A historical past of San Francisco Giants beer costs — and fan outrage
It was 1987 and the town of St. Francis was in turmoil.
The San Francisco Giants, emboldened by their first winning season in half a decade, decided to increase the price of a single beer to two whole dollars while shrinking the cup size from 16 to 14 ounces. Fans threatened revolt.
“Don’t you realize that statistics can’t lie?” Kevin Blackwell of San Francisco wrote on the Chronicle’s letters page. “I can stay at home and watch the games on cable and drink my own beer for a reasonable price!”
The outrage eventually subsided, perhaps that same day. The franchise made it into the off-season for the first time since 1971, setting a record attendance and presumably selling many, many beers. In fact, they raised the prices again the next year.
After decades of near-constant beer price hikes — and the resulting outrage — Giants President Larry Baer announced a price cut two weeks ago — the Giants’ cheapest beer would be cut from $14 to $9 for the 2023 season. (A sentence worthy of an asterisk, more on that later.)
That sent us to The Chronicle’s archives to find the biggest price hikes, landmark brew moments, and most expensive beer (adjusted for inflation) over the team’s 66 years at Seals Stadium, Candlestick, and Oracle Park.
Bits are missing — multi-year stretches where The Chronicle didn’t cover Giants beer prices. But we were still able to collect anecdotes, quotes and dates from more than two dozen beer stories from 1960 to 2023.
The first price increase
From the moment the Giants arrived in San Francisco, they were unstoppably attached to beer. Seals Stadium in the Mission District was at different times adjacent to Rainier, Hamm’s, and Lucky Lager breweries, and Anchor Brewing Co. was less than a mile away. The Hamm Brewery sign with its neon goblet was visible from first base and outfield.
Beer cost a steady 35 cents during the team’s two years at the stadium from 1958 to 1959, but with the switch to Candlestick it rose to 40 cents – equivalent to $4.06 in 2023.
Fans apparently accepted the price increase. They were much more outraged about the new parking fee of 75 cents on the stick.
The original San Francisco Giants lineup with the Hamm’s Brewery sign in the background. Joe Rosenthal / Chronicle Archives
“Premium” beer is coming
1971 was a milestone for franchise journalism at the San Francisco Chronicle. At least three articles have been written about food and drink prices after beer prices rose a nickel to 55 cents and a “premium” beer was introduced at 60 cents. ($4.54 in 2023 dollars.)
(The brand was not specified, but in the 1970s and 1980s in a ballpark, “premium” often meant Michelob or Lowenbrau, and later Heineken.)
Chronicle columnist Prescott Sullivan was outraged but even more angered by the 5-cent hike in peanut prices to a quarter that included this investigative nugget:
“We counted the peanuts and found there were 45 in the bag,” Sullivan wrote. “Last year we counted 50. What would those five missing peanuts mean if not creeping inflation?”
A vendor sells hot dogs in a nearly empty Candlestick Park at a 1976 San Francisco Giants game. John Storey / The Chronicle 1976
Best beer deal ever
If you want to get your time machine running and travel back for the best baseball beer deal in San Francisco, turn the dial to 1978. Our inflation calculator says that at 85 cents – $3.98 in 2023 dollars – this is the best deal in the history of Giants beer was .
(The team wasn’t bad either. Vida Blue, Jack Clark and Darrell Evans led the team to 89 wins.)
San Francisco Giants pitcher John Montefusco, seen here with Joe DiMaggio, was the team’s opening day starter between 1976 and 1978. Peter Breinig/The Chronicle
Harry M. Stevens cries poor
Since Candlestick Park was owned by the city, any increase in concession prices for Giants and 49ers had to go before the Recreation and Park Commission. Occasionally there was debate, but the commissioners approved any changes to our research.
This includes 1985 when, after 25 years of nickel price increases, the cheapest beer rose by a quarter from $1.25 to $1.50 at the concession stand and from $1.75 to $2 when sold by vendors claiming that the Inflation would wipe out the concession gains.
“The stadium’s concessionaire, Harry M. Stevens Inc., said the increase was necessary to cover higher costs for food, beverages and wages since the beer price increase in 1981,” reported The Chronicle.
