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Volume 21 No. 42

In Depth

The taproom at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami has more than 50 craft beers, and with more than 1,000 tap handles stadiumwide.
Photo: Hard Rock Stadium

Forgive the beer-drinking sports fans if they take a little longer in the beer line than they used to.

Maybe it’s the multitude of beer options or the funny names that leave them wondering, “Where did that come from?” Maybe they’re trying to determine if their favorite craft beer is still independent.

Either way, the game-day beer scene isn’t what it used to be.

Craft breweries in the United States shipped more than 25 million barrels of beer last year, an increase of nearly 200 percent since 2007, according to data provided to SportsBusiness Journal by Beer Marketer’s Insights (BMI), a trade publisher and research group for the U.S. brewing industry. And inside sports venues many crafts are generating sales that far outpace what they are earning in the general marketplace.

On the other side of the spectrum are the longtime giants of the industry, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, who have seen their combined shipping totals decline by 16 percent since 2007. While they are still the big guys in the stadium, they are far from the only choice for fans at the game.

There may be no better example of these trends than in America’s heartland.

In 2009, all but one of the dozen beer brands available at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City were brewed by A-B or MillerCoors. That one brand was Boulevard Brewing, an independent brewery located 10 miles from the ballpark. It was producing in a year what A-B was averaging every 12 hours.

Boulevard deepened its ties to the Kansas City Royals in 2015 with the Craft & Draft featuring Boulevard Brewing Co. section in a retrofitted space in Kauffman’s left field corner. The spot’s popularity enticed Boulevard to sign on as the Royals’ official craft beer partner last spring, after the club’s long-standing partnership with A-B expired. It was the first such designation by an MLB club.

The popularity of Kauffman Stadium’s Craft & Draft space convinced Boulevard Brewing to sign on as the Royals’ official craft beer last spring.
Photo: Kansas City Royals

Although the example of the Royals may be unusual — only a handful of teams have such a broad deal with a single craft brewer — Nick Kelly, head of A-B’s huge sports marketing portfolio, found himself in the unusual position of being the underdog when A-B’s deal with the Royals was nearing its end.

“With such a strong presence from a local brewery, it was clear to us when the renewal talks were set to begin that we would always be second fiddle,” he said.

BMI data shows that in the three years after the Kauffman Stadium craft room opened, Boulevard shipped an average of 192,700 barrels annually, an increase of about 4 percent compared to what it delivered the year before signing that deal. But sales inside the stadium fared even better.

“We basically doubled the volume in the stadium once we enhanced the partnership in 2015,” said Bobby Dykstra, vice president of sales for Duvel Moortgat USA, Boulevard’s owner.

And the increased availability of craft beers inside the stadium has helped change the ballpark’s drinking culture.

This season, for example, the team offers 14 different Boulevard beers, and only 27 of the 62 other beers sold inside the ballpark come from a major brewery, including 19 from new team sponsor MillerCoors.

Additionally, craft beers made up 39 percent of total beer sales at Kauffman last season, up from 26 percent in 2014. And with nearly a quarter of the 2018 season played, that rate had reached 47 percent, according to data provided by Aramark, the ballpark’s concessionaire.

Beginning this season, Boulevard has rights to use the team’s marks, and the initial release of its Royals-logoed ¡Vamos! Mexican-style lager right before Opening Day sold out immediately in all stores and bars where it was distributed.

“It’s a local brewery partnering with a team whose reach crosses over into six states,” Dykstra said. “It is authentic co-branding.”

* * * *

Despite the shift in fan tastes inside sports venues, A-B still shipped more beer last year than its five closest competitors combined. And Bud Light is still the most popular beer in the nation, by a long shot. But for A-B and MillerCoors, which controlled 90 percent of the distribution in stadiums and arenas just a few years ago, there is growing frustration with the position that craft beer has gained in sports venues.

What irritates Kelly and his counterparts is not so much that they have to coexist with local beers, but that for the most part, those brewers aren’t paying for the exposure benefits. “We can’t buy distribution. We can’t limit who sells what,” Kelly said. “So what’s frustrating for us is that we’re the ones paying for the marketing rights to be a partner with the team.”

Photo: connie zhou

Simply by having its brand poured at a ballpark gives a beer an implied connection to the team, he said, even when there is no contractual partnership. As a result, the smaller brands are getting a bigger bang at retail for their investment. “Our team deals are not about driving awareness; Bud Light doesn’t have an awareness problem,” Kelly said. “But for the local guys, being in the venue is a much bigger value proposition.”

