Craft beers are proving a hit in baseball parks

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“I’d say in the last six or seven years, the overall concessions business has become much more sophisticated than in the early days, when it was a hotdog, a beer and popcorn,” said Mike Bucek, the Royals’ vice president in charge of marketing and business development.

Earlier this season, when the Royals announced the branding of the new “Budweiser Patio,” they also announced the new Boulevard Pub and Boulevard Grill, where fans in Kansas City can grab a seat and catch the game while also enjoying their local beer.

It doesn’t take long to notice Boulevard’s expanded presence, either. While there’s a big sign for Budweiser in right field at Kauffman Stadium, and a large sign for Coors Light in center, Boulevard’s new sponsorship means it has its own sign beyond the left-field wall.

“We’ve seen a growth in craft beer sales, there’s no question,” Bucek said. “When you see the category grow, there’s so much more to offer. It’s pretty broad-based compared to what it was back in the day, and it’s definitely evolving and continuing to grow.”

Large-scaled brewers such as MillerCoors have noticed the shift, too, and that’s in part why it offers Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, Sunset Wheat and Berry Weiss at Kauffman Stadium.

Craft beers remain a small segment of the market, representing about 5.7 percent of all sales by volume and 9.1 percent by dollar last year. But that segment is rapidly growing, especially as overall beer consumption in the United States continues to slide.

Beer sales were down an estimated 1.2 percent by volume in 2010, and 1.3 percent last year, according to the Brewers Association. Meanwhile, the craft brewing industry grew 13 percent by volume and 15 percent by dollars in 2011, the second straight year of double-digit increases.

“This is an entire shift in the beer community, and culturally how we enjoy and what we enjoy for beer,” Herz said. “This is a market-driven demand, not a marketing-driven demand. This was the market itself demanding, I want to go to my local baseball stadium, and enough people have asked where the beverage buyers say, `Yes, we will sell it.’”

Premium products, of course, demand premium prices.

At Safeco Field in Seattle, a beer from the mainstream brewers will set you back about $7.75, but tack on another couple bucks for one of several dozen microbrews.

“I’d rather enjoy a couple good beers than drink the watered-down domestics that just fill you up without much flavor,” said Larissa Jackson, a credit analyst from Shawnee, Kan., who heads to the ballpark about half a dozen times each summer.

The San Francisco Giants have heard the drumbeat of fans. They’ll hold their third annual “Brewfest” at AT&T Park on July 14, where fans will receive a commemorative tasting mug and have the chance to sample craft breweries during a 3-hour window before the Giants play the Astros.

Rick Cloues, a software engineer from Overland Park, Kan., noticed the increase in craft beer options while buying partial season-ticket packages to the Royals the past few years.

“I don’t want a watery, light beer that lacks any meaningful flavor,” Cloues said. “I love the wheat beers. I like the flavor, the body, and even the lemon wedge that every bar tender knows to drop in the glass. I see more micro beers popping up in the ballpark.

“Not that I could afford them at nine dollars a pop,” Cloues added. “That just means my tailgating starts a little earlier than most.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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