Elite fans beat beer prices with BYO cases at the Vet

There are two kinds of beer-drinking Phillies fans at the Vet.

Those, like Joe Sixpack, who shell out their hard-earned cash for the most expensive draft brew in the National League.

And the lucky ones, who avoid inflated prices and bring their own beer to the ballpark – legally, and with the encouragement of stadium officials.

The first are searched and harassed at the turnstile, lest they attempt to smuggle in a can or two of cheap suds.

The lucky ones are welcomed at the gate, where they are provided with hand-trucks to help them haul cases of discount domestic and imported beer to their seats.

The lucky ones are the corporate honchos who lease super boxes and penthouse suites at Veterans Stadium.

Though these affluent fans are among the few who can actually afford the ballpark’s steep concession prices, an unwritten rule allows them to cart unlimited quantities of beer to their plush, air-conditioned boxes. There, they can enjoy their favorite brew at less than a quarter the cost of what the less fortunate pay at concession windows.

The policy costs the city hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue, from uncollected taxes and concession fees.

Moreover, though the Vet is a city-owned property that supposedly benefits all citizens equally, the rule discriminates against loyal fans who don’t have the connections necessary to gain entrance to the luxury boxes.

Greg Grillone, the city employee who manages Veterans Stadium, said the privileged few have been permitted to stock their own booze for at least 10 years.

“These are obviously preferred customers because they’re spending a lot of money for the boxes,” Grillone said. “We’re trying to make the experience a pleasurable one. We don’t want to price them out of the market. ”

Non-preferred customers, on the other hand, are royally fleeced.

The stadium concessionaire, Ogden Entertainment, charges $5 for a paper cup purportedly containing 18 ounces of beer. Per ounce, only the Anaheim Angels charge more for major league beer.

Earlier reports by Joe Sixpack disclosed that Ogden’s cups actually contain just 16 ounces. Those reports prompted a City Council probe and a class-action lawsuit against the company.

Ogden charges similar wallet-emptying prices up in the boxes.

A case of domestic beer, like Coors or Miller Lite, costs 60 bucks. If the case is ordered on game day, the company tacks on service charges that can drive the price up to $80 for 24 bottles.

The ticket holders who sit in the super boxes and penthouse suites would be chumps to pay those prices when they can simply bring their own.

Each weekday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., private citizens roll up to the entrance beneath Gate E on the north side of the stadium and pop open their beer-filled trunks.

Though average fans face possible arrest if they try to carry a bottle into the stadium, these fans are provided a hand-truck to load up their cases of booze.

(My own employer, Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., keeps its eye on the bottom line by stocking its corporate box. )

On Friday, I encountered a guy unloading cases of Coors Light and Heineken from the trunk of his Chevy. He wouldn’t tell me his name, but he said he works for a company that leases a suite.

“I’ve been doing this for years,” he told me. “Why should I pay 60 bucks for a case of Ogden beer when I can buy it myself for 15? ”

The most obvious reason would be that Ogden presumably holds an exclusive 15-year catering contract that gives it the right to vend all food and beverages at the stadium.

Across the street at the privately owned CoreStates Complex, for example, Aramark’s exclusive concession contract forbids deluxe box owners from stocking their own booze.

But Ogden’s arrangement fell apart about 10 years ago, when tenants in the boxes complained about the vendor’s high prices and lousy food. Worried that they would lose their wealthiest ticket holders, the Phillies and Eagles – who own the luxury boxes – persuaded the city and Ogden to open them to other caterers.

Today, four other companies compete with Ogden to cater those boxes.

Ogden, though, holds the stadium’s only state liquor license. That means the other caterers must purchase booze from Ogden, then pass along the concessionaire’s pocket-gouging prices to their customers.

“I’m ashamed to have to charge them so much,” said one caterer, who requested anonymity. “The other day, I had to write up a bill for a case of Heineken and a case of Amstel. It cost $160. They must have flown them in from Holland just for me. ”

This caterer and the others advise their customers to plan ahead and stock up with their own bottles.

The bring-your-own policy, though, costs every taxpayer in Philadelphia.

Among its many stadium concession fees, the city takes a 20 percent cut from food and beverage catering in the deluxe boxes, plus another 7 percent in alcohol sales taxes.

At those rates, every BYO case of beer costs the city $16.20 in lost revenues.

The total annual cost to the city is impossible to accurately gauge, because the BYO practice is largely unsupervised and completely unaudited.

Based on Ogden’s annual reports, I estimate the city loses about $200,000 a year in fees and taxes – a staggering $1.5 million during the Rendell years.

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