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All-Star Game Sky-Boxes : As American as Baseball : Big A’s Glass Act Reserved for High-Level Parties

Times Staff Writer

Now this is the life.

You’re three stories up at Anaheim Stadium, a short foul ball away from home plate, in an air-conditioned cubicle overlooking the swirling crowd. Plate-glass windows stretch to the ceiling. There are plush swivel chairs for lounging, closed-circuit TV, a fully stocked bar to lean on and quaff a few.

On a recent balmy evening, Dean Poremba and his four buddies were making the most of it. The day’s work was a distant memory, the beers were flowing and a mean game of “pass the cup” was on. To top it off, the Angels had just poked a three-bagger to drive one in and tie the game.

“Yep,” Bob Restaino summed up in his best beer-commercial voice, “it doesn’t get any better than this.” Poremba and the rest busted up. Even bad jokes get a laugh when you’re having this much fun.

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Ah, the sky box. Fast becoming a part of the national lexicon, it’s as distinctly American as the game of baseball. Or football. Part local pub, part corporate board room, the sky box is every grown-up Little Leaguer’s dream. These are the best seats in town. Certainly the most expensive.

And when the All-Star game comes to Anaheim Stadium on Tuesday, the 113 sky boxes ringing the second level of the triple-tiered ballpark will be the hottest ticket in town, playing host to an impressive lineup of corporate sluggers, celebrities and assorted other VIPs.

“I’m excited. It’ll be fun,” said Greg Janssen, a salesman for Kilsby-Roberts, a tubing manufacturing company that leases a spacious box at Anaheim Stadium for use by the company’s employees and customers. “I know we’ll be putting on a spread, and I think the Angels and the city of Anaheim are really working to do it right for this game.”

But don’t get your hopes up: Life in the sky box is typically reserved for a privileged few.

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High-Level Entertainment

“This is a high-level entertainment that companies buy for their key accounts or potential customers,” said Pete Donovan, sales and promotions director for the Los Angeles Rams, operators of the Anaheim Stadium sky boxes. “It’s the same kind of business that’s done on the golf course. It’s schmoozing and getting to know them. It’s part of the American business psychology.”

It will be no different for the All-Star game, although even the most productive middle managers may find few seats in the company box come Tuesday. Instead, the sky boxes will be mostly reserved for top executives and their biggest customers.

The pricey perks will go to executives and friends of such firms as Arco, Coca-Cola and Eastman-Kodak--as well as the Irvine Co., Rockwell, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, The Times and other Southland businesses.

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And no wonder. At Anaheim Stadium, a typical 12-seat sky box costs upward of $34,000 a year for a package combining both football and baseball. Garnering such a box for just a dozen pro football games costs $22,000.

If, however, you want to go enjoy the sky box during a Madonna concert or a tractor pull or stadium motocross, you pay extra for admission. Moreover, sky box holders must lay down extra cash for tickets to the All-Star game. Most are doing just that and using their clout to purchase even more ducats than usual for this very big game.

The Whole Bit

“We were able to secure 36 tickets,” Janssen said. “We’ll have a luncheon beforehand, a tour of the plant, then drive everyone out in one big group. People will probably get commemorative T-shirts, the whole bit.”

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Lofty though the admission price to an Anaheim Stadium sky box may seem, it’s a relative bargain on the national scene.

Parks in such places as Seattle, Denver and Miami charge much more, up to $80,000 annually. At Texas Stadium in Irving, Tex., near Dallas, where the sky box concept was pioneered back in the early 1970s, the boxes are sold outright, with some fetching as much as $1.5 million during the oil boom a few years back. These days, one has to plunk down a mere $1 million to root for the Cowboys from the best sky box in the stadium.

With such stratospheric price tags, some critics worry that the sky box phenomenon is ushering in a virtual caste system for spectators at professional sporting events. While ordinary fans cram into plastic seats and raise umbrellas when the rain falls, the sky box denizens lounge in climate-controlled suites, watch instant replays on wall-mounted televisions and sip champagne (up to $30 a bottle at the Big A).

