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Hard Rock Stadium Turns Up The Volume For Miami Open Concessions

Executive Chef Dayanny De La Cruz compiled a new menu and brought in Miami hot spots for a concessions strategy that could pay dividends beyond one event.

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Photo courtesy: Miami Dolphins

Hard Rock Stadium Executive Chef Dayanny De La Cruz is going all out for the Miami Open. So much of her year is spent preparing food on an afternoon-by-afternoon basis for events like NFL games or concerts. But the two-week tennis tournament, which begins Monday, offers plenty of canvas for culinary exploration.

“It’s extremely exciting,” De La Cruz said. “One of the things about the Miami Open is it’s a new view at this stadium. It’s a different beast, with different demographics, and it’s stretched out a lot.”

With a spread-out crowd and plenty of long days, De La Cruz said it was important to foster a neighborhood atmosphere of a culinary compound with plenty of options for the fans.

“You have to think more diverse meals,” she said. “You have to have variety. The fans are here for 12 hours. We’ve made it sort of interactive to keep it interesting.”

READ MORE: Executives Outline Predictions for Arena and Stadium Concessions in 2019

“Interesting” has never been a problem for De La Cruz, who has prioritized making the venue’s concessions program more diverse to coincide with the growing trends in venue concession options. For the Miami Open, De La Cruz spent two months working diligently to craft a new menu with items ranging from a watermelon and tomatillo salad to the mojo pork belly masitas to one of her favorites, the Cubano sausage. Then she brought in a bevy of Miami restaurants to complement it, including SuViche, Novecento, Casa Tua Cucina, Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina and Kiki on the River.

From start to finish, the Hard Rock Stadium culinary crew worked on the tennis tournament plans alongside other everyday responsibilities, something De La Cruz characterized as a point of pride for how unusual it was.

“If you look at every other tennis property in the country, even the world, tennis facilities do the tournament and close,” she said. “I’ve very proud we continued with our catering and other events all while prepping for tennis.”

Food service company Centerplate also worked hand-in-hand with De La Cruz to ensure she has everything she needed and help bring a fresh new look to concessions to the Miami Open.

“Hard Rock Stadium is going to be a fantastic new home for the Miami Open, and we are thrilled to play our part,” Centerplate CEO Chris Verros said. “We have worked hard alongside our venue partners and IMG to create a memorable food and beverage experience – with an authentic South Florida feel – that will leave fans wanting to come back again and again.”

The food options at the Miami Open are meant to help entice tennis fans to return next year, but De La Cruz is confident the approach will also begin to make its way into other staple events at Hard Rock Stadium. She’s already treating this menu as something of a test kitchen for next year’s NFL season, as well as Super Bowl LIV in 2020.

READ MORE: Minor League Baseball Showcasing Deeper Partnership Connections With Hot Dogs

Part of that was knowing when to stick to old favorites. Plenty of Miami Dolphins season ticket holders also optioned into a tennis ticket membership, so De La Cruz made sure some of the hits from the stadium’s food selection are still available, such as the hand-pulled, 24-hour-smoked Everglades BBQ line. And, of course, there’s always hot dogs, which at Hard Rock Stadium are all beef and served on fresh-baked buns delivered each morning.

“Times are changing and this generation coming to the stadium is seeking a higher value,” she said. “If we can offer the variety they want, you don’t have to spend the money elsewhere. We’re offering what you’re looking for outside inside.

“We still have all the standards, hot dogs and popcorn, but we’ve merged the best of both worlds.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Fan Experience

AXS’s Ticketing Technology Helping Empower Teams’ Sales Strategies

AXS Senior Vice President Brian Peunic has seen teams improve the purchasing process for fans by using data to tailor their sales strategies.

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The ticketing market is long past the days of ticket scalpers lining outside stadiums, hocking tickets before game time. In today’s resale market, professional sports teams have the power of ticketing in their own hands, controlling their primary and secondary marketplaces.

One of the main players in this specialized ticketing technology space is AXS, with AXS and its competitors allowing teams to now use data to better understand their fans and season ticket-holders, both of which are commonly referred to as “members” today.

Brian Peunic, SVP of the sports division at AXS, has watched the development in the industry throughout the course of his career. He’s seen the retail market transform away from the street corner, where the risk of acquiring an illegitimate ticket was constant.

“What’s happened over time is technology has really driven out the small players, the street corner scalpers,” Peunic says. “There is a sophistication that has come along with this and also the injection of well-financed individuals really monetizing the space and taking it out of the shadows and bringing it into the big business format.”

Using the AXS platform to buy tickets, fans can ensure tickets are legitimate and no longer need to worry about being turned away at the gate due to an unlucky purchase outside the stadium.

Upon selecting a ticket, AXS assigns every buyer a unique fan ID, ensuring the security of the ticket through an algorithmic barcode that changes every 60 seconds. This digital ID has opened up new possibilities for teams.

“We’ve unlocked the ability for teams to have their own secondary marketplaces, their own fan-to-fan exchanges with their customers and clientele, so they know their ticket buyers are buying from an authenticated, valid source for their tickets,” explains Peunic.

