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Isn't It Special?
The Philadelphia Phillies certainly think that a little extra effort is worth the considerable payoff.
Building a brand-new facility like Citizens Bank Park cost the Phillies dearly. To compensate for the walloping investment and add some revenue to a team that dishes out the fifth-largest payroll in major league baseball - $95 million this season - the team makes the ballpark work for them, hosting a rising number of special events.
Since it opened last April, Citizens Bank Park has played host to corporate events, trade shows, job fares, parties, galas and award dinners - a far cry from Veterans stadium, where special events were practically unheard of.
The Phillies have even expanded the service to cater to the Jewish population, running Bar and Bat Mitzvah receptions for baseball-crazy 13-year-olds.
Smelling the Kentucky bluegrass and enjoying dessert under the sun in the seats behind home plate could be a bit more exciting for the kids than the pristine views that adults might enjoy at a country club or banquet hall.
Before breaking ground on Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies researched some of the other new baseball meccas springing up around the sport and came to the realization that to earn extra revenue, they had better give special-events dollars a high priority.
Evidence of this kind of planning can be seen in the design of the ballpark's spacious restaurants, the primary sites for non-game day events. The Diamond Club, for example, features a large dining room, a dance floor and a patio with access to prime seats directly behind home plate, just a few feet from the grass. A couple of stories up, the Hall of Fame Club extends around the ballpark from first to third base, featuring a casual atmosphere as well as highly decorated rooms for fancy dining, all with views of the field and the sports complex.
So has all this planning added up to success?
Joe Giles, director of business development for the Phillies thinks so.
"For our first year," explained Giles, "going from $0 at the Vet to $1.4 million is pretty good. We hope to build on that. We have 81 regular season games, plus two exhibition games. The playoffs can be 10 more, so 95 baseball events at most. That leaves all the other days."
Those "other days" were put to good use as the Phillies hosted 117 nonbaseball events at Citizens Bank Park in their first year.
As for hosting Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Giles sees the ballpark as a great place to celebrate the occasion.
"People are looking for unique venues to host events like this. We fit that motif," he said. "A lot of 13-year-old boys and girls think it's cool to have their big day at the ballpark."
Trend or Trade-Off?
The special-events trend is hardly a Philadelphia phenomenon; in fact, the idea has been sweeping through front offices all over Major League Baseball. At Boston's historic Fenway Park, for example, the Red Sox just began to hold all kinds of events at the stadium.
"In previous years, the feeling has been that the ballpark should be used for playing just the 81 home games," said Peter Pachios, manager of event sales for the Red Sox. "As baseball has become more and more competitive, organizations are trying to figure out ways to make more revenue."
According to Pachios, the Red Sox hosted roughly 135 to 150 events last year, and will probably increase that number to 175 to 200 events this year.
"There's still a ways to go," said Pachios. "We're just kind of touching the tip of the iceberg, and we can do a lot more with Fenway."
Back in Philadelphia, twins Charlie and Scott Frankel had their B'nai Mitzvah reception at Citizens Bank Park last year. The brothers saw their names on the scoreboards, ran around the home-plate seats with their friends, and even took a picture sitting on the Phillies dugout.
The boys said the event was a hit with their friends, who celebrated other milestones over the course of the year.
"This was one of the last of our grade, and a lot of them said that this was one of the best," said Scott Frankel.
To be sure, they weren't the only ones who enjoyed a close-up of the ballpark.
"The men actually liked going to a Bar Mitzvah for a change," joked Dave Frankel, the boys' father and a former TV news anchor at WPVI, Channel 6.
But a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at the ballpark is a rather unusual affair for the stadium, and customers should have no grand illusions of circling the bases or trampling the green grass in the outfield - unless they can come up with the rental fee of $20,000, that is.
After years of astro-turf at Veterans Stadium, the Phillies have tried to be meticulous in the groundskeeping of their new digs, and parties of 100 or more pummeling the outfield is just not in the cards - without the team receiving that big payoff.
"We have to keep it [the grass] in perfect shape for the players," said Giles. "Allowing people on the field is something we would do very carefully."
Of course, at one party, KYW TV-3 unveiled its new lineup of shows - by way of the park's massive scoreboard. After that, the real fun began.
Said Giles: "Everybody got to take three swings on the field, like it was batting practice."