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At Dodger Stadium, the Players Aren't All on the Field These Days

Pricey new luxury accommodations are drawing corporate clients with big deals at stake.

August 15, 2000|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When pharmaceutical representative Mark Shuster wanted to brief doctors on the latest in depression and anxiety treatments, he invited a dozen of them to a Dodger game.

As twilight descended and game time neared, the Pfizer Inc. rep hosted a round-table discussion in a conference room in the belly of the ballpark. Then, he adjourned his guests to a prime rib and turkey buffet, and finally led them to their game seats in the stadium Dugout Club right behind home plate, close enough to see into the pitchers' eyes.

"I'm sure if you polled the people tonight at Dodger Stadium, there's a lot of business going on, so it's not unusual," said Shuster. "If I don't do it here, I do it on the golf course. That's just how business is done in America."

This season, corporate clients and well-heeled fans can, for the first time at Dodger Stadium, watch the action from sparkling new luxury accommodations. The 564-seat Dugout Club has reduced the size of the foul territory behind home plate but has created what some are calling the best seats in baseball.

There also are 33 new luxury suites at the press box level of Dodger Stadium, where fans can sit on a terrace in Herman Miller Aeron chairs or inside where it is air-conditioned and fully furnished, with concierge service and food catered by Wolfgang Puck and Levy Bros.

The Dodgers are the last team in the major leagues to offer such luxury accommodations. For a club that has the second-highest payroll in baseball, the $50-million renovation project has created a critical new source of revenue, reflecting the lucrative and expanding relationship between business and sports.

The suites range in price from $195,000 to $300,000 a season, among the most expensive in baseball, and 85% are sold. For a set of four season tickets in the Dugout Club seats behind home plate--90% sold-out--the cost is $95,000 and includes use of a suite for eight games. The remaining seats and suites are available on an individual game basis for anything from birthday parties to corporate events.

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The price for the 15 seats and conference room used by Shuster was $3,225 for the night. The buffet, refreshments served throughout the game and use of a business center offering copy, fax and other office services were also included.

A Dodger victory was not.

From the luxury suites, the view is spectacular--the field a perfectly lined diamond, the ball a veritable pearl zipping, bounding and soaring above the carpet of Santa Ana Bermuda.

"Look at this view," said Gary Goetzman, a season suite holder and longtime Dodger fan who, as a child, would sit in the stands down the left-field line, hoping a foul ball might come his way.

"I love seeing this game, and I love seeing this game be successful. . . . I love that it's pretty much a gentle, human game," he said, as fans rose for the national anthem, "and you have to be patient, and you have to wait for the exciting moments. Yet there's this duel going on constantly throughout it. I love that there's no clock."

It was his passion for the game, along with the nature of his work as partner with Tom Hanks in Play-Tone, an entertainment production company, that led him to the pressroom-level suites.

Included in the suite are six television monitors (45 channels), VCR, stereo, live game feeds in both English and Spanish, Sub-Zero refrigerators. If you're not interested in the game, you can check out a video and sit inside to watch a movie.

Goetzman was hosting a couple of Hollywood executives, Wendy Selig-Prieb, CEO of the opposing Milwaukee Brewers, and Chris Connelly, a magazine writer and on-air personality for MTV.

"In entertainment, there's a theory that you should be lunching and dinnering and going to some kind of power breakfast," Goetzman said. "We're in a situation here where you don't have to arrange a restaurant and a time. You can just say, 'Let's go to the Dodger game. You can come when you get here, early or late.' You can talk about what you want to talk about and you can enjoy the game. . . . I think that's what it's become most useful for. It eliminates a lot of lunches and dinners."

The suites are also great for watching baseball, said Connelly of MTV. A native New Yorker, he has lived in the Los Angeles area for 10 years. "It's such a beautiful ballpark," he said. "You feel very close to the game [in the suites]. The other thing is, this doesn't have like an oppressively corporate feel."

The one disadvantage, he noted, is that the suites are too high up to be within earshot of the field, depriving him of the opportunity to adequately heckle players, umpires or, even, at times, the bat boys.

He didn't let it stop him, though others were more subdued.

"You can yell if you want, but everyone's pretty polite," he said. "This is Los Angeles."

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