Brewed at the ballpark

Five professional teams have a brewery connected to their venue.

Coors Field

Blue Moon

Opened 1995

Citi Field


Opened 2018

SunTrust Park

Terrapin (above)

Opened 2017

Durham Athletic Park

Bull Durham
Beer Co. 

Opened 2015

MCU Stadium (Brooklyn)

Coney Island 

Opened 2015

Kelly said the amount of beer that A-B produces for sports has been flat for a few years and will likely not change. What will continue to change, he said, is the mix. 

Benj Steinman, BMI’s longtime president, has been analyzing beer trends for nearly 40 years, and understands Kelly’s frustration.

“In sports, you go back to the 1980s, and Anheuser-Busch’s route to dominance was ubiquity,” Steinman said. “They essentially captured every stadium and arena deal and sports sponsorship they could find. That’s why its market share grew by almost 1.5 percentage points every year. We’ll never see anyone with those numbers again.”

At its peak in the late 1980s, Budweiser commanded a nearly 50 percent market share, he said. In 2017, the brand made up less than 7 percent of the beer distributed in the U.S., according to BMI’s data.

Over the past decade, consumers have demanded more options. “Stadium owners are coming to the table and saying to the big brewers that these deals no longer make sense” Steinman said.

* * * *

For their part, teams, concessionaires and even the beer partners are collaborating to build areas that are both better tailored to today’s beer drinkers and are designed to maximize concessions profits. The brewers are adapting their models by bringing more variety to the table. And to make that happen, they have become acquisitive.

In 2011, A-B’s newly created High End unit bought Chicago-based Goose Island. Nine more acquisitions followed, concluding with the purchase last May of Asheville, N.C.-based Wicked Weed. In September, the company announced it had laid off 90 percent of the High End sales force, roughly 380 people, indicating that its spree was complete for now.

Kelly said the plan is twofold: The brewer gave a nationwide push to Space Dust from Seattle-based Elysian (which it acquired in 2015) and Goose Island, while marketing the other eight acquisitions as regional craft beers.

Marty Maloney, spokesman for MillerCoors, said his company is following a similar blueprint. The brewer’s Tenth and Blake unit was formed in 2010 to grow the craft division and has purchased four breweries.

Southeast get crafty

While the Pacific Northwest gets much of the craft beer attention, the Southeast (see map above) has become a hotbed of sports activation.


1. Nashville Sounds (AAA)

First Tennessee Park

The 36-tap, 4,000-square-foot outdoor Band Box sells only craft beer; the ballpark’s top-selling draft is Goose Island IPA.

2. Winston-Salem Dash (A)

BB&T Ballpark

Foothills Brewing has naming rights to the Brewpen.

3. Greensboro Grasshoppers (A)

First National Bank Field

Natty Greene’s Brewing Co. brews and cans the team’s Going Yard Golden Ale. 

4. Durham Bulls (AAA)

Durham Bulls Athletic Park

Bull Durham Beer Co. opened in 2015 as the first brewery located at an MiLB ballpark.

5. Charlotte Knights (AAA)

BB&T Ballpark

More than half of the club’s beer sales last season were crafts, up from 40 percent in 2014, when the ballpark opened.

6. Atlanta Braves

SunTrust Park

Athens, Ga.-based Terrapin Beer Co., which was acquired by MillerCoors in 2015, brews on-site at the Terrapin Taproom.

7. Augusta Greenjackets (A)

SRP Park

Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing has naming rights to the beer garden in the ballpark that debuted last month.

8. Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA)

Admiral Mason Field

Bubba’s Sand Trap bar is named after one of the team’s owners, golfer Bubba Watson.

9. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (AA)

Sam W. Wolfson Baseball Park

Intuition Ale Works brews the team’s Shrimp Boat Kolsch.

10. Miami Dolphins

Hard Rock Stadium

The taproom has more than 50 craft beers, and with more than 1,000 tap handles stadiumwide, Centerplate’s portfolio is one of the biggest in sports.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

“Our national craft brands — Leinenkugel and Blue Moon — are available widely. The other brands remain available on a more regional basis. As we expand the footprint of those regional crafts, certainly we’ll do it in stadiums and arenas as well.”

Maloney said that, for example, Georgia-based Terrapin (which MillerCoors acquired in 2016) was available at some Milwaukee Bucks games this season.

Additionally, the Terrapin Taproom opened last year at the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, becoming just the fifth brewery to open at a sports venue. Maloney declined to provide specific figures, but he said “there was a significant increase in sales” in Terrapin products compared to what the brand had at Turner Field.

