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Red Rocks sells more White Claw than anywhere in the U.S.

Playing Rocks Amphitheatre can be the pinnacle of a musician’s career. But the world-famous venue also offers a thirsty, hungry mass market for brands that are trying to reach the nearly 2 million people expected there this season.

As an all-day, every-day operation from April through November, the crews at Red Rocks are constantly prepping for and cleaning up after shows, 200 of which are scheduled for 2024 — a new record. Most are sold out, or expected to sell out, and with a 9,545-person capacity, that’s a lot of food and beverages being served.

For White Claw, the ubiquitous hard seltzer brand that blazed into the local market in 2016, Red Rocks is a primary concern. White Claw is not only the official hard seltzer of Red Rocks, but the venue is the company’s biggest “on-premise” account in the U.S., according to Denver Arts & Venues, the city agency that owns and operates the arena.

Red Rocks sold 254,640 cans of White Claw in 2023, the agency said, which is more than 25% of the total number of malt beverages sold there, according to a recent study by the agency. All told, more than 400,000 hard seltzers were sold at Red Rocks.

Serving them, however, offers unique challenges compared to other music venues.

“People don’t realize the concessions stands are about one-third of the way up, so it’s literally people relaying from person to person up from the bottom of the stairs,” said Brian Kitts, director of marketing for Denver Arts & Venues.

“To see that happening is fascinating, and that’s when you realize what a pain in the ass this place can be,” he added.

In other venues, workers can use elevators and carts with wheels to move food and beverages through the grounds. At Red Rocks, it’s employee power moving drinks case by case up the steeply tiered rows. Or, often, tossing them to one another, Kitts said.

“It’s really cool to see,” he said as he surveyed the empty amphitheater last month. “It doesn’t even have to be a huge show because they’re all the same when you’re doing that kind of stuff. Big or small, beer and beverages get up there the same way that people do.”

And yet, it’s still impressive that Red Rocks is White Claw’s biggest U.S. sales site, given the ubiquity of the drink at other bars and festivals.

Last year, White Claw was sold at more than 200 events – music fests, movie fests, and other cultural gatherings — and this year it’s already shown up at (or plans to visit) Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest and the Kentucky Derby, according to market-research firm The Harris Poll. The company has also offered ticket sweepstakes to Red Rocks, last summer writing in an Instagram post: “White Claw summer looks like yoga and concerts at Red Rocks.”

As of October, White Claw was still the top hard seltzer brand by sales volume with 45% market share (its closest competitor, Truly, is a distant second at 17.4%, Harris reported). White Claw officials declined an interview request for this story but, in a prepared statement, called Red Rocks a valued partner.

“Red Rocks Amphitheatre is one of the most iconic music venues in the country and is the perfect setting for enjoying a White Claw,” wrote Kevin Brady, vice president of marketing. “We’re proud to continue our partnership as the official hard seltzer of Red Rocks and help fans come together over a White Claw and a shared love of music.”

White Claw isn’t the only big seller, though. The venue has for the last couple of years broken attendance and revenue records, helping it to move 65,000 hot dogs — more than twice the number of the next most popular food items, 31,700 tacos and 30,500 nachos (cheese cups weren’t far behind, with 25,000 sold).

Incredibly, sales last season were off due to construction on the Top Plaza. The year before, in 2022, Red Rocks sold a whopping 111,800 hot dogs.

“There are no escalators, no elevators,” Kitts said. “It’s a unique venue in that you have to prepare for the physical aspects of it as well as the (concerts). And we need to prepare for you, every time you come here.”

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