SBJ/April 7-13, 2014/In Depth

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  • Today's specials: Food-centric events to enhance the sports experience

    Don’t be surprised if you show up at a sporting event and an episode of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” or something else more appropriate for the Food Network breaks out. Major events for foodies are becoming increasingly popular at sporting events.

    On the eve of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup, more than 1,000 horse owners, trainers, sponsors and other VIPs dined on lamb cutlets with arugula, feta cheese, sundried tomatoes and lemon juice, and other dishes prepared by 15 chefs selected by Flay.

    Bobby Flay shows his creations at A Taste of the World.
    Photo by: Breeders' Cup
    In the hours before the opening lap of the Daytona 500 in February, more than 600 race team owners, executives and partners enjoyed blackberry jalapeno spare ribs and grilled Mexican corn with spiced cotija cheese and other offerings from chefs Chris Lilly, Sarah Simmons and Hugh Acheson.

    And in the week leading up to this year’s Super Bowl in New York, Woody Johnson, Reggie Bush and hundreds of fans who snagged reservations savored poached salmon, roasted beef filet and other delicacies curated by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer for Forty Ate — an NFL-managed pop-up restaurant in Times Square.

    These days, the nexus of food and sports is growing stronger.

    “It traces back to the Food Network,” said Michael Principe, CEO of New York-based The Legacy Agency, which connected the NFL with Meyer’s Union Square Events and helped create Forty Ate. “Sports marketers and event directors are asking for chefs. These chefs have become stars. They’re spending as much time in the front of the house as the back of the house now. The thing about sporting events is, you eat at them. Why not eat great food?”

    As a result, agencies are being asked to create food initiatives around major sporting events like the Super Bowl and
    Breeders’ Cup. Octagon, which has presented a Tyson-sponsored celebrity chef event at the LPGA tour stop Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, established a new culinary division in January (see Q&A with division head Caryl Chinn, Page 21). This year’s Tyson Celebrity Chef Night, at the Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark., on June 27, will be hosted by Marcus Samuelsson, who has appeared on “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America.”

    So far, the major foodie events in sports have not been about making money and have been more about dialing into a hot area of popular culture and making sure guests have a memorable culinary experience.

    “These big events are not just a trend — they’re here to stay,” said Mike Berndt, vice president of entertainment and hospitality at Chicago-based Intersport, which manages the Double Eagle Club at Augusta National Golf Club and has created private food events for corporations at the Masters, Super Bowl, Final Four and Kentucky Derby. “You’re going to see more and more of them with the big-name chefs in the coming years.

    ■ ■ ■

    The Breeders’ Cup event on Oct. 31, A Taste of the World, featured international dishes prepared by 15 chefs and was held on the lawn of the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. Chefs included Australian Lincoln Davies, the proprietor of Tuck Shop restaurant in New York, and “Iron Chef” star Masaharu Morimoto.

    “We have chefs from all over the world, representing countries where the Breeders’ Cup horses come from,” said Flay, whose horse More Than Real won the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf race at the Breeders’ Cup in 2010. “It makes perfect sense. If we serve good food, everyone’s going to have a great time — win or lose.”

    The Breeders' Cup event is invitation-only and all tickets are free.
    Photo by: Breeders' Cup
    Flay has been the host of A Taste of the World since it started in 2011. The idea for the food event came out of meetings of the Breeders’ Cup marketing and enhanced experience committee, which is co-chaired by horse owners Roy Jackson (who owned Barbaro) and Barry Weisbord (who is also publisher of the Thoroughbred Daily News).

    “It’s really important, especially for the owners who put up the money — serious money — to enjoy themselves for a night before the races,” said Hall of Fame owner and trainer Bob Baffert.

    Herb Karlitz, president and founder of events and marketing company Karlitz & Co. and the hospitality adviser to the Breeders’ Cup, organizes and manages A Taste of the World. He also created a pop-up restaurant with Morimoto in the middle of Piccadilly Square during the Olympics in London in 2012. (Jokes Karlitz: “I’ve been working with celebrity chefs since 1990 and before the Food Network — back when they were just called ‘cooks.’”) He credited Flay for inspiring the elegant event around the Breeders’ Cup.

    “They used to hire entertainers — mostly musicians — but they didn’t always appeal to a group of 1,000 horse enthusiasts from all over the world,” Karlitz said. “It was Bobby who said, ‘The only common denominator here is food. Let’s get the countries represented.’”

