SBJ/May 6-12, 2013/Facilities

Legends lands food deal for Redskins’ suites

Legends, co-owned by the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, has signed a multiyear deal with the Washington Redskins to cater the 280 suites at FedEx Field, its biggest food account beyond Cowboys Stadium and Yankee Stadium.

Officials with the Redskins and Legends Hospitality, the company’s food and retail division, would not disclose contract terms. Legends will invest a “substantial” amount of capital to upgrade the premium side of the business, said Mike Phillips, the firm’s senior vice president, but he declined to specify dollar figures.

FedEx Field has 280 suites, second in sports to the 300-plus skyboxes at Cowboys Stadium.
Photo by: WASHINGTON REDSKINS
The high-profile NFL account is a big victory for Legends, whose owners also include the Checketts Partners Investment Fund. The growth of Legends Hospitality has lagged behind that of sister division Legends Sales and Marketing, which has expanded through deals to sell premium seats for the 49ers, Jaguars and Jets, among others.

Since Legends’ founding in 2008, it has signed smaller food deals beyond Cowboys Stadium and Yankee Stadium, adding MLS franchise FC Dallas and minor league baseball clubs affiliated with the Yankees.

That dynamic has now shifted. The Redskins agreement comes a few weeks after Legends signed a deal with the Cleveland Browns to run the team store and other merchandise stands at First Energy Stadium and the club’s online retail business.

“It has to be a big plus for Legends,” food service consultant Chris Bigelow said. “NFL teams [looking for vendors] want to talk to their peers and ask, ‘Are these guys good?’ Now they can call the Browns and the Redskins. They had to break out of that shadow.”

Legends replaces R&R Catering, a small local company that fed suite patrons the past four NFL seasons. Before 2009, Ridgewells Catering, another Washington-area firm, had a 10-year run at FedEx Field.

Centerplate, which opened FedEx Field in 1997 running all aspects of food service under its old name, Volume Services, remains the general concessions vendor.

Redskins officials refused to say what drove their decision to change suite caterers. The team owns and operates FedEx Field, and there was no formal proposal issued to vendors.

The Redskins chose Legends after having discussions with R&R, in addition to Aramark, Centerplate and Levy Restaurants, which has deals at D.C. venues Nationals Park and Verizon Center. Another large sports concessions company, Delaware North Sportservice, did not speak with the Redskins, company officials said.

Redskins executives visited Yankee Stadium to see Legends’ operation and met with Legends officials at Cowboys Stadium when Washington played Dallas in December, Phillips said. Legends was informed of its selection about a month ago, he said.

Legends takes over a facility with the second-highest number of suites in sports behind Cowboys Stadium’s 300-plus skyboxes.

Before the Cowboys opened their $1.2 billion facility four years ago, FedEx Field produced the highest suite revenue among all NFL stadiums, generating an average of $4 million a season, according to industry sources. The bulk of FedEx Field’s suites are distributed on the stadium’s fourth and fifth levels. The second level, also serviced by the premium food provider, has two Owner’s Club lounges, Daniel Snyder’s suite and the corporate suite reserved for stadium naming-rights holder FedEx.

The stadium’s suburban site just off the Capital Beltway, one of the most congested roadways in the country, also lends itself to generating revenue. Legends can expect to see its alcohol per caps get a boost from suite holders sticking around long after the game is over to avoid the notorious traffic jams around FedEx Field, sources said.

With those huge numbers, though, comes the challenge of meeting the demands of Snyder — the Redskins’ owner known for being tough on the help, one former FedEx Field food provider said. One factor working in Legends’ favor is Phillips, who is supervising the vendor’s transition at FedEx Field and a sports food veteran who knows the stadium well. About 20 years ago, Phillips, then employed with Volume Services, was principally involved in negotiating the facility’s original food deal with the late Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins’ owner at the time.

In addition, Legends President Dan Smith was a regional vice president with Volume Services at the time FedEx Field opened.

The vendor plans to upgrade the suites with induction cooking equipment to deliver fresher food more frequently, officials said. The same cooking systems are in place at Yankee Stadium and newer sports facilities.

“No more food sitting in chafing dishes for three hours,” Smith said.

Legends also plans to develop a program with local chefs serving their signature recipes at FedEx Field, similar to what the concessionaire does at Yankee Stadium and Cowboys Stadium, Phillips said.

Legends officially took over the premium food operation last week. Most of the upgrades should be in place by Aug. 19, the date of the Redskins’ first preseason home game.

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