There’s nothing like a hot dog — or a 2-foot-long Boomstick from Delaware North Sportservice — at the World Series. (Courtesy Texas Rangers)

Pent-up demand fuels numbers for rare neutral-site MLB championship

Television ratings may be down for Major League Baseball’s postseason but per capita spending is up at Globe Life Field, despite all the pandemic-related restrictions in Arlington, Texas.

The Texas Rangers’ new ballpark, named to VenuesNow’s list of 2020 All-Stars last week, is playing host to the 2020 World Series after holding the National League Championship Series. For the World Series, MLB, in conjunction with local and state officials, restricted attendance to about 12,000 in a venue that seats 40,500.

Entering Tuesday night’s Game 6, fans were spending twice as much on food and drink and four times the typical numbers for retail over a regular-season Texas Rangers game at their old ballpark across the street, Globe Life Park, said Casey Rapp. Rapp, general manager for Delaware North Sportservice, the team’s concessionaire, would not disclose the Rangers’ historical per caps at Globe Life Park. 

Across MLB, fans spend an average of $18 to $22 on food and drink for a regular-season game, said consultant Chris Bigelow, who tracks those numbers for his clients. Average merchandise per caps run $4 to $5, Bigelow said.

Fans make their choice at a Globe Life Field concession stand during a World Series game. (Courtesy Texas Rangers)

The World Series is different and brings spending to another level. It is MLB’s jewel event and attendees tend to gobble up anything that has the World Series logo attached, whether it’s a souvenir cup, T-shirt or keychain, Bigelow said.

“Even if it’s a hot dog wrapper, if it’s got that logo on it, people want it,” he said. “They’ll buy anything to tell people, ‘Hey, I was there.’ Nobody thinks about the price.” 

At Globe Life Field, the trend has held true.

For the pandemic-era Series, menus have been streamlined, drinks are served with lids, and nachos come in clamshell containers to protect against the coronavirus. 

Fans are distributed across the ballpark’s four levels, resulting in most concession stands being open, but there’s a limit of about 35% of points-of-sale where fans pay for food and drink, Rapp said.

No hawkers are working the stands, and premium clubs are closed except for bar service. In suites, which are open with reduced capacity, attendants wearing masks and plastic gloves are serving some food items in bulk.

Rapp thinks pent-up demand has been key to higher per caps. Most baseball fans are returning to the ballpark for the first time since the 2019 season, before COVID-19 wrecked the sports landscape. 

“People are ready to get out and (consume),” Rapp said. “They’ve been stuck in their homes and have not had the opportunity to attend games. It’s really helping our per caps and we’re seeing a healthy increase.”

Other factors are driving the numbers higher, such as quicker speed of service resulting from reduced capacity, premium pricing for concessions and the move to going cashless for all transactions during the COVID era.

Globe Life Field is cashless for the World Series. Fans that don’t have credit and debit cards can use one of a half-dozen reverse ATM machines to buy Mastercard debit cards to use at the ballpark and everywhere else where Mastercard is accepted, Rapp said.

Historically, customers spend more money when using credit cards compared with cash.  

For the World Series, Sportservice sells an $18 souvenir cup, as well as the now-famous Boomstick, a 2-foot-long hot dog that runs $27. It can feed a family of four, compared with buying four regular hot dogs for $24, Rapp said.

Nolan Ryan Beef, owned by the Hall of Fame pitcher, produces the Boomstick.

In addition, Sportservice sells a $15 souvenir drink stein filled with soda, beer or a margarita. The plastic stein is designed with a retractable-roof lid, modeled after Globe Life Field’s roof structure. Sportservice worked with Whirley Drink Works to produce the custom item.

“We wanted a stein to commemorate the stadium with a photo of it and saw something they did for somebody else where the top opened for a straw,” Rapp said. “We thought instead … we could have them do a replica of the roof. It looks exactly like the ballpark. The best way to describe it is it’s similar to the German mugs where you pull with your thumb on the back and it opens the top to drink out of it.”

On the merchandise side, the $25 World Series-branded face mask is the hot retail item. Demand is so high that Sportservice can’t keep them in stock at the Grand Slam Gift Shop, the ballpark’s 12,000-square-foot team store. 

“I have not seen that item stay on the shelf for five minutes every time we put them out,” he said. “We keep ordering more of them.”

Sportservice extended its World Series apparel lines to generic T-shirts printed with “Arlington, Texas World Series,” without the marks of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays, the two teams competing.

“There’s a sense of pride from the city and the state that they’re hosting the World Series,” Rapp said. “We’ve seen quite a few people that live in Arlington that may not be necessarily rooting for (either team) but just want to be part of the experience of the World Series and are buying those shirts that don’t have the team logos.”

Team store traffic is restricted to 20% of capacity, the same as the ballpark itself, and can fit roughly 150 people at one time, he said. The Grand Slam Gift Shop has been open to the public since mid-June.

For Sportservice, the MLB playoffs provided an opportunity to get back to some sense of normalcy during a tough year for the industry. The pandemic has forced Delaware North and other concessionaires to collectively lay off thousands of employees and furlough other workers.

In Arlington, the company has 500 people working the World Series, “which is great for the city,” Rapp said. Support came from University of Houston sports venues and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, as well as Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Truist Park in Atlanta. All four are Delaware North accounts.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was first posted.