Revenue / 10.13.20
What Concessions Are Being Made to Keep Concessions Going in the Pandemic Era?
The pandemic has changed pretty much everything having to do with attending live sporting events, from how many fans can be in the seats to whether they can tailgate before or after a game, race or competition. So, it’s no surprise that concessions have had to undergo major changes, as well. Nowhere is this more evident than at National Football League (NFL) games, which resumed after a shortened preseason.
NFL teams typically generate about $1-2 million in concessions sales each game day, Mike Plutino, CEO and founder of stadium concessions consulting firm Food Service Matters, recently told Fox Business. That range has likely dropped significantly at current attendance levels. Nevertheless, teams are pressing forward with new innovations and lots of pandemic-era tweaks.
For instance, on Sept. 11, the Jacksonville Jaguars introduced Jags Pay, an all-new contactless mobile payment technology at TIAA Bank Field designed with a contactless fan experience in mind. Jags Pay is available via the Jaguars’ official mobile app and can be utilized for all stadium concession and merchandise payments.
Chris Gargani, Vice President of Sales and Service for the Jaguars, says, “We worked alongside Tappit to create Jags Pay, and its implementation has been a key piece in our efforts to create a safe and healthy fan environment at TIAA Bank Field. Most importantly, Jags Pay minimizes exposure risk to COVID-19, as you can make payments either through glass or at a further distance away than other payment methods. In addition, the technology requires biometric authentication or PIN authentication, providing another level of assurance for fans. For fans using it on game day, Jags Pay eliminates person-to-person contact, minimizes lines and speeds up transactions to ensure fans can return to their seats as quickly as possible without having to congregate. It’s an investment we’ve made not just for this year, but for the long-term benefit of our game-day experience.”
Other teams have also been getting creative in this new era. For instance, the Carolina Panthers are offering a prepaid, preorder option for $15, with a $20 average savings. The deadline to preorder before a Sunday home game is typically Friday at 5 p.m. ET. Fans get an entrée, chips, candy, water and a fountain soda with their purchase that can be picked up at four locations on Bank of America Stadium’s 100 level.
Centerplate Inc., the food and beverage partner for the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium and the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, has been developing service plans for its NFL clients. Safety measures at both team’s games include mobile ordering, cashless transactions, single-serve food items in closed containers and Plexiglas shields at concessions stands. Centerplate is also limiting the number of workers at food prep stations and streamlining menus to include fan-favorite items only so that fans won’t have to linger in lines.
One of the challenges has been educating the fans on the various changes. During Week 1 of the regular season, the Jaguars were one of only two teams to welcome fans back in a limited capacity. “It was important to not only educate our fans but reward them and incentivize repeat behavior,” Gargani says. “We are using a number of communication channels: email, newsletters, social media, in-stadium signage, radio advertisements and other outlets.”
He also notes that the NFL produced a variety of resources and hosted numerous conference calls regarding best practices for stadium preparedness, business operations and marketing to educate clubs, as well as inform fans and make the general public aware of changes occurring at NFL stadiums. “As an organization,” he says, “the Jaguars surveyed fans, kept in constant communication with season ticket members, and offered options for the 2020 season and beyond.”
Changes to concessions have also come to the college game. This season, Louisiana State University (LSU) Athletics has been accepting only credit card and mobile payments for merchandise and concessions. For those fans who only have cash, there are two “Cash-to-Card” machines on site at Tiger Stadium that turn cash into credit cards. Additionally, condiment stands are no longer set up next to concession stands. However, prepackaged items like ketchup, mustard, relish and so forth are being provided.
Meanwhile, the University of Oklahoma Athletics Department has launched a new version of the SoonerSports2Go app. It contains an array of services ranging from parking assistance to a free digital game program to an interface with stadium concessions that enables fans to order in advance and then pick up their food and drinks at designated locations.
Changes have also been made for the 2020 college football season at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. To encourage fans to enter the stadium early, which has better allowed for social distancing to be maintained at the entry gates, in-stadium concession stands have been offering discounts on many items from the time gates open 90 minutes before game time until a half-hour before kickoff.
Pro and college football can thank NASCAR for lighting the way in how to resume in-person operations. June 22 marked the first NASCAR race with paying customers since the initial COVID-19 shutdown. Talladega sold up to 5,000 tickets on a first-come, first-served basis after getting approval to host fans from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, the Alabama Health Department and county officials.
“We consulted several health and medical experts closest to the COVID-19 pandemic on the safest way to return to racing with fans, including how to best service concessions and catering needs,” says Kari Gritton, Managing Director of Consumer Strategy for NASCAR. “Our marketing and sales teams had also been in close communication with fans throughout the entire pandemic via email as well as outbound calls. The race-day experience has changed significantly during this time, and it’s important that our fans are kept up to date so they are able to make an informed decision if they would like to attend as well as what to expect on race day.”
Masks have been required at all times. Social-distancing pucks — basically stickers on the ground — detail common areas and where lines form. NASCAR’s concessions, meanwhile, solely offer pre-packaged foods and sealed drinks.
“Concessions had to rethink every aspect of race day to ensure the safety of our fans, competitors and employees,” Gritton says. “This included many changes starting with a complete separation of staff that would service the competition bubble versus the venue-side spectators. Like fans, every employee went through a temperature screening and are always required to wear a mask. We also shifted heavily cashless to reduce the amount of cash exchanging hands. We plan to build on this as we head into 2021 to become completely cashless.”
But even with all the changes, innovations and complete eagerness to make fans feel as safe and as comfortable as possible, there’s no doubt concession sales are taking a hit amid limited attendance. With such an important revenue stream affected, one NFL team has been bringing the game-day dining experience to the fans who prefer to watch from their home seats.
The Dallas Cowboys and Legends Hospitality, which operates food and beverage concessions at the team’s AT&T Stadium home field, are making it possible for local fans to enjoy authentic game-day food and beverage favorites as part of the new AT&T Stadium At Home program. The goal is to offer a full stadium culinary experience designed to bring the classic traditions of game day to fans watching at home. Minimum orders for delivery and pickup are for four to six people, with packages serving 10 to 14 and 16 to 20 people also available. Orders must be to be placed in advance and will be available for pickup or delivery on Saturdays before each Sunday home and away game.
Creative solutions around concessions will likely continue to crop up as live events evolve around the need for safety. After all, sometimes you really just need a beer and a hot dog.
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Tags: Concessions , Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus