Arena Board Backs Concessions

October 1, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Convention and Arena Authority agreed last week to add seven items to the concessions menu at Van Andel Arena and to raise prices slightly on three other items.

Beer prices will go up by a quarter for both imported and domestic brews — to $8 and $7, respectively — while brats and polish sausage sandwiches will cost another 75 cents at $4.50. The concession increases are the first in two years for the building.

“We didn’t touch anything last year,” said CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan.

“The increases are minimal,” he added.

MacKeigan, who also serves as SMG general manager, said the hikes on the sandwiches were necessary because the cost of the products to the arena have risen. But he also said the higher beer prices won’t be charged at Grand Rapids Griffins and Rampage games.

“You have to keep reviewing concession prices,” said Lew Chamberlin, CAA board member and CEO and managing partner of the West Michigan Whitecaps.

MacKeigan said prices at the building’s concession stands were probably a “touch higher” than those at most other SMG-run facilities.

Arena-goers spent $3.7 million on concessions and catering during the last fiscal year. But no one spent a dime on food and beverages at the arena in August.

“August was a slow month at the arena. There were no events at all,” said Birgit Klohs, board member and chairwoman of the Finance Committee.

SMG Director of Finance Chris Machuta said August was the first month in the arena’s history when an event wasn’t held. Being dark in the summer isn’t all that unusual, though. The arena only held two events the previous August, and the venue still managed to record the second-highest surplus in its history last year at $1.7 million. The building lost $119,000 in August.

DeVos Place hosted 31 events during August and lost almost $86,000 for the month.

“This fall quarter is going to be a strong time for the convention center,” said Steve Miller, SMG assistant general manager for DeVos Place.

SMG, which oversees daily operations at the buildings, has been exploring different ways to sell tickets to events at the arena and DeVos Performance Hall, and one fairly new method has begun to show a return. The firm’s marketing department is using TicketMaster Mail Manager, a secure electronic direct mail program, to give potential buyers an easier way to get tickets to an event without having to go online and scroll through all the booked shows.

SMG Marketing Director Lynne Ike said tickets worth nearly $12,000 were sold to the recent performances of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the arena through the Mail Manager program. Buyers had registered with SMG to get early information on upcoming family shows that are booked in the building.

“We don’t charge more for this; it’s part of our marketing,” said Ike. “We have 3,000-plus who have registered on our Web site.”

MacKeigan said the TicketMaster program became available to SMG when the company was renewed as the arena’s official ticket seller. But MacKeigan added that the data belongs to the venue and not to TicketMaster.

“We’re pretty fussy about sending out too many (e-mails),” said Ike. “We don’t want to overwhelm people and have them opt out.”

A major factor in successfully selling tickets is good customer service, and SMG uses two firms to grade how staffs in both buildings are doing at providing that service. Two recent reports gave high marks to both staffs for the “total customer experience,” which ranges from buying tickets to the appearance of the facility and how customers are treated at the concession stands. “It does help us improve customer service,” said Ike.

A firm called Spies in Disguise filed a report on a circus performance at the arena and gave the staff a grade of 94 out of 100. Mystery Shopper, a similar type of firm, gave the staff at DeVos Place a comparable rating for a sport and RV show held there.

MacKeigan said Spies in Disguise has been grading the service at arena events since the building opened 11 years ago, while Mystery Shopper is a program SMG uses at all of its facilities. He added that service at either the arena or DeVos Place gets rated every month.

“It has been a very positive training tool for us,” he said.

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