The top ticket to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg isn't in a luxury box.
It's a novel 720-seat hospitality suite set up on the 50-yard line right behind the Southern Mississippi bench. For $175 a pop, fans get a field-level view from a cafe setting flanked by bleacher seats.
Touted as a first in college or pro football, the Bud Light Lounge is a new way to overcome Tropicana Field's baseball stadium layout.
"We own seven bowls, but this is our first on-field lounge,'' said Brett Dulaney, executive director of the Dec. 21 bowl, which this year features Southern Mississippi and Louisville. "The floor is elevated 6 feet so you see over the players."
"Unlike other bowls stuck with old ways of doing things, we started from scratch, so we want to try new things," said Carlos Padilla, sales manager of the bowl game owned by ESPN. The sports network limits the Tropicana for a crowd of 30,000 and points the cameras at the permanent seating rather than line the sideline with portable bleachers.
A full buffet comes with the $175 ticket. It's pub fare and dessert, much of it from the menu at Beef 'O' Brady's, the Tampa-based chain and bowl title sponsor.
Does the lounge sound like something from a golf event? The inspiration was hospitality buffet tents like Hooters Owl's Nest and the two-story Outback Steakhouse Billabong Club set up by the 18th green at pro tournaments.
Skeptics take note: The lounge is almost sold out.
Gluten-free products: enough for shelf tags
Packaged grocery makers are churning out more gluten-free products after learning how many people suffer food allergies, including an intolerance for glutens found in some grains like wheat, barley and rye.
With Heinz, Hellman's and Betty Crocker creating alternatives, Winn-Dixie boasts 300 gluten-free items. Publix stocks enough to start labeling them this month with blue and white shelf tags — even if gluten-free is not on the package.
Publix will extend the shelf tags to store brands next after its manufacturers respond to a request for certification.
"That will get us over 1,000 gluten-free products," Shannon Patten, Publix spokeswoman, said.
Coming to a TV show near you
Among the most heavily-aired infomercials on TV, a pair promoting the Western Union MasterCard prepaid debit card were produced locally by a newcomer to the area's big stable of direct response marketers.
The one- and two-minute spots are "doing well enough they soon will be in the top 20" in airtime bought nationally, the accepted measure of an infomercial hit, said Paul Soltoff, president of Acquirgy, the St. Petersburg marketing house that employs 50.
Without naming names, the ad seizes on bad publicity over fees charged by rival cards endorsed, then dropped, by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
Aimed at people with no bank relationship, Western Union ads hammer 16 features, including four popular fees the card does not charge. The fees Western Union charges appear in smaller print in short bursts at the bottom of the screen: $4.95 a reload, $1.95 per ATM withdrawal, 45 cents for a balance inquiry and inactivity fees after the first year.
"The fees are lower, but you can get a bank account for that much," Gail Hillebran, senior attorney at Consumers Union, said.
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected]times.com or (727) 893-8252.