujah!  That’s a terrific position to be in.  Heck, we used it in Staten Island because we needed the ultimate weapon to help us get something that had never happened with the Staten Island Yankees before—sellouts.  We used it in Frisco because we felt the market could afford higher ticket prices if there was reasonable justification.  Food was that reasonable justification.  If you don’t need such a weapon, that’s wonderful.  Just know that it’s there if you eventually need it.

FOOD CAN BE PART OF YOUR STORY

If you’re a team that is under new ownership or have fallen on hard financial times, you may need a powerful catalyst to get fans to pay attention to you.  To get people talking, you might invest millions in a major renovation of your facility, if you have the money.  You might trade for a marquee superstar.  You might threaten to move the team if fans don’t buy tickets.  If those options aren’t possible, you have to build a story about yourself for why fans should buy tickets.  It has to be something dramatic.  All-You-Can-Eat (AYCE) food can help your team create that buzz.  

Some may consider a move to All-You-Can-Eat as desperate people doing desperate things.  We, however, consider it a really shrewd marketing tool to help you get more sellouts.  And, I’ve continued to use it when I helped launch the Savannah Bananas and the Macon Bacon. 

If you have questions on how All-You-Can-Eat can be the biggest perk and amenity you can offer your season ticket holders, ticket package buyers and group buyers, just give me a call at 702-493-2661 or send me an email at stevedelay@theultimatetoolkit.com

NEXT COLUMN

In our next column on March 2, we’ll dive in to more details on the costs of All-You-Can-Eat ticket packages and how we sell thousands of them at the Macon Bacon.

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