Robert Baade, an economics professor at Lake Forest College in Illinois who has studied the issue, suggested that sky boxes and other elite seating increasingly threaten to make professional sports “less democratic.” Moreover, he noted that sky boxes have been constructed in many stadiums across the country with the help of taxpayers who have little opportunity to enjoy such privileged perches.

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Seems Unfair

“It strikes me as unfair,” Baade said. “To me, it smacks of inequity, and it’s something that could potentially create social tensions. Maybe that’s something we ought to be paying attention to.”

But social tension was nowhere to be seen in Poremba’s sky box, which he leases with two partners at his Santa Fe Springs steel company and uses to entertain friends and customers. With the door wide open and smiles on their faces, Poremba and his cohorts greeted just about anyone who poked his head in, inviting him in for a beer or two or three.

Though sky boxes are beginning to make an appearance in some baseball-only ballparks, the exclusive suites are largely controlled by National Football League teams, much as the Rams do. The boxes at the Big A were built by the city in 1980 as part of the effort to lure the Rams from Los Angeles. Anaheim now gets 20% of the sky box revenue to repay those construction costs.

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In the parity-conscious NFL, where television receipts and other big-ticket revenues are divvied up evenly among all 28 clubs in the league, sky boxes are one of the few economic bonanzas left for the home team. While regular ticket sales are shared with visiting teams, sky box revenue goes almost exclusively to the host outfit.

Eager to bolster their profit picture, football teams increasingly have looked to sky boxes as a vital economic ox to gore. For teams such as the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins, the suites were perhaps the key reason that owners threatened in recent years to abandon venerable old stadiums for plush new accommodations.

Some of the biggest repercussions have been in the Southland. Miffed by a dispute over construction of sky boxes at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Raiders have promised to move out of the city after the 1991 season, with Irwindale and Oakland among the destinations most often mentioned.

“These suites are one of the few areas where a club has the opportunity to increase its revenue,” the Rams’ Donovan said. “One need only look at the other football team in Southern California to see the woes of not having these suites.”

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But sky boxes have not been an unmitigated success for the Rams, either. Although the exclusive suites sold out virtually overnight in 1980, several sky box holders declined to renew their five-year leases when they expired in 1985. Since then, the team has worked hard to market the units, but about a dozen remain unoccupied.

Competing With Weather

“The weather is our biggest competition,” Donovan said. “It’s just harder to market tickets in general here because the variety of options we have in Southern California compared to areas like the Midwest. And the same holds true for the suites.”

While Angels inherited their sky boxes when the Rams moved to the stadium, many baseball teams have been less eager to embrace the concept.

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The Chicago Cubs recently completed 67 executive suites they lease for between $45,000 and $65,000 annually at Wrigley Field. But such teams as the Los Angeles Dodgers have steadfastly refused to partake in the sky box explosion. Bob Smith, operations director at Dodger Stadium, said the team has looked into the concept but decided against it because too many longtime season ticket holders would have been displaced.

“A sky box that would probably be occupied by just one company would take the place of up to 32 people in regular seats,” Smith said. “You just can’t kick them out like that. Most of them have been good customers since 1962.”

But if 7-year-old Andrew Walker is any indication, teams better start thinking twice before they rule out sky boxes. An avid T-ball player, the youth has accompanied his father, Bill, to many an Angel game and invariably prefers a comfortable sky box to lesser digs.

Good Service

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“I like sitting in the boxes ‘cause it’s good service,” he said.

Andrew has that right. The Anaheim Stadium suites offer enough amenities to please a President, as they did when George Bush recently enjoyed a game from the Arco sky box.

Each is equipped with television sets mounted high on the walls, wet bars and ice-makers, private bathrooms, wall-to-wall carpeting and cushy, swiveling chairs. Patrons have the option of either sticking out a game hunkered inside the confines of the suite, or moving to orange plastic seats on the “club level” just outside the sky box.

“If you sit inside, you have kind of a cocktail party atmosphere,” said Janssen, who has used his company’s box on scores of occasions to woo clients. “Go outside and you’re right in the game. It’s a nice mix of both.”

