Downtown Denver is abuzz with the start of baseball season. Expect heavy traffic and crowds around Coors Field starting Friday and lasting through the weekend, as the Colorado Rockies play their first few games of the year.
Businesses in the area have gone all out for the Opening Day festivities, ordering beer kegs and opening up patio space for patrons ready to experience the team’s first season without COVID-19 restrictions in over two years.
Vendors around Coors Field say a trip to the ballpark this year will likely cost residents a little more than in the past, but many have tried to absorb decades-high inflation on food and beverages as much as possible.
“There are some increases that we’ve had that fans will probably notice,” said Brian Arp, general manager of Aramark, the main concession vendor at Coors Field. “But we try to keep it level with street pricing.”
Aramark, a national food distributor, raised prices for most products by about $.25 this season, mainly to help absorb an increase in labor costs and food prices, Arp said.
A bottle of water has gone up to $5. A Rocky Dog and fries will run you $12.50. And the park’s new “Elvis milkshake,” a banana peanut butter-flavored mixture, which is topped with a candied bacon garnish, can be yours for $8.50.
It’s the first time the concessionaire has raised prices across the board since 2018. Aramark’s size makes it easier to absorb price increases compared to smaller businesses, Arp said.
“We know we can give a solid projection of what we’re going to use throughout the season,” he said. “So that helps us not have to raise things too much.”
Down the street from Coors, local bars and restaurants prepared to open their doors to spectators. Many said they expected a crush of customers ready to celebrate the start of the season.
Workers at Scruffy Murphy’s, an Irish pub on Larimer Street, removed some tables from their main room to increase standing room and overall capacity. They also hired a live band and opened up their back patio.
“It’s almost like COVID didn’t exist,” said Robert Rhodes, director of marketing and security.
The pub overstocked on beer and Jameson, keeping at least 10 cases of the whiskey on reserve in the back. Due to rising liquor costs, Scruffys and neighboring bars down the block all agreed to raise prices for drinks this season, Rhodes said.
“Across the block, as an average, most people raised it between $.50 to $1 just because we’re trying to make up what we lost (during COVID),” he said. “We work with the other owners to make sure we’re fair across the board.”
The cost of food for businesses and consumers has ballooned over the past year. Prices rose 7.9 percent year-over-year in February, according to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meats specifically saw some of the fastest price growth. Beef alone saw a 16 percent jump year-over-year.
That’s been the biggest pain point for Juan Rodriguez, head chef and co-owner of Chivis Tacos, a Mexican street food truck. On Friday, he parked his truck across the street from Coors Field, hoping to catch hungry fans on their way to the game.
He bought enough supplies to make over 5,000 tacos for opening weekend, he said.
“It’s hard to keep the prices balanced,” he said. “You can see it every month.”
Rodriguez used to buy one pound of beef for $3.50 a pound from a wholesale supplier. Now it’s $4.99 a pound.
The cost of gas has also hit Rodriguez’s bottom line, he said. A few months ago, he raised the price of steak tacos by $1 to $6 a piece to help him stay afloat.
“We don’t want to get rich,” he said. “We just want to be successful.”
Fans say prices are a concern, but not enough to skip out on the fun after two years of closures and pandemic restrictions at Rockies games.
Julie Hernandez hopped off an electric scooter near the ballpark on Friday, wearing a purple jersey and matching Rockies hat. She planned to mark her 21st birthday by partying with friends at various bars and restaurants near the stadium.
“Last season it just didn’t feel the same,” she said. “Today we're finally going to celebrate.”
Ticket prices were around the same amount she remembered spending on games last season. Prices for Opening Day were slightly higher, ranging from $50 for nosebleeds to $260 for lower infield box seats.
“That’s just because it’s the first game, I think,” Hernandez said. “It doesn’t seem too expensive as far as game tickets go.”
Ticket costs typically inch up slightly year-over-year. The average MLB ticket price in 2021 was just over $34 for a regular season game. Rockies’ average prices are about the same, according to a team spokesman.
Costs of running the team have gone up. The Rockies recently shelled out $182 million to sign Kris Bryant for the season. But pricey contracts don’t influence concessions prices, Arp said.
“It’s completely separate,” he said.
The cost of a hot dog or milkshake has more to do with food prices and labor costs, which have gone up significantly, he said. Recruiting has been a major challenge.
“We’re paying a little bit higher than minimum wage and even higher for certain jobs and we’re still having challenges getting people to come down and work,” said Arp, the Coors Field concessions manager. “We’re still looking for lots of cashiers, lots of cooks.”
Despite the challenges, he looks forward to a season that feels more like pre-pandemic times and hopefully big crowds at Coors.
“We’ve worked hard to design the menu to make it affordable to still have a day at the ballpark,” he said. “If we have a high volume season, we can weather this.”
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