Not to be left holding an empty bottle, Constellation (the country’s No. 3 brewer) and Heineken (No. 4) also made significant acquisitions recently (see chart, Page 20).

And the smaller brands are still elbowing for tap space, and exposure.

In an effort to reverse a three-year slide that has seen its shipments decrease by 24 percent, Sam Adams, the country’s top-producing craft beer, this spring replaced longtime sponsor Budweiser as the official beer of the Boston Red Sox. Also, the Chicago Cubs and A-B entered into a multiyear marketing deal in 2013, giving Goose Island significant tap space as a result. Late last season, however, Heineken’s Lagunitas suddenly appeared at Wrigley as well.

The San Diego Padres, who have one of the most extensive beer offerings in baseball, boast seven sponsored beer areas in Petco Park: three by Constellation’s Ballast Point, two by Budweiser and one each by A-B’s Estrella Jalisco and Pacifico. 

Although the craft brew craze has not been as noticeable in the college space, Colorado State broke the mold last year when its new Populous-designed stadium opened and included the New Belgium Porch, an open-to-all-adults craft beer area sponsored by the Colorado-based brewery.

“Early in the planning process, we threw out the idea that we could build a space that could be populated year-round,” said Myron Chase, the stadium’s project manager. “That sat on the shelf for about a year and a half. Even when talks resumed, it was just going to be a plaza. But in the fall of 2016 New Belgium expressed interest in being part of the building. We pulled the old imagery, and we modified to fit their branding.”

From the opening of the stadium last July through the end of this year, 40 events have either taken place or been booked at the New Belgium Porch, according to Paul Kirk, the school’s assistant athletic director for communications.

The growth of crafts does not appear to be subsiding any time soon, as teams scramble to build taprooms and expand bars.

For example, since becoming a sponsor of the Cleveland Indians in 2014, Great Lakes Brewery’s sales at Progressive Field have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 220 percent, according to Kurt Schloss, the team’s vice president of concessions.

Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing put its name on the adults-only craft beer area in Colorado State’s new football stadium. Forty events have been held or booked for the New Belgium Porch.
Photo: christy radecic

According to a Levy spokesperson at Dodger Stadium, 10 percent of its 756 taps are devoted to crafts, a ratio that is comparable to last season. However, more than 19 percent of its game-day beer sales so far this season have been crafts, nearly double the rate they saw last season.

Additionally, Centerplate saw a 31 percent rise in craft beer sales at New Orleans Saints games last season.

But Kelly doesn’t think things will get any easier for anyone in the space, regardless of the scope of their capabilities.

“We’ve capped out as a category. It’s hard to justify upping investments. It’s hard to justify paying for exclusivity. We compete for retail space, we compete for stadium space. At some point, especially for the smaller guys, there’s a breaking point.”


Headquarters: Philadelphia

Top executives: Chairman, President and CEO Eric Foss; Marc Bruno, COO, sports, leisure, corrections, dining and K-12; Carl Mittleman, president, sports and entertainment division

Top venues: Quicken Loans Arena, Minute Maid Park, Arrowhead Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, Pepsi Center, Soldier Field

Venues added in past 24 months: Rogers Place, LSU, U.S. Bank Stadium 

Carl Mittleman has tried to fool Mashgin several times. He just hasn’t been able to do it.

Mashgin is a Silicon Valley company that has developed smart technology for retail points of sale.

“It’s not bar coded. It’s not scanned,” said Mittleman, president of Aramark’s sports and entertainment division. The Mashgin technology involves 3-D photography to identify and scan items without a cashier or swiping bar codes. The technology has been implemented at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Minute Maid Park in Houston and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

“Mashgin knows I’m buying a bottle of wine, bag of peanuts and a chicken Caesar salad,” said Mittleman who oversees 150 stadiums, arenas and convention centers. “I’ve tried several times to fool it.” 

Mittleman said he expects to see more growth and deployment for checkout technology where cashier, cash and even scanning aren’t needed, including Aramark’s “Zoom Food” areas where fans can buy food and drinks via kiosks.

The Launch Test Kitchen stand at Quicken Loans Arena rotates food and chef concepts throughout the Cavaliers’ season.
Photo: courtesy of aramark

He estimates that as many as two out of three sports fans are content with conventional ballpark food and experiences. But it’s the other third of fans — including millennials and women — who are more interested in the experience. That’s where ease of service technology, a sense of place and events, and more original and customizable food and drink offerings are needed.

