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Volume 21 No. 13
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Stadium’s Fan First program turning up the food volume

The value food pricing system at Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been a big success over the first half-dozen events, and the venue’s trash cans tell the story.

The program, called Fan First, slashes concession prices at the new Falcons and Atlanta United facility, and stadium manager Scott Jenkins’ staff is scrambling to empty trash produced by fans buying $2 hot dogs, sodas and popcorn, among other items.

The model has drawn attention, both across the big leagues and from fans attending football games and soccer matches at the stadium.

“By the time we start an event here, we’ve sold more food and beverage than we would at the Georgia Dome for an entire event,” said Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons and Atlanta United. “People feel they’re getting the same quality and quantity that they would get some place down the street.”

Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay would not discuss per caps over the first three weeks of operation. “The volume is a challenge for housekeeping, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Fans flock to one of the stadium’s value pricing stands.
For the stadium’s first event, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic between Alabama and Florida State, 50,000 fans entered the venue within 50 minutes of the gates opening. “They wanted to see the building but also consume the food, which is our objective,” McKay said.

In addition to reduced prices, the new stadium’s infrastructure has played a key role for the influx in food sales. Mercedes-Benz Stadium has 65 percent more points-of-sale than the dome. There are 1,264 beer taps alone, Blank said; at the old building, draft beer had largely been eliminated.

In addition to keeping a closer eye on overflowing garbage cans, food provider Levy has focused on overstocking items to avoid running out of them during events.

“We’ve got a lot more people expecting a lot, and they don’t want to read about the prices, come here and not have it available to them,” McKay said.

As part of the stadium development team, Levy officials made sure to plan for an abundance of full-service kitchens on all levels to support the Fan First program, as well as smarter design of those spaces to provide enough circulation for restocking stands and other dining spaces.

More than 50 percent of the concession stands have cooking abilities, which reduces the number of times the vendor has to transport food from centralized commissaries, said Mike Gomes, the stadium’s senior vice president of fan experience.

“We doubled the cooking capacity [over] the Georgia Dome to ensure freshness and production,” said Brian Lapinskas, Levy’s director of operations at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “The kitchens and dish rooms around the stadium are massive, just to support the quality piece.”

Fan First prices extend to the premium clubs at event level, where fans holding the most expensive season tickets in the stadium can buy a $2 hot dog. McKay said project officials recognized during the design phase that it would not be fair to those customers not to have access to value-priced items.

The Falcons have talked to other NFL teams about the food model. During owners meetings, Blank has had “quiet conversations” over lunch with some of his peers asking him why he did it.

“For me, it’s not a complicated decision,” he said. “As an owner of a business, you want to find as many ways as you can to say thank you to people supporting your business. It’s also important to send the right kind of message. Everything we’ve done in the building has been thinking about long term and what’s the best thing for the users.”

At this point, though, one of Levy’s top-grossing stands is Kevin Gillespie’s Gamechanger, featuring the Closed on Sundays Chicken Sandwich, a $12 item. It’s a playful dig at Chick-fil-A’s stadium locations, which are closed on Sundays (thus for most Falcons games) as part of company policy.

Gillespie is a well-known chef in town and an Atlanta native who contacted Levy and requested to be part of the stadium’s food operation.

“It’s amazing the amount of volume he’s doing out of here and it goes to show how his interaction with our fans goes a long way,” Lapinskas said. “It’s been a huge hit, without a doubt a slam dunk.”