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Food is delivered from one of three kitchens that fire up for football games (two will probably be used for the All-Star game). The menu is decidedly more upscale than the standard fare found in typical stadium concession stands. Aside from such staples as hot dogs and chili, sky box patrons can dine on chicken or pork ribs or shrimp, munch on cheeses and meats and fruits, sip on imported beers ($13 a six-pack) or a high-ball ($32 for a bottle of Chivas Regal).

No Special Requests

Linda McAndrew, catering manager for the stadium, said she expects to have 30 employees outfitted in white shirts and black bow ties tending the needs of suite holders during the All-Star game (a typical night baseball game is staffed by a dozen). But box holders have yet to make any All-Star game requests for special foods or lavish spreads beyond what’s normally offered, she said.

While every suite gets the same food, not all sky boxes are created equal. Some are cozy little cubicles with elbow room for about six adults at a time. Others can comfortably house 26 people.

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Then there’s the suite of Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. Decorated in soft woods and forest green carpet, the sky box is a two-story affair with a dramatic spiral staircase leading to Frontiere’s private office and a lounge area.

The Arco suite, meanwhile, has the exclusive services of Mary Cuevas, a private bartender who takes care of the food and beverage needs of guests in the box at every game. She has served the likes of the President, Governor George Deukmejian and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and expects the suite to be packed during the All-Star game with “top-notch corporate people” and their biggest customers.

“I’m usually busy until the seventh-inning stretch, when I bring out ice cream and brownies,” Cuevas said. “They’ve really got it made in here.”

Customers Pampered

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Indeed, the goal in the sky boxes is to pamper the customer, Donovan said.

“Think of all the things that bother you when you go to the ballpark, and most of those are eliminated,” he said. “You don’t wait in line for food, you don’t have to wait in line at the parking lot when the game is over, you don’t have to worry about the temperature, you don’t have to worry about missing a play, because most of them are replayed.”

Those television replays are a must feature for people such as Janssen, who admits he’s often so busy attending to the needs of his customers that he hardly gets to see the game.

“You’re so wrapped up working a group as a salesman, you miss a lot,” he said. “Most of the stuff I see is on instant replay during the football season.”

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Occasionally, the television sets can dominate the action. Janssen remembers well a veritable multi-sports feast, when he had one TV tuned to a Dodgers broadcast, another showing a Lakers game and the Rams playing outside.

During the 1988 NBA playoffs, everyone in the sky box was so wrapped up in the basketball game on television that they turned the couches toward the TV set and virtually ignored the baseball game going on outside.

Going Bananas

“When the Lakers would score, the group in here would go bananas,” Janssen recalled. “Anyone outside within earshot could hear us.”

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Janssen admits that ensconced in the company sky box he feels a bit like he’s in a fishbowl looking out. He wishes everyone had an opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of a sky box.

“Sometimes people sort of stare up at us,” he said. “They think we’ve got all the money in the world here, but I just work for the company. Sometimes I wish we could just invite them all in.”

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VIEW FROM THE TOP The “executive suites” of Anaheim Stadium:

Number: 113 encircling the stadium. Five set aside for use by the Rams and the city of Anaheim, 108 leased to the public.

Location: 30 feet above the playing field in the club level, the second tier in the three-level stadium.

Price: $34,000 a year for a 12-seat box for football, with six seats for baseball and an option to purchase more. $22,000 for football only. Price rises for larger boxes but does not vary according to location. Five-year leases. Cost does not include admission for concerts and other events.

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Amenities: Closed-circuit and multi-channel TV, refrigerator and fully stocked wet bar, furnished with plush carpeting and cushy chairs. Three VIP parking slots for most boxes. Maid service and catering.

Food: Provided by stadium catering service employees outfitted in white shirts, black bow ties and vests. Ranges from hot dogs ($18 for six) and chili to shrimp cocktails and pork ribs ($47 to feed six). Beer by the six-pack, $7 for domestic, $13 imported. Liquor by the bottle, $21 for Jack Daniels, $32 for Chivas Regal.

Occupancy: Football/baseball suites sold out. About a dozen football-only suites still available.


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