By taking the marketplace into their own hands, teams are able to improve data collection methods, which allow them to better understand fans and tailor marketing and sales strategies accordingly.

AXS’ digital ID unlocks what Peunic calls a “digital bread crumb” from ticket to ticket, helping the team track its path from season ticket member or broker to resale purchaser.

Many teams have brought in full-time data scientists to help understand the movement of tickets from fan to fan, mining the data collected on AXS platforms to help drive future marketing and fan engagement strategies.

READ MORE: Mobile Ticketing Helps Power Fan Engagement for Tampa Bay Lightning

Insights gained from this data has been used to help engage with members, helping ticketing departments understand how best to engage with them in the offseason. This has turned jobs in marketing and ticketing into year-round roles.

“There’s the regular season, then you’re working on a renewal play, then you’re working on the draft,” Peunic says. “[In the past] you might have been able to take a break in July and go on vacation, but if you’re on a sports team, now you’re working 24/7, 365 [days]. The timeframe dynamics have changed considerably.”

Along with helping increase security and creating new touchpoints for data collection, AXS is helping improve the purchasing experience for fans by streamlining unsold and resale tickets into the marketplace.

Released last year, the technology surfaces both primary and secondary tickets into the same database, so when fans are looking to purchase, they see all available tickets rather than having to search on two different sites.

READ MORE: A Look at the New Foundation of Richmond Raceway’s Ticket Sales

“We give you the opportunity to have commingled flow because there could be one single ticket that no one wanted to buy in the front row right next to resale tickets,” Peunic said.

While prices may differ between the two tickets depending on the cost assigned by the seller, it gives fans more flexibility and choice than ever before. Going forward, fans can expect teams to continue to work to streamline the sales process through increased flexibility and understanding of fan preferences.

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How the Nationals Off-Field Programming Drives New Fans to the Ballpark

With events like “Bourbon and Baseball” and “Bubbles and Baseball,” the Washington Nationals turn to experiential pregame programming to help attract fans.

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The Washington Nationals are pouring plenty of whiskey to attract fans to Nationals Park.

Last week, the Nationals hosted “Bourbon and Baseball,” just one of several drinks-related pregame events to bring fans, new and old, to the ballpark. It was the second “Bourbon and Baseball” event, with the first coming last September. There will be two more similar events this season, “Scotch and Baseball” on July 22 and “Bubbles and Baseball” on September 28.

“It’s about looking at baseball in a different way,” says Jonathan Stahl, Washington Nationals vice president of ballpark operations and guest experience. “We have fans that come to the ballpark for the baseball atmosphere, but it’s not always the number one focus for their friends. It’s really about getting people with different interests out to the ballpark to try something new.”

Tickets included 12 tasting pours of whiskey prior to the game and baseline reserved seat. A special focus was placed on bringing in whiskies scarcely found at bars and restaurants. The event’s approximately 400 tickets sold out at $85 each.

The events are held within the Nationals Park conference center or weather permitting, outside.

“We really want to make sure it’s about the experience and they’re not waiting in lines for a long time,” Stahl says.

In April, USA Today reported overall MLB attendance in March-April was flat, with 12 teams welcoming fewer fans than a similar period last year. Despite the low attendance figures, MLB set record revenues in 2018, according to Forbes. The cause of that 4% drop in MLB attendance in 2018 is hard to pinpoint, but clubs like the Nationals are doing their best to keep fans interested during a lengthy slate of 81 home games.

READ MORE: Crawford Bock Brings Beer and Baseball Together for Astros

“We want to try to create experiences that bring our fans and new fans back to the ballpark over and over again,” Stahl says. “We also want to make sure the experience of the events are as great as the baseball game.”

The “Bourbon and Baseball” event was born out of a Nationals’ event last June, “Rosé All Gameday,” which turned out to be a learning experience for the franchise. This event was held in the stadium during a game, which Stahl said took away from the viewing experience a little too much.

The evolution and specialization of the food and beverage industry the past decade has left plenty of opportunities for integration within sports, especially when it comes to concessions. Stahl pointed toward the offerings at Nationals Park that allows fans from nearby Virginia and Maryland to try some well-reviewed D.C. restaurants at the game.

“You look at the beverage industry as a whole and how much it’s evolved the past decade, there’s just so many great local offerings,” Stahl says. “On the food front, we’ve been partnering with local restaurants since the ballpark opened and it’s allowed us to elevate the quality of food we have and allow fans to try the hot and trendy restaurants that might be inconvenient to them in everyday life.”

MLB has even capitalized on the growing love of local food with its MLB FoodFest, bringing together foods from all 30 teams in Los Angeles, New York and London.

Other teams across the country are heading toward the food world as well. The Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies hold Taco Truck Throwdown, which last year attracted more than 20,000 people over the two-day event, according to Team President Derek Franks. The Grizzlies started the event nine years ago and it has grown ever since. Currently, Taco Truck Throwdown starts the last day of a homestand, as they play as the Fresno Tacos, and it becomes a stand-alone event the second day.

