Fill ‘er up: Vet vendor trims beer prices

The beer barons at the Vet have thrown in the towel.

After months of Daily News reports of price gouging and suds skimming, Veterans Stadium concessionaire Ogden Entertainment will announce today that it is trimming beer prices by 25 cents.

Better yet: it’s crushing its soggy, old paper cups and replacing them with larger, sturdier, plastic ones.

And, for the first time ever, the stadium will serve real Philadelphia cheesesteaks and pretzels.

Score one for all the long-suffering Joe Sixpacks who fill the stands for Phillies games.

Though the beer still rocks the pocket at a wallet-assaulting $4.75, the price reduction is one the most stunning turnarounds in Philadelphia sports history.

Ever since the Daily News revealed last April that the stadium was cheating ballpark beer-drinkers out of two ounces of brew from every cup, the concession company steadfastly maintained no wrongdoing.

A Joe Sixpack investigation showed that, despite advertising signs that promised 18-ounce beers, the Vet’s cups contained, at most, just 16 ounces of drinkable brew.

A City Council probe concurred that the scam likely cost fans up to $500,000. A Council report issued in February accused Ogden of arrogantly treating its fans as a “captive audience.”

Additionally, an ongoing class-action lawsuit charges Ogden with fraudulent, unfair business practices.

Through it all, Ogden denied it sold short cups of beer.

But in a surprise announcement this week, the multinational food conglomerate acknowledged that the Daily News reports “made us change our focus and reconsider our approach.”

A company press release said the rollback is a “direct result of Ogden’s annual review of pricing for all Vet concessions. . .Ogden identified opportunities to reduce the cost of draft beer through increased operating efficiencies.”

“Obviously we focused on beer [because] it was in the newspaper,” said Ogden spokesman Hugh Braithwaite.

Neither the lawsuit nor City Council’s probe nor fan pressure nor the fact that Ogden’s 15-year contract is up for renewal in 2000 played any part in the price reduction, said Ogden general manager Brian Hastings.

City Councilman Jim Kenney, head of the Licenses and Inspection Committee that looked into Vet concessions, wasn’t buying it yesterday. When alerted to Ogden’s price cuts, he said:

“I think it’s a direct result of the attention and the work that was done by the Daily News, both on the short-pour issue and the overall quality of concessions. That’s what the newspaper business is supposed to be about. You put light on it, the city scrutinized it and the company had to react to it.”

Vahan Gureghian, the Center City lawyer who brought the class-action lawsuit against Ogden, said the company was “posturing itself to make themselves look more fair to the public.”

He added: “I can’t imagine that, in America today, you would find a caterer who would, absent the institution of a lawsuit, actually lower its prices. . .

“Having been around Philadelphia all these years, I know there’s no bigger complaint than the cost of food and beverage at the Vet. Far and away, the public feels like it’s been ripped off.

“This lawsuit will move forward.”

The price drop means Phillies beer – formerly the most expensive in the National League – is about average for the majors. At $4.75, we’ll be paying about 26 cents an ounce, down from 33 cents. The company will not advertise the size of the cups, but Hastings said they’re 21 ounces – three ounces bigger than last year’s large cups. That means we’ll get at least 18 ounces of liquid and a healthy head of foam.

In a nod toward good taste, the beer will be served in plastic cups. Say goodbye to those annoying flecks of wax that get caught in your teeth.

Finally, the stadium has converted the barren, cinderblock-and-plastic Winners Lounge on the 200 Level into a brass-and-wood pub, to be operated by local microbrewer Red Bell. Given the success of Red Bell’s pubs at the First Union Center and the airport, the joint likely will be standing room only. Dropping the prices on beer is just the start.

Faced with a Daily News examination of the ballpark’s limp and sometimes green wieners, its frozen doughy pretzels and other funky grub, Ogden is spicing up its food concessions, too.

First, it declared a price freeze on all concessions.

Second, in an apparent bow to pressure from Kenney and others, the company will broaden its menu to include Philadelphia favorites. Among them:

* South Jersey’s Gaetano’s Steaks will vend actual Philadelphia cheesesteaks – a huge improvement over the soggy mass of steamer-table gunk that Ogden once slopped up.

* The Northeast’s Chickie and Pete’s Cafe will hawk wings and hot sandwiches.

* Philadelphia Baking Co. will serve actual, hand-rolled, never-frozen soft pretzels. “The fans of the Philadelphia Phillies should be pleased,” Hastings said. “Joe Sixpack’s readers should be pleased.” Kenney added: “If we’ve done nothing else, we’ve made it a little easier for the fan to go to Phillies games. Now, we have to work on the pitching staff.”

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