The Great Idaho Beer Ripoff: Fans Expose How Sports Venues Cheat Patrons
It’s not the size of the beer. It’s the shape of the cup.
That’s the pricing philosophy that has governed beer sales at Boise’s CenturyLink Arena. As expected, hockey enthusiasts were too drunk to notice. But two fans—Heath Forsey and Gwen Hibbs—finally figured out the scam in which the volume of taller $7 beers actually poured without spillage into the $4 cups. They broadcast the evidence on YouTube. Four other fans have filed a $10,000 class-action suit. Beer drinkers have rights!
As if fans needed any reason atop monopoly pricing to unilaterally declare sports arenas BYOB-zones, along comes the corporate rationalization. “It was recently brought to our attention that the amount of beer that fits in our large (20-oz) cups also fits in our regular (16-oz) cups,” Eric Trapp, the president of the Idaho Steelheads and CenturyLink Arena, explained in Orwellian fashion on Facebook. “The differentiation in the size of the two cups is too small. To correct that problem, we’re purchasing new cups for the large beers that will hold 24 ounces, instead of 20, for the remainder of this season to provide better value to our fans.”
Napoleon: Do the chickens have large talons?
Farmer: I don’t understand a word you just said.
Idahoans expressed similar confusion to Trapp’s corporatespeak. “It has been brought to my attention that you are finally aware of my hand in your pocket stealing your money and since it seems to bother you, I will now stop,” responded one Facebook commenter. The Boise Statesman pointed out that even after Trapp’s correction, fans would be wise to buy the smaller cups. Three smaller cups provide 48 ounces of beer for two dollars less than two larger cups.
The minor-league hockey arena looks like it’s conducting a minor-league swindle. But in the major leagues, the beer ripoffs grow more substantial and the subterfuge more nefarious.
By contracting with a single vendor, stadiums and arenas ensure exorbitant pricing for beer. Unlike outside the park, where bars compete for the allegiance of patrons, a one-size fits all pricing scheme rules individual beers inside the massive sports bars. Team Marketing Report placed Fenway Park as the most expensive barroom in the major leagues at 60-cents per ounce of beer. That’s more than double what Steelhead fans pay for their 16-ounce beers in Idaho. Angel Stadium proved the cheapest in the majors at 28-cents an ounce. The Street.com pegged the average cost per ounce in NFL stadiums at 41 cents. Lucas Oil Stadium charged fans the most—$7 for a 12-ounce beer, or 58 cents an ounce. NHL prices ran from 33 cents an ounce at Washington’s Verizon Center to 72 cents an ounce in Madison Square Garden.
Many venues don’t divulge that the inflated prices pay for a deliberately watered down beer—more dollars, less alcohol. A report a few years back by Michael Stetz of the San Diego Union-Tribune explored the widespread use of “stadium kegs,” special beer delivered to sports venues containing lower alcohol by volume. The paper discovered that at Petco Park Budweiser Select, Miller Lite, and Miller Genuine Draft ran 3.2 percent alcohol by volume, a little less than most light beers and much less than the 4 percent that standard Budweisers contain outside of such parks. “Padres officials say lower-alcohol beer, like higher prices, is part of an ‘alcohol management plan,’ meant to keep fans from overindulging,” the Union-Tribune reported. “They also say it’s common practice in the sports industry and hardly limited to Petco.”
So who else does it? Like CenturyLink’s proprietors, they won’t tell until somebody catches them. They certainly won’t advertise “watered down beer” when fans fork over fifteen dollars for a big-league big beer.
Heath Forsey and Gwen Hibbs, though not part of the class-action lawsuit against CenturyLink arena, remain committed to exposing the truth about the Great Idaho Beer Ripoff through social media. “Every time you buy a large beer you’re paying $3 more for the same amount of beer,” Hibbs informs on YouTube. “Come on, CenturyLink, that’s a total ripoff!”