    The event is invitation-only and all tickets are free. The men wear coats — some with ties — and the women wear elegant dresses and suits. The Breeders’ Cup pays for the event, which last year was attended by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, Joe Torre, Jason Collins, John Elway, actresses Elizabeth Banks and Kristin Chenoweth, and executives from Breeders’ Cup sponsors Lalique, Montblanc, Geico, John Deere and Stella Artois.

    “We were looking for a new entertainment offering for the owners, partners and key constituents,” said Drew Sheinman, the Breeders’ Cup chief marketing and revenue officer and a former head of sports marketing at Coca-Cola. “It’s been such a hit, we’re doing it again [this] year around the event at Santa Anita and I don’t see it stopping.”

    ■ ■ ■

    The NASCAR Garage Bar & Grill is more exclusive and high-end than it may sound. It’s an annual, four-hour event before the Daytona 500 for more than 600 invitees from the racing industry, including three dozen corporate CEOs from NASCAR sponsors such as Sprint, Goodyear, Coca-Cola, Mars, Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford. According
    to a source, the budget for the event — run internally by NASCAR and “fueled” by Drive4COPD, NASCAR’s “official health initiative” that sponsors the Nationwide Series race in Daytona — approaches $1 million annually. Guests are admitted for free.

    On Feb. 23, the 8,000-square-foot space on the grounds of the speedway was divided into three sections by race
    This was the third year for the NASCAR Garage Bar & Grill, held prior to the Daytona 500.
    Photo by: NASCAR
    cars. In each section, chefs Simmons (buckwheat soba), Acheson (slaw dogs) and Lilly (blackberry jalapeno ribs) cooked their meals.

    “The Daytona 500 is one of the biggest and best sporting events there is, so the bar and grill gives us the opportunity to network with executives from some of the most well-known Fortune 500 brands in the world,” said Sharon Byers, senior vice president of sports and entertainment marketing partnerships at Coca-Cola North America. “It’s definitely the place to be before the race.”

    The three menus were written on boards by a professional chalk writer hired by NASCAR. There was a bocce ball court. Famous calls from previous Daytona 500s were piped in over the PA system. Among the celebrities there in February were country music singer Jake Owen, “The Bachelor” Juan Pablo Galavis, “Vampire Diaries” actress Nina Dobrev, Olympic swimming gold medalist Tyler Clary and University of Miami football coach Al Golden.

    There is no strict dress code, so the range of clothing runs from business casual to very casual. “You see a little bit of everything,” said Matt Shulman, NASCAR managing director of marketing platforms. “It’s a fun atmosphere.”

    This was the third year of the NASCAR Bar & Grill, and plans are already taking shape for a fourth at the 2015 Daytona 500. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France is a major proponent of the event.

    “After the first one, he loved it so much, he said he wanted to have more than one chef next time,” Shulman said. “This year, we had three. For 2015, we’re thinking of adding a fourth.”

    ■ ■ ■

    In the buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII, Mary Pat Augenthaler became a restaurateur.

    “That was a first,” said Augenthaler, the NFL’s vice president of events, “and definitely a personal career highlight.”

    For the first time, the NFL created a pop-up restaurant. The league called it Forty Ate, placed it in Times Square overlooking Super Bowl Boulevard, and partnered with Meyer — the famed restaurant owner who opened New York’s Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern and Shake Shack.

    Reggie Bush stopped by the NFL’s pop-up restaurant.
    Photo by: NFL
    Starting the Monday before the Super Bowl, Forty Ate served lunch and dinner and was open from 11 in the morning to around 11 at night. It held a maximum of 80 people, meaning fans could easily find visitors such as Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Daryl Johnston, Nick Mangold, Brian Cushing and Ryan Tannehill dining at adjacent tables. Executives from NASCAR, Clear Channel and Twitter were also among the guests.

    Anyone could make reservations. According to Augenthaler, the restaurant was nearly booked to capacity for its five-day existence. The NFL spent little to promote Forty Ate, spreading word about it primarily through social media.

    The success of Forty Ate was not a surprise to Principe of The Legacy Agency, the NFL’s consultant on the project.

    “This is what the public wants,” Principe said. “Think about it — you’re even seeing high-end food in many of the most popular airports. And when you go to an arena like Madison Square Garden, you’re not just getting a sausage sandwich, you’re having ‘Sausage Boss’ by Andrew Carmellini. The teams and leagues are starting to deliver.”

