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Steep food discounts at U.S. stadiums slow to move north of the border

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Steep food discounts at U.S. stadiums slow to move north of the border

When the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and United FC opened its doors in 2017, sports fans not only had a brand new stadium in which to watch their teams, but were treated to what management called the lowest concession prices in professional sports.

That strategy paid off as fans spent an average of 16 per cent more on concessions that year over the previous season when food was 50 per cent more expensive. The success at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium prompted a wave of similar adjustments at other sports arenas across the U.S.

Cheaper snacks aren’t yet filling stadiums north of the border to the same degree, industry watchers say. But as sports teams need to be wary of pricing fans out of attending games, a break at the hot dog stand may eventually come to Canadian sports fans.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s debut featured US$2 hot dogs, pretzels, bags of popcorn, water bottles and refillable sodas. Cheese-topped nachos, waffle fries and pizza slices cost US$3. Cheeseburgers and one type of draft beer set sports fans back US$5.

That compared with average prices at NFL stadiums that year of US$8.20 for beer, US$5.09 for soft drinks and US$5.46 for a hot dog, according to the Team Marketing’s annual NFL fan cost index.

After a year of operations, the stadium announced it would trim US$1 off several premium items, like the Italian sausage (to US$7) and a free-range fried chicken sandwich (to US$10).

“I don’t know if we have started that here in Canada,” said Robert Carter, executive director of food service for market research firm NPD Group, of the wave of similar price reductions Atlanta’s changes sparked at other U.S. stadiums.

Some Canadian stadiums hosting major league games have started to introduce a smattering of lower-priced food options, but they don’t quite compare to Atlanta’s broad moves.

Americans tend to be more sensitive to price than Canadians, said Carter. American restaurants, for example, tend to offer dollar and value menus more so than their Canadian counterparts. Canadians, on the other hand, tend to be driven more by quality, he said.

“Canadians are willing to invest in what they perceive to be higher quality, better for you, stronger flavour profile foods,” said Carter.

Instead of focusing on lowering prices, Carter said, Canadian stadiums seem to be more concerned about expanding their menu offerings to include more premium dishes. At Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, patrons can dine on sushi rolls and burritos; gourmet hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches; and chicken kimchi topped fries.

Of the eight stadiums where NHL, NBA and MLB teams play in Canada, all declined interviews to speak about fan-friendly concession prices or did not respond to requests. Half provided written statements or answers to emailed questions.

The Toronto Blue Jays, which set food prices at the Rogers Centre with its concessionaire, Aramark, said it lowered the price of a 20 ounce domestic draught by 50 cents this year, and introduced a value menu featuring $3 hot dogs and $2 bottles of water, among other things. The stadium will have further targeted concession initiatives in the 2019 season.

Canucks Sports & Entertainment, which determines prices at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, said it introduced a family zone last year with a more affordable kid’s menu, and pointed to its happy hour pricing.

The Ottawa Senators, whose home is the Canadian Tire Centre, said it lowered parking prices this season and launched lower-priced snack packs that can be bought for the first hour after the stadium doors open at every game.

Winnipeg Jets owner True North Sports + Entertainment, which along with its partner Centerplate decides on prices at Bell MTS Place, said it is “mindful” of offering fan-friendly prices for all products.

While there’s room for premium food offerings, sports teams also need to protect their core fan base and not price them out of games if they want to grow their business, said Alan Rownan, head of sports for market-research firm Euromonitor International.

“This is ultimately done by demonstrating the match day value,” he said, via the stadium atmosphere and lack of empty seats, which comes down to fan-friendly pricing.

Teams need to demonstrate their value to fans to fill seats and don’t want to reach a tipping point where fans wonder whether attending games is worth it, he said, especially now that alternative viewing options abound.

It’s also important to ensure young fans can afford events, he said, as they can possibly grow into wealthy adults who want to splurge on premium tickets and concessions.

However, it’s important not to look at one metric in a vacuum, Rownan said, explaining food prices are one part of the value equation.

“I’d see it as a strategy that trickles down.”

Follow @AleksSagan on Twitter.

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‘Fantastic Beasts’ flies to top of weekend box office

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‘Fantastic Beasts’ flies to top of weekend box office

LOS ANGELES — “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” worked its magic at the weekend box office and opened as the top film.

The latest offering from the Harry Potter universe earned $62.2 million for Warner Bros. in the United States and Canada, according to studio estimates Sunday.

That fell short of the opening of the first film in the series, 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which debuted with $74 million in a similar November release and went on to earn $234 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Last week’s top film, “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch,” was second with $38.1 million, bringing its domestic tally to $126 million for Universal after two weekends.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is still rocking, taking third place with $15.7 million for a total of $127 million.

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DP World chairman says trade tensions will make 2019 challenging

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DP World chairman says trade tensions will make 2019 challenging

Global ports operator DP World believes international trade tensions such as those between the United States and China will make 2019 challenging but not unmanageable, its chairman said on Sunday.

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Watch geeks drive booming trade in preowned pieces

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Watch geeks drive booming trade in preowned pieces

NEW YORK — Around two dozen traders sit in an open-layout second floor of a building in suburban Philadelphia. Surrounded by computer monitors, loud conversation and ringing phones, the energy on this trading floor is high and the commodity is blingy.

At the headquarters of Govberg, they’re not dealing in diamonds or gold but preowned luxury watches, of which company sells about $200 million worth a year.