Leo Sperandeo Jr. and other fans cheer on the San Francisco Giants during a 1981 game at Candlestick Park. Steve Ringman/The Chronicle 1981
A beer selling apocalypse
The year 1986 was an exciting time for Giants fans. The economy improved, Will Clark had a promising rookie season, and viewership, which had waned in the 1970s, returned.
These crowds loved to drink, and team officials blamed the increasing complaints about baseball fights on beer sales. The next year, in 1987, the Giants banned itinerant vendors from selling beer and restricted sales to concession stands.
“The Giants have taken beer sales off the stands to try to stop unruly fans from drinking,” reports The Chronicle. “Stevens will be selling beers – but only two to one customer – from new stands behind the stands.”
Harry M. Stevens concessionaires said the move would see them under and asked the Rec and Park Commission to raise prices on all items except their hot dog, which stayed at $1.25. A 24-ounce “Premium” beer went from $2.25 to $3 – a staggering $8.12 in 2023 and by far the largest price increase in team history at the time.
“Another bum for us fans,” wrote John S. Howard on The Chronicle’s letter page. “Anyone who has visited baseball fields will tell you that the food at Candlestick is very bad, the worst thing in the sport at any level.”
San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky lounges with his wife Jan while he watches kids play softball. Dravecky was the team’s opening-day starter in 1988. Scott Sommerdorf/The Chronicle
A’s and Giants: Let ’em fight!
The Giants and A’s have mostly been embroiled in a marketing cold war for the past several decades, but in 1991 the rivalry erupted openly.
Officials at A began bragging about their new Round Table and Subway deals (the now-ridiculous “We prefer to create destination-style food” quote appeared in a Chronicle article), while the Giants bragged about it that their portions were larger.
The Chronicle correctly noted that both sides raised prices radically. The Giants’ cheapest beer went from $2.50 to $3, equivalent to $6.64 in 2023.
“A family of four,” wrote Chronicle reporter Gary Swan ominously, “could easily spend $75 on an afternoon or breezy evening at Candlestick.”
A Chronicle chart lists ballpark concession prices for the A’s and the Giants. The chronicle
Giants admit their beers don’t come cheap
The team kept concession prices reasonably reasonable after moving from windy Candlestick to beautiful Pac Bell Park in 2000, and even slashed beer prices (for the first time ever, the Chronicle reports).
But in the years that followed, prices rose steadily again. In 2004, the team set its lowest beer price at $5.75 — and introduced a $7.75 “super premium beer” ($12.59 in 2023 dollars), which was reportedly the most expensive in baseball at the time .
This was also the year officials admitted their product was expensive, and what are you going to do about it?
“The public has come to accept that they pay more for things at events,” Centerplate Concessions’ Bill Greathouse told The Chronicle. “It’s like popcorn at the movies. You know it will cost more. If price is your only concern, you can pay a certain amount for beer and drink it at home. But Barry Bonds is here.”
A 2004 Chronicle article proclaimed Giants beer the most expensive in the West. The chronicle
Set a dubious record
When the Giants moved to China Basin and the team funded the ballpark, they severed the Rec & Park Commission relationship and were free to set pricing without a commission check.
It also made reporting the cost of beer more difficult. The team claimed an $8.25 beer as the cheapest brew in 2019, The Chronicle reported — and indeed, there was a beer at that price somewhere in the ballpark.
But the team also debuted a 22-ounce premium beer valued at $19.25 — $23.01 in 2023 — which SFGate called the most expensive beer in Major League Baseball history.
(I attended at least half a dozen games in 2019 and remember drinking beers in the $11-$14 range.)
The big beer price drop
Spurred on by KNBR radio host Brian Murphy, and no doubt faced with a less than incredible time off-season, Giants president Larry Baer announced on Feb. 24 that the cheapest beer at Oracle Park — homegrown beers like Coors and Bud Light — would crash from $14 to $9.
Type of. $9 beers were available in the 415 Club area of the grandstands. That members-only price had allowed the Giants to claim middle-of-the-field status in 2022, when MLB beer prices were broken down by team. And since the Giants can now raise and lower their prices without filing papers with a San Francisco city commission, we’re taking the $14 demand at our word.
But a $5 drop is a $5 drop and a milestone in Giants beer history.
We’ll celebrate on opening day… by drinking a much more expensive Anchor Steam.
A fan holds up her beer during a Giants game against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park on September 27, 2022. Carlos Avila González/The Chronicle 2022