“Taco Truck Throwdown is the biggest success for us sitting around talking about how to get people interested in coming to the ballpark and show in some cases, it’s creating an event where baseball is in the background,” Franks says. “A lot of our smaller successes are just mini versions of it.

“You watch people’s habits change and now people want interesting food, drinks and music. We’ve really had to tailor our promotions around those to make fun events.”

Minor League teams tend to be leaders in special events to help draw fans without the star power of MLB names.

“We’ve had a head start on having to get creative,” Franks says. “We’re starting to see Major League teams do more of what we’ve had to do all these years to keep fans interested because it’s a much different world.”

READ MORE: Minnesota United Keeps Concessions in The Neighborhood at Allianz Field

Beyond beverages, the Nationals are hosting events like this weekend’s Marvel Super Hero Day, which will feature Thor’s Short Rib Hammer, a bone-in 2.5-pound short rib, Hulk Nachos, an Iron Man-wich, and a Captain Zimmerman bobblehead giveaway.

Staying the food realm and building on their Washington, D.C., home, the Nationals host an annual Taste of the World event, where embassy chefs are invited to cook up cuisine from their home country for a pre-game tasting by fans. The team also launched an augmented reality scavenger hunt with player integration and redeemable offers with the goal of getting fans to experience new parts of the stadium.

“Those are family-friendly environments and it’s a really fun thing,” Stahl said. “Add those all up and we’re just trying to find unique ways to reach out.”

Whether it’s sipping some pregame bourbon or noshing on a superhero-themed hunk of meat during the action, teams are working to keep fans in the stands. At the very least, the Nationals will pour a whiskey for them.

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Fan Experience

Dodgers Continue Community Connection with Mexican Heritage Night

The Los Angeles Dodgers sold more than 20,000 Mexican Heritage Night tickets in the team’s latest effort to foster authentic community connections.

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Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers promotional team came prepared for this for this season’s Mexican Heritage Night — or so they thought. They created 15,000 special Dodgers jerseys adorned with the colors of the Mexican flag for giveaways, a number they presumed would be more than enough to service each fan who wanted one to snag one. Turns out, they were light,  as more than 20,000 ticket packages were sold for the night.

The giveaway jersey has green and red sleeves with the word “Dodgers” in green script, and was borne out of Dodgers employees spotting plenty of Mexico jerseys during the World Baseball Classic. So they married Mexico’s colors with the Dodgers brand. Rather than cut off the sales or leave fans empty-handed, the team issued vouchers and will ship out extras by July 31.

The success of this season’s Mexican Heritage Night has been years in the making and part of an “authentic community connection” the team has developed, said Erik Braverman, Dodgers senior vice president of marketing, broadcasting and communications.

READ MORE: Dodgers Foundation Hopes to Bolster RBI Program Through Coaching Investment

The “record-breaking” ticket package sales are in part known because Braverman said the Dodgers regularly offer their full-stadium promotions at 40,000 while other teams cap theirs around 20,000. Still, the 20,000 number was a shock to the Dodgers front office.

“I think it surprised all of us internally,” Braverman said. “We said, ‘Let’s throttle this and continue to promote it and see how wildly popular it gets.’ It was a pleasant surprise.”

Braverman said Dodger Stadium’s location and “what is widely recognized as the largest Mexican fanbase in baseball” both play into why the night was such a roaring success. But he believes a much bigger key is it’s not just a one-night play for a segment of the team’s fanbase. Other, more regular events include Viva Los Dodgers and Dia De Los Dodgers, the later of which includes a bobblehead that regularly runs out quickly.

“We recognize who our fans are,” Braverman said. “Did we take a night to celebrate? Absolutely. But it’s a year-round commitment to the community.”

Along with the giveaway, there was plenty of pre- and in-game celebration. Prior to the game, comedian and LA native Gabriel Iglesias threw out the first pitch, while Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez performed. During the game, Dodger great and current broadcaster Fernando Valenzuela was honored during the fourth inning legends video before being shown live from the broadcast booth.

“The reaction and the volume in the stadium reacting to that was pretty great,” Braverman said.

The current Dodgers team also features two key players with Mexican roots in pitcher Julio Urias and outfielder Alex Verdugo, which Braverman said helped make the night even more special.

The jersey, like the rest of the night’s activations, were a collaborative effort among the Dodgers’ marketing, community relations and in-game programming teams. Braverman said a part of the success in their promotional schedule is the diversity within the internal team, which helps make the games memorable and positive.

Later this month, the Dodgers will host the team’s annual LGBT Night and next month the team will host the 10th annual Filipino Night, with a similar jersey highlighted with the Filipino flag colors. Braverman expects record numbers that night as well.

READ MORE: How the Atlanta Hawks Are Growing a Winning Fanbase Through Love

“The formula comes back to the success we have on any special event or marketing initiative,” he said. “It’s because the Dodgers’ authentic commitment to the community. It’s a year-round effort, not just one night.”

For each of their events celebrating segments of their fanbase, Braverman said he hopes they stretch beyond that segment.

“What we’re finding is, as I walked around it’s not just Mexican fans, it’s fans of all different nationalities that wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to foster.”

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