A six-month City Council probe of last season’s suds-skimming scam at the Vet has found what every Philadelphia sports fan already knows:
The city-owned stadium is gouging its visitors with lousy food and expensive prices.
In a scathing report that describes the stadium vendor as arrogant and deceptive, Councilman Jim Kenney concludes that ballpark beer drinkers were ripped off more than $500,000 by the scam last season.
Kenney’s Licenses and Inspection Committee launched the investigation last summer following a series of Daily News reports about the stadium’s notoriously bad hot dogs and overpriced beer.
Among other findings, Joe Sixpack revealed that Vet beers – the most expensive in the National League – contained two ounces less than advertised.
The City Council report, to be released today, charges: “The notion that Philadelphia sports fans are a ‘captive audience’ and can therefore be charged almost any price for tickets and concessions is the height of arrogance and extremely short-sighted.”
But it’s not all Ogden’s fault. The report says the city deserves part of the blame.
“The reason we have poor quality and high prices is primarily the city’s insistence on getting 58 percent on the gross revenues, and 70 percent on the alcohol,” Kenney told Joe Sixpack yesterday.
“That’s simply gouging the fan and the taxpayer, and it sets up a scenario where you get poor food at a high price.”
The report, titled “Philadlephia Sports Fans . . . You Deserve a Break!,” calls for the city to cut its share of concession revenues so that prices at the stands can be slashed.
It further recommends that, when Ogden’s 15-year contract expires in 2000, it be replaced with a “marketplace design” that features authentic local products. Instead of suffering the palate and wallet assault of the Vet’s frozen, doughy $3 pretzels, for example, ballpark diners might munch on real, fresh-baked, affordable soft pretzels.
Spokesmen for Ogden did not return telephone calls for comment about the report.
During a City Council hearing last summer, Ogden officials defended their concessions by waving a national survey that showed its prices were “20 percent below the national average.”
The Council report belittles that claim, however, noting that the survey’s findings were based partly on the lowball price Ogden submitted for its puny “Phanatic” dog – a child’s $1.25 hot dog that is half the size of standard weiners and sold in just two locations at the Vet. The vast majority of Ogden’s mutts go for $2.75 and $3.50.
“What’s more troubling than the attempt to defraud Philadelphia sports fans,” the report cries, “is the Ogden attitude that suggests it’s ‘OK’ to not only rip off fans by shortchanging them 2 ounces of beer, but that it’s ‘OK’ to sell less-than-quality food at outrageous prices – then, when caught, defend this practice by holding up a national survey where inaccurate information was submitted in order to get a higher rating than deserved.”
Though he accused Ogden of “misleading” Council, Kenney stopped short of calling for termination of its vending contract. “I would like to give everybody the benefit of the doubt and start over with new standards,” he said.
The report calls for the mayor’s office and the Recreation Department to evaluate Ogden’s performance, and for the City Controller to audit the use of beer surcharges that were intended for added stadium security.
As for the practice of skimming suds, the report suggests that the city enforce a provision that ensures the number of ounces in each cup – and that those cup sizes be advertised at each vending stand.
Ogden removed placards that listed those cup sizes the day Joe Sixpack revealed the scam to Daily News readers. The vendor replaced the signs with new ones that advertised only “large” and “small” beers.