    Augenthaler was just writing her review deck for the league in late March on the experience, so it was too early to say whether there will be another restaurant at next year’s Super Bowl in Arizona.

    “It was a successful first foray into the culinary world for us,” she said.

    At the rate food and sports are converging in this age, count on it being the first of many.

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  • After 23 years, Taste of the NFL still fresh

    Amid the abundance of corporate parties at every Super Bowl, the annual Taste of the NFL benefit is like a safe harbor in a hurricane. Set against the backdrop of commercial excess, and Super Bowl-eve fetes from Playboy, Maxim and others not necessarily renowned for philanthropy, the “Party With A Purpose” long ago became one of the “must” Super Bowl events.

    Through its 23 years, Taste of the NFL has distributed more than $15 million to food banks and other organizations battling hunger in America. That figure grows to $22 million when you include money raised through local team versions of Taste of the NFL and Kick Hunger events.

    This year’s effort in Brooklyn raised more than $700,000.
    Photo by: Taste of the NFL
    Minneapolis restaurateur Wayne Kostroski is downright evangelical about the cause. Even before he started Taste of the NFL in 1992, he was a leader in hunger-relief efforts, beginning when he was looking for a charity tie-in to help make a proposed jazz festival more palatable to neighborhood residents.

    By chance, in the summer of 1986, he wandered into a food bank near his restaurant. While he was asking the Joyce Uptown Food Shelf to be the festival’s beneficiary, he saw a single mom with two small children receiving two bags of food.

    “That was my ‘aha’ moment,” said Kostroski. So he launched into a series of hunger-relief efforts, some of which combined renowned chefs like Wolfgang Puck with arts and entertainment figures. Since then, Kostroski has been on the boards of other hunger-relief efforts, including Share Our Strength, the End Hunger Network, and the Minnesota Taste of the Nation.

    By the time Minneapolis won the 1992 Super Bowl bid, Kostroski was chairing the host group’s restaurant committee. It took only a bit of inspiration to formulate the concept — a strolling wine and food tasting event on the night before the Super Bowl, where chefs from every NFL city would cook and NFL players would reminisce — one food station with a player or two per team.

    Adding the NFL imprimatur gave credibility and allowed Taste of the NFL to become the biggest charity event of Super Bowl week. Still, there was the early problem of persuading the chefs, and NFL players, to show up.

    “Our original pitch was, ‘Come to Minnesota in the dead of winter, cook your brains out, serve 1,000 people and
    Wayne Kostroski started the event in 1992.
    Photo by: Taste of the NFL
    you won’t get paid,’” Kostroski recalled.

    Somehow they still had the right ingredients. First-year tickets were $75 and the event attracted 900 people, eventually distributing $90,000 to food banks. For this year’s event in Brooklyn, individual tickets were $700, and 3,000 people attended, raising more than $700,000. A total of 3,000 wine glasses were distributed and filled repeatedly, to pair with the 45,000 sample-size servings prepared by chefs.

    “From its inception, this was viewed as something with authenticity and real community benefits,’’ said Frank Supovitz, senior vice president of events at the NFL, who serves on the event’s board. “As a result, it’s the most successful not-for-profit event at every Super Bowl.”

    Musical acts were added to the benefit in 1997. Barenaked Ladies, REO Speedwagon and the Doobie Brothers have been among the performers.

    As the NFL has mushroomed in popularity and chefs have gained national visibility, they have coalesced to form a powerful attraction.

    “Athletes want to be musicians, musicians want to be athletes and chefs want to do both,” said Kostroski, adding that he’s so busy on the big night he’s never been able to sample more than three dishes.

    Certainly the cause is laudable. Food is the most basic of human needs. However, the adroit exploitation of the fundamental link between spectator sports and food has also fueled the event’s popularity.

    “What are our fans doing on any given Sunday during the season?” said Minnesota Vikings CMO Steve Lacroix, a Taste of the NFL board member for 10 years. “They’re tailgating in the parking lot or ‘homegating’ close to their TVs. And now there are so many chefs that are like rock stars, so you have players and chefs who are nationally known personalities.”

    Corporate sponsorships for the event run in the six figures. Kostroski said that sponsorship revenue covers 80-90 percent of his annual overhead for the Super Bowl event, which costs more than $1 million to produce and requires hundreds of workers, including volunteers from local culinary schools, along with the athletes and chefs. Neither jocks nor cooks are paid, but the event flies them in and provides lodging. Longtime sponsors include the E&J Gallo Winery, approaching its 20th year.