Some 100 miles (160 kilometres) northeast, 23-year-old Christian Zeron sits in his parents’ dining room in suburban New Jersey looking at around 30 preowned vintage watches. In a few days, he’ll put them up for sale on his company’s website, theoandharris.com, which sells $2 million worth of watches annually.

Govberg, in the watch business for 35 years, and Theo&Harris, founded only three years ago, are part of the thriving preowned luxury watch business. Along with dozens of other companies, they are the core of an industry that has exploded over the past few years, rivaling the new luxury timepiece business in size.

“It’s bigger than people think,” said Reginald Brack, executive director and industry analyst for watches and luxury at NPD Group, which studies $2 trillion in consumer spending across 20 industries.

Brack said it’s difficult to quantify precisely the market for preowned watches because nobody tracks it thoroughly. But some estimates put it at three times the new luxury watch market, itself estimated to be worth up to $10 billion just in the U.S.

“I wouldn’t disagree with that statement,” Brack said. “And it’s only getting bigger.”

Even though watches have been disappearing from people’s wrists with the spread of mobile phones, luxury watches remain a popular status symbol. In fact, sales have slightly crept up in the last two years.

The preowned business allows shoppers to get a good deal on modern watches like Rolex Submariner, while also offering a large selection of vintage pieces like an early 20th Century Cartier Tank.

Danny Govberg, the founder of Govberg’s global watch operation WatchBox, compared the rise of preowned watches to the “quartz revolution” nearly five decades ago.

The introduction of battery-operated quartz movements in wristwatches took a big bite out of the market share from major automatic or mechanical watch brands such as Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Audemars Piguet. Those brands, which have since recovered, are now the bread and butter of today’s preowned watch traders.

“Preowned watches are coming out of drawers so fast and furious now that I’ve never seen anything like it,” Govberg said in an interview in the company’s headquarters in Bala Cynwyd, just outside Philadelphia. “It’s a real disruption coming to our industry.”

Luxury brands have taken note. In June, Richemont, the owner of such brands as Cartier and IWC, bought Watchfinder, a British online platform for trading preowned watches.

“The preowned market has taken some business from the new market, there’s no question,” said Steven Kaiser, a veteran watch industry executive and founder of Kaiser Time, a New York-based luxury industry consulting firm.

Govberg entered the preowned watch business in 1983 when he introduced watches to his family’s jewelry store on Jewelers’ Row on Philadelphia’s Sansom Street.

“People weren’t collecting vintage watches back then,” he said, recalling that he would travel to Europe to buy used Rolexes and Patek Philippes from watch shows. “Little shows that you would go to, almost like trading card shows. Like wristwatch swap shows.”

At the turn of the millennium, new platforms such as eBay drove Govberg to adopt his own online strategy. Ultimately, he founded WatchBox, a digital platform and app that includes video reviews and a trading market for valuable timepieces. The company recently launched a second season of “The Classroom,” a YouTube series that aims to educate watch enthusiasts about the intricacies of owning a watch that could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Zeron, of Theo&Harris, also uses video to offer his thoughts on the industry. He regularly gets hundreds of thousands of views for his four weekly YouTube posts.

“Social media is where it took off,” he said, sitting in his parents’ living room with Anna Griffin who was his first employee and a fellow student at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. “We don’t have a retail store — there was no actual foot traffic. It was all social buzz.”

The young entrepreneur, who founded the company with $10,000 in saved up birthday money when he was a college sophomore, has a larger-than-life persona on social media, with a no-holds-barred approach to roasting iconic brands such as Breitling. Some of his viewers comment that he needs to lay off the caffeine or sugar.

The internet has democratized horological knowledge, much like other niche areas of expertise like aviation.

A watch enthusiast can spend hours on web forums, debating the differences between the various iterations of a $4,500 Tudor Black Bay (“I love the domed crystal but I’d be interested to see it 1mm thicker,” says one member on RolexForums.com of the latest “Fifty-Eight” release.)

The explosive growth of preowned watch sales has deeper roots than social media, however. There’s an emotional and intellectual appeal to owning a mechanical device that could have three hundred small pieces inside.

“Nothing that anyone consumes is very interesting anymore,” said Zeron, sporting a 1980s 18-karat gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date.

Take the ubiquitous iPhone — easily replaceable, Zeron notes.

“If your vintage Omega breaks, that’s it. It’s over. You will never get another one like it,” he said. “You are going to remember the drinks and the dates and the arguments you had in it. You are going to be sad that you lost it.”

Then, there is the sheer volume and variety on offer, with supply constantly flowing out of people’s drawers.

“If you went into an IWC boutique, they may have 50, 60, 70, 80 watches to choose from,” Govberg said. “But in the preowned space of IWC, you may have 900 watches to choose from.”

But the bottom line is that a preowned luxury watch in great condition is usually a third of the price of a new one.

“For someone that is collecting, for someone that’s trying various pieces, is a natural fit,” said Paul Bragan, a watch collector and senior partner at market research firm Wakefield Research, based in Arlington, Virginia.

Bragan spent hours quizzing Zeron online before taking the plunge with his first vintage watch purchase: a 1978 Rolex Datejust, which the Theo&Harris founder personally delivered during a trip to the Washington, D.C., area. It was the start of a friendship, and many more purchases for Bragan.

“There’s a trade-in value proposition with preowned watches much like the car industry,” said Brack, of NDP.

Watch executives often say their business is like the car industry — only better.

“In the car business, you have about 15 years on a car,” Govberg said. “Watches are meant to last 100 years.”

——

Follow Amir Bibawy on Twitter @AmirBibawy

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