While tailgaters shiver outside Gillette Stadium before Patriots games this season, 750 season ticket holders will peer through a wall of windows inside the Optum Field Lounge, watching players warm up from behind the south end zone.
On the arena’s main concourse, near the north end zone light house, a mostly corporate crowd of 500 will fill up on food and beverages in the all-inclusive Cross Insurance Pavilion & Business Center.
And in the DraftKings Fantasy Sports Zone, also on the main concourse, 400 regular fans will choose from a dozen craft brews on tap, surrounded by 35 televisions showing other NFL games and streams of fantasy football statistics.
Together, the three new hangouts, part of a $30 million offseason renovation, will offer up to 1,650 paying customers a more comfortable — and more expensive — alternative to grilling food and drinking beer in icy parking lots.
“There are those who want to tailgate, and this offering is not for them,” said Jen Ferron, the team’s senior vice president for marketing and brand development. “But some fans told us, ‘I prefer to have an indoor, climate-controlled space. I prefer to have concessions. I don’t want to be standing in a parking lot.’ We’ve done all the work for you, and you basically show up.”
The Patriots are not alone in tempting fans — many of whom arrive hours before kickoff to eat and drink, anyway — to spend more inside the stadium by doing their pregame consumption there.
DraftKings-branded fantasy sports zones will also be added this season to AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, and Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cowboys already have a field-level club, similar to the Patriots’ new Optum lounge, through which players and coaches walk on their way to the field — a signature feature of the arena since it opened in 2009.
MetLife Stadium, shared by the New York Jets and Giants, has a field-level club of its own behind the home bench. The Baltimore Ravens serve pregame fare in the Bud Light Party Zone and Talon Pub, two bars available for group rentals.
“They’d like to be able to capture that revenue, instead of having all that pregame spending on food and drink take place outside the stadium,” said Rodney Paul, who teaches sports facility management at Syracuse University. “Every incremental revenue source, however small it might seem for a billionaire owner, can still be worthwhile.”
Teams in other sports are introducing pregame lounges, too, including the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks next season. The Red Sox sell pregame packages on the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck that include premium food and a tour of Fenway.
But the NFL has built a stronger tailgate culture than other leagues around a smaller number of games. Each franchise hosts only eight during the regular season.
Football teams are increasingly trying to capitalize on the status of games as all-day events.
“Many people are there for the social aspect as much as the sporting event itself,” said Michael Mondello, who teaches sports and entertainment finance at the University of South Florida. “It’s also about keeping up with the competition.”
Or, perhaps, not having to share with the competition. Unlike national broadcasting rights fees, money earned on naming rights, concessions, and premium tickets is not subject to the NFL’s revenue-sharing system, meaning the Patriots can keep most of what they collect.
Membership in the Optum Field Lounge is available only to season ticket holders as a $1,500 add-on (three-year packages come at a reduced rate of $1,250 per person, per year). The Patriots created the 20,000-square-foot space by removing about 1,500 seats, a move that upset some displaced fans, though they were offered different seats and the first opportunity to buy in to the lounge, which is sold out.
Members can head to their seats at kickoff, remain in the lounge to watch the action, or move back and forth between locations.
The Cross pavilion caters to corporate clients, but individuals can purchase memberships, too, and they need not own season tickets. At $6,000 per person, membership includes a ticket to every home game — effectively letting the buyer cut the line on a season ticket waiting list that exceeds 60,000 people — and unlimited food and drink during two-hour pregame receptions.
At kickoff, the pavilion opens to all fans as a cash bar.
The pavilion and lounge, each with a 1,000-person capacity for private functions, will also be available for rent on nongame days. Patriots executives said they envision hosting conferences, trade shows, proms, and galas in the spaces.
The DraftKings Fantasy Sports Zone, an outdoor space with three walls and a roof, will open along with stadium gates two hours before kickoff. No exclusive membership is required — just a willingness to shell out $10 for a glass of Rebel IPA or Hoponius Union.
“Here’s the scenario I see happening for a 4 o’clock game,” said Jim Nolan, the Patriots’ senior vice president of operations, finance and administration: “People tailgate through the first half of the 1 o’clock games, then they pack up their tailgate, come in here and say, ‘Let’s go to DraftKings and watch the second half.’ ”