    “Many Super Bowl programs are glorified PR stunts,” said Scott Becher, managing director of Zimmerman Advertising’s Z Sports & Entertainment, which purchased and ran a Taste of the NFL sponsorship for retailer Party City at Super Bowl XLVI. “Taste of the NFL is different, having been established as a part of the fabric of Super Bowl. It offers three things that drive ROI amidst the Super Bowl clutter: a flexible marketing platform, compelling philanthropic support, and a superb turnkey hospitality environment, loaded with celebrity participation.”

    Photo by: Taste of the NFL
    Any annual gala can get stale. However, Jack McDavid of Jack’s Firehouse in Philadelphia, one of two chefs to have cooked every year, said that won’t happen to Taste of the NFL because, in the restaurant business, offering the latest is de rigueur.

    “The reason it’s grown is that there are so many entrepreneurs involved,” McDavid said. “Having a variety of new kinds of food, and entertaining people, those are things we’re all thinking about every day in our own restaurants.”

    While charitable distribution returns will vary, based on location and overhead, Taste of the NFL shows no signs of slowing. Combining the eight to 10 local Taste of the NFL events staged annually by NFL teams, Kostroski is trying to model the effort more like the NFL, with a regular season of local fundraisers, culminating with a Super Bowl event.

    Meanwhile, the country’s hunger problem is growing. “When we started, 22 million were going to be ‘food insecure’ every night,” Kostroski said. “Now it’s 50 million. So we are going in the wrong direction, but it also shows why we can’t stop.”

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  • Octagon division feasts on the culinary possibilities

    When Octagon Culinary was launched in January, Caryl Chinn was hired to lead the agency’s new division. Chinn was formerly an executive director of the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, a vice president of Karlitz & Co., president of her own consulting company, and special events director for Bon Appetit magazine. She spoke with SportsBusiness Journal reporter Chris Botta about the convergence of food and sports and shared some of her own culinary favorites.

    As someone with such a deep culinary events background, what do you see as the opportunities within the sports landscape?
    CHINN: The opportunities are immense. Sports and food are both universal. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, we can reach people through their love of food and sports. I’m excited to help Octagon and our clients grow

    the existing culinary events in our portfolio and to develop new events. Foodies and sports fans are incredibly passionate. When we successfully combine sports and food at events that leverage passion, the sum is greater than the parts.

    What can the sports world learn from the culinary industry?
    CHINN: The culinary industry is incredibly charitable. It probably stems from that desire to be hospitable and take care of people, but chefs are educating themselves on things like nutrition, sustainability and hunger relief — and they’re taking action.

    What is your favorite food, and what’s the best food you’ve ever had at a sporting event?
    Caryl Chinn will guide Octagon’s efforts to enhance existing food events and create new ventures.
    Photo by: Octagon

    CHINN: My favorite is french fries. At a sports event, it’s a tie between a pimento cheese sandwich at The Masters and sushi prepared by Matsuhisa Nobu at the Legends Club at Yankee Stadium.

    Name the best meal you’ve ever had, and the one restaurant you could visit at this moment if you had the chance.
    CHINN: Impossible to select just one top meal, but my most memorable was dinner at the now-closed El Bulli by chef Ferran Adria in Roses, Spain. Where would I eat now if I could? Ultraviolet in Shanghai.

    And now the crucial dilemma of our times in this era of social media — do you post pictures of your meals to Twitter and Instagram?
    CHINN: I do, but I try to be selective. And at the restaurant, I don’t use a flash so I don’t disturb other diners.

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  • Chefs share their passion for sports, food

    For chef and restaurant owner Marc Forgione, it started with a knish that his grandfather always used to get for him at Shea Stadium when he was a kid.

    “I don’t know why, but he did,” Forgione said. “I think there are just certain things that go hand in hand.”

    Chef and Giants fan Marc Forgione (left) and a friend enjoy a visit to MetLife Stadium.
    Photo by: The Connect Group
    Forgione, who won the Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef” in 2010, was born and raised in New York. As he developed a passion for food, he also developed a passion for the New York Giants. Nowadays, as he sits down at MetLife Stadium to watch them play, one of the first things he does is buy a cold beer and sausage with peppers.

