The way people watch sports has evolved, and has changed expectations for the beverages fans drink.
Not long ago, many considered the optimal way to watch sports to be in-person at a stadium. Sit in the bleachers, order a hot dog and nachos, and wash it all down with a light beer or two.
But shifts in technology and economics have altered this picture. The cost of attending a game has risen considerably. People cannot afford to buy as many tickets throughout the year — especially families with kids.
At the same time, television and digital technology has improved. Fans can now stream games live on their computers, tablets or Smartphones. Or they can watch on their high-def big-screen televisions, with picture quality so good it feels like you’re there.
And for people who do attend games, what they order for food and drink is no longer just the traditional cheap fare. Which is not to suggest that Bud Light and other macro brews are no longer popular at ballparks. Rather, there’s been a noticeable surge among the number of people who prefer to buy something more premium.
Upscale Sports Bar
As preferences change, so too do the establishments that cater to sports fans. Take the New York Yankees Steakhouse. This upscale chain (pictured atop) has a working partnership with the Yankee franchise, which affords them many perks.
There are three locations: 7 West 51st Street in Manhattan, Coconut Creek in Florida, and at Yankee Stadium. Picture a large sports bar meets New York elegance: this is perfect for someone who wants to watch their favorite team while cutting into a filet mignon ($40 for an 8 oz., $48 for 12 oz.) and sipping a Penicillin (all craft cocktails: $15).
Two huge screens, flanking a glassed-in wine display, broadcast games at the three-level, 250-seat Manhattan location. Memorabilia is also up on the walls, though not nearly as much as your typical swagged-out sports bar. Rather, what’s hung up is elegantly exhibited, and well worth any fan’s time.
There are signs and seats from the original Yankee Stadium, glinting World Series Trophy replicas, bases signed by the Core Four — Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Petitte — and even the bill of sale from when the Red Sox foolishly sold Babe Ruth to the Bronx Bombers.
Though for all its Manhattan glitter and pizazz, the NYY Steakhouse does not lose track of traditional game-time grub. Bud Lights are $5 all day, every day. You can order from the bar menu, grab a $20 burger and a craft beer. Happy hour specials include half-off bar food, $4.50 for select craft beers like Bronx Pale Ale Brooklyn Lager, and $8 for a glass of house Cabernet or Chardonnay. Normally $15, the Yankeetini (Absolut Vodka, Blue Curacao and white cranberry juice) is $8.00.
“I think one thing that’s unique here is that we have something for everyone,” explains NYY Steakhouse manager John Fraino. “We’re a fine-dining steakhouse, or you could sit at the bar and have beers and burgers with your buddies. Whatever is your budget, we have that experience.”
During Yankee games, the NYY Steakhouse will hold raffle giveaways. Prizes include game tickets obtained through the partnership with the team. Drawings take place during the seventh inning, Fraino says, and participants have to be present to claim their prize. “This keeps people in the bar.”
Yankee players and personnel will dine here. Or host events, as Rivera and Joe Torre did recently for their charities. The NYY Steakhouse also has a knife club, wherein guests can have their names engraved on a steak knife permanently on display, and available for their use when dining.
The idea being that the NYY Steakhouse is more than just a place to catch the game. It’s a premium experience. And that’s what many modern sports fans want — and is worth the extra cost.
Rum and Red Sox
The Yankees’ archrivals have also invested in premium experiences. Today you are as likely to see fans drinking craft beers at Fenway Park as you are a Budweiser.
Along those lines, Fenway last April announced a new partnership with premium-rum producer Rum Diplomático. Beginning this year and running through 2021, Diplomático will take part in a ceremonial first pitches, join the Green Monster Experience, and be poured in luxury-suite tastings.
Diplomático will also be available for tastings and in craft cocktails at the EMC Club, a fine-dining restaurant in Fenway that overlooks the field. This includes a Hemingway Daiquiri, with Diplomático blanco rum, grapefruit juice, lime juice and cherry garnish.
“One reason why the Red Sox were so accommodating with us, and committed to a five-year partnership, was because they realized they had a niche to fill within their stadium,” says Chris Carney, Diplomático ambassador. “We’re a premium brand, and they’re looking to provide more premium experiences.”
Simply attending a Red Sox game these days can be a premium experience, Carney points out, since ticket prices have gone up in price and demand. Which is partly why more consumers now expect premium, memorable experiences at sporting events. Just to attend is a premium.
Though you won’t find Diplomático poured in the grandstand.
“We’re very protective of our brand and didn’t want to do the typical sports deal. We didn’t want to be served en masse,” Carney says. “We wanted to be part of VIP experiences.”
Mixology for the Masses
Bars and restaurants serve signature cocktails. Why not stadiums?
T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas partnered earlier this year with Levy Restaurants and Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, to design a broad, premium beverage menu. This includes high-end spirits, artisanal ice, craft punches, do-it-yourself drinks, and a new signature cocktail — the Atomic Fizz ($18).
This magenta-colored drink contains Grey Goose Le Citron vodka, Aperol orange liqueur, agave nectar, prickly pear puree, freshly squeezed lemon juice and sparkling water.
“Just like how you’ve got to get the Mint Julep at the Kentucky Derby, we wanted to give guests a unique cocktail that was a signature part of their overall experience,” Abou-Ganim explains. “Of course, establishing a signature cocktail takes some time. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
The Atomic Fizz is available throughout the 20,000-seat arena. Its magenta color matches T-Mobile’s branding, while the name references the history of atomic bomb tests in Nevada.
Its flavor is meant for everyone. “It’s a very balanced, refreshing drink,” Abou-Ganim says. “People see the color and assume it’s sweet, but then they taste it and see that it’s balanced. We had to make the signature drink something that appealed to everyone.”