SBJ/April 7-13, 2014/In Depth

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.

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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.”

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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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