Customization and local, unique drink offerings, such as craft beer and cocktails or locally distilled spirits, help make attending a game or concert more personal to the Instagram generation, Mittleman said. “They’re willing to pay a little more” than their more traditional counterparts, he said.

He said contingents of younger fans and consumers want “the opportunity to participate” at events. “It’s an extension of their personal brand,” Mittleman said.

Aramark has increased its partnership with local restaurants, craft breweries, food trucks and distilleries. Venues and large-scale food operators can learn a lot from local chefs and restaurants that are often more flexible and open with dishes and approaches, he said.

“The notion of how to be flexible in your concept,” Mittleman said. “We’re able to develop that in a large-volume setting.”

In December, Aramark, the Cleveland Cavaliers and NAACP welcomed 18 minority chefs who own local restaurants, food trucks and catering companies to the Launch Test Kitchen Food Tasting and Business Development Experience where they made their signature dishes. Attendees voted on their favorites, three of which were added in January to the Launch Test Kitchen stand at Quicken Loans Arena. The stand rotates food and chef concepts throughout the Cavs season and allows real-time fan feedback.

The idea fits into the venue’s efforts on two fronts — increasing community involvement and bringing more diverse food and beverage items to fans. Mittleman said he would like to expand the Cleveland effort to other Aramark venues.

Another focus for Aramark is sustainability. The company has developed a compostable peanut bag at Arrowhead Stadium in conjunction with BASF and the Kansas City Chiefs. With the expectation to sell more than 1.1 million peanut bags this year and the potential to expand the biodegradable bag beyond Kansas City, the development would have a big sustainability impact.

Aramark and the NFL also touted efforts at this year’s Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to reduce net waste. Mittleman said that 91 percent of the garbage at the game was recycled or composted and a major push is underway to expand such efforts.

* * * *


Headquarters: Stamford, Conn.

Top executives: CEO Chris Verros, CFO/Senior Vice President Hadi Monavar, CMO Bob Pascal

Top venues: BB&T Center, BC Place, Hard Rock Stadium, Lucas Oil Field, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Safeco Field, Smoothie King Center

Instagram isn’t just for Cristiano Ronaldo’s chiseled abs or Kylie Jenner’s pouty selfies. It’s also for cool shots of food and drink. And that is showing up at the ballpark for Centerplate’s Diana Evans.

“We are in the show me state of food service,” said Evans, vice president of marketing and communications. Food that looks interesting, unique, innovative or comforting has its appeal to the visual taste buds, she added. That feeds into countervailing food trends manifested in the age of Instagram.

Evans said millennial culture and habits are driving the sports concessions business, but it is evident in two very different ways.

BC Place Executive Chef Will Tse and the Whitecaps’ Kendall Watson conduct a cooking demonstration.
Photo: courtesy of centerplate

Demand for local cuisine and regional dishes continues to grow and can include unique dishes, such as the toasted grasshoppers served at Seattle Mariners games. “People still like the hyperlocal,” Evans said.

But Centerplate also sees increased popularity for comfort foods, such as Rice Krispies Treats or chicken and waffles, which she said she can’t keep stocked. “You are also seeing an explosion of throwback kind of nostalgia.”

So how do hipster food truck fare and comfort dishes straight out of Cracker Barrel drive on the same trend lines?

Evans says it’s all about the visuals. If it looks good or looks comforting then it’s got legs with customers. “It’s primarily driven by social media,” she said.

Evans also said the DIY trend shows up in food and challenges the industry. She points to the two dozen toppings for Jets dogs at MTS Bell Arena in Winnipeg. It’s a popular offering, but customization requires bringing consumer choices to large-scale events and operations. 

“We have 60,000 people but they each want things their own way,” she said. That requires a variety of toppings and options without sacrificing food quality or speed of service.

As for beverages, Evans is seeing strength in craft cocktails  to go along with the established craft beer segment. She also expects to see more bars and socializing areas at ballparks, including in the minor leagues.

She points to the success of The Band Box, a bar at First Tennessee Park, home to the Class AAA Nashville Sounds. “It has surpassed all of our expectations,” Evans said in terms of popularity across various customer demographics and performance.

She said Sodexo’s $675 million acquisition of Centerplate is resulting in greater purchasing power and expanded data analytics. Sodexo is keeping Centerplate CEO Chris Verros and his leadership team in place and folding its sports operations under Centerplate.

* * * *

Delaware North Sportservice

Headquarters: Buffalo