    Food and football, he said, is something very nostalgic. “Certain things remind you of certain events.”

    Forgione’s passion for sports and food was on display two years ago, when he went on “Good Morning America” wearing his Giants jersey and created dishes inspired by football ahead of Super Bowl XLVI.

    Those passions represent the perfect combination from Lonny Sweet’s standpoint. The founder of The Connect Group specializes in food-centric events, with past credits including the The 50 Yard Lounge at this year’s Super Bowl in New York and Jets and Chefs in partnership with the New York Jets.

    Sweet said that highlighting chefs at such events gets even better when the chefs can relate to everything from the
    grill to the gridiron. “Food is very much an art and when you put passion into it, it literally comes through in their food,” he said.

    Just like Forgione, many top chefs are passionate fans who have their favorite sports, teams and stadium foods — even if their tastes might be a little different from the average fan. And, as expected, they’re quick to point out where food offerings could be improved, whether they’re participating directly in a sports project or just taking in games as a fan.

    Michelle Bernstein, an award-winning chef from Miami, said that sports has always been a big part of her life. After marrying a man from Wisconsin, she is now somewhat torn between the Green Bay Packers and Dolphins. She also enjoys soccer and will root for Argentina during the World Cup.

    At sporting events, chef Michelle Bernstein would like to see more healthy alternatives and dishes geared toward women.
    Photo by: Gio Alma
    Bernstein, who was honored by the Dolphins with the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award in September, was one of five chefs who put together lunch and dinner menus for Collectors Club members at this year’s Sony Open. Her menu choices were influenced by the hot temperatures in Key Biscayne, Fla.

    “What I’m trying to do is to create really fresh recipes that people can come and sit and eat outside and just feel a little bit cooler when they are done eating,” Bernstein said.

    When she’s attending a sports event as a fan, Bernstein seeks out healthier alternatives. “Everything is delicious and it satisfies the craving, but it’s the one thing that I wish to find whenever I’m there. The one day I’m trying to start watching my weight a little bit, I come to a game and then it’s all kind of ruined,” she said.

    Despite an increasing number of women attending sporting events, Bernstein finds that most of the food offerings are still geared toward men. “I don’t think they think about us girls as much,” Bernstein said. “I think they are starting to and I think it’s getting better. I would really love to do food for the ladies and there are more women fans than ever.”

    Louisiana native Kelly English describes himself as bleeding black and gold for the New Orleans Saints and red and blue for Ole Miss. But these days, English plies his trade in Memphis where he has teamed up with the Grizzlies on a couple of projects at FedEx Forum. He runs the premium Lexus Lounge as well as a concession stand that carries the same name as his new restaurant, The Second Line.

    “I’ve really tried to think about what I would like to see as a fan,” said English, who in 2009 was named “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. “When I go to a game, I really don’t want to miss any of the action. That’s the No. 1 motivator in some of my decisions, but I also don’t want to eat crap.”

    Chicago native Dale Talde said that before he started cooking, he wanted to be a basketball player. He maintains an allegiance to his hometown Bulls, but now pulls for the Brooklyn Nets as well. That’s because Talde opened his first restaurant in Brooklyn in 2012, so he knows what the team means to the borough.

    What is Talde’s favorite food at the game? If it’s a ballpark, it’s Italian beef. And take it from this top chef: Wait until later in the game before you get the dish.

    “I wait a minute,” Talde said. “You wait until like the third or fourth inning of the ballgame, so the Italian beef had
    When he’s away from his restaurant, chef Hugh Acheson enjoys tailgating at Georgia Bulldogs football games.
    Photo by: The Legacy Agency
    time to sit. In the beginning, they just put the beef in and cook it up and it’s good but it’s not great.”

    In Athens, Ga., Canadian expat Hugh Acheson is discovering the fascination of college football. The owner of 5&10 restaurant enjoys tailgating before Georgia Bulldogs games and prefers seasonal products at his gatherings.

    “Tailgating time — late August, early September — is tomato season for me, so a massive tomato salad with some barbecue pork ribs and fresh corn salad, something like that. Lots of vegetables,” said Acheson, who, like English and Talde, is represented by Peter Raskin at The Legacy Agency.

    While Acheson sees the change toward more sustainable and better quality food at sports venues, he said many venues need to change more aggressively because the demand is there.

    “People realize that people are willing to spend money on better offerings,” he said.

    HJ Mai writes for SportsBusiness Daily Global.

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