Tampa Bay Rays fan perks this season: concerts, self-checkout food, giveaways

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ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays unveiled a starting lineup of fan perks for the new baseball season, including a stingray-themed hoodie among its giveaways, a self-checkout station for hot food, post-game concerts and a new look for the field itself.

The home opener is March 28 against the Blue Jays and when fans enter the stadium, they will find a new “Gluten-Free Favorites” stand. It will offer wheatless versions of ballpark staples, and menus throughout the park will more clearly alert customers to allergens and vegan options.

Fans will also get some post-game concerts this season, starting on July 26 with alternative rock band Jimmy Eat World, followed by country singer Riley Green on Aug. 10 and hip-hop artist T-Pain on Aug.16.

There are some new food vendors, including Cookie Fueled Mama, a new pretzel-themed concession booth called Twisted, Chicken Salad Chick with its own stand and the Sarasota-based Daiquiri Deck chain, which is taking over the title of the former Center Field Deck and party zone. They have created a way to deliver frozen margaritas via vendors in the stands in what looks like a clear plastic beer can.

One of the most noticeable changes this season will be the field itself. The artificial turf has been replaced with a new field of green that is striped like a freshly mowed lawn. The team donated 75,000 square feet of the old turf to local parks and recreation programs to be used in batting cages and training facilities.

“It saves them money, but it also allows these young athletes to have some bragging rights,” said Bill Walsh, chief business officer for the Rays. “They’re able to say they played on the same turf as their favorite outfielder.”

The Rays have a reputation for fun giveaways, and this season’s promotional schedule includes what they call the Flappy Boi zip-up hoodie. It is reminiscent of the DJ Kitty onesie the team gave away in 2017 that developed a cult following for being both ridiculous and amazing. The hoodie emulates a stingray with its smiling face on the hood and a cape-like extension on the arms to flap your wings.

You can get it at the Aug. 9 Orioles game. Other giveaways include a plush bucket hat (Aug. 16), a Jose Siri blinged-out necklace (March 31), a button-down tropical shirt in memory of beloved Rays radio announcer Dave Wills, a Randy Arozarena luchador wrestler mask (May 5), and bobbleheads of Fred McGriff (Sept. 1) and Yandy Díaz (June 30).

One of the stadium’s biggest success stories has been the self-checkout concession on the Budweiser Porch called the Shortstop. Walsh said that kiosk has generated more revenue than any other sports and entertainment venue that uses the technology to grab your own beer.

The Rays are expanding on that with the new Bird and Batter Express kiosk that will make hot food like burgers and chicken tenders available via self-checkout. Using cameras and artificial intelligence, the computer recognizes your choices once you place something like a burger and a box of candy on the checkout shelf, then you swipe a credit card to pay.

Though some stores like Target and Walmart are starting to scale back on self-checkout because of theft, Sanford Sternberg, director of concessions for the Rays, said the goal is to help fans more quickly get back to their seats. “If we lose a beer here and there, that’s worth it.”

Some other new features this year:

  • Culver’s will have a new promotion that pays off if the Rays score a run in the third inning. Fans can then claim a free order of Wisconsin cheese curds using the Culver’s mobile app.

  • For gamers, a new interactive feature on the field level near Gate 6 called Bat Around is a batting cage where fans can test their hitting skills in a mixed reality experience.

  • The Rays are greatly expanding their themed nights devoted to everything from Star Wars and pickleball to Harry Potter and Greek heritage. There are more than 40 this year. The theme night tickets have special giveaways such as hats, shirts or a Rays pickleball paddle.

  • The Ballpark app experience has been updated to include closed captioning for all home games. And during the game, fans can now guess the winner of the mascot race and win a prize.

  • The Rays are including batting practice field passes for purchase and plan to add more experiences throughout the season.

  • Spinning off the popularity of Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena, at every Friday home game fans can buy Randy Land tickets in the leftfield sections 141 or 143 starting at $56. They get a Randy T-shirt, and if Randy hits a home run during the game, fans in Randy Land receive a free beverage. See RaysBaseball.com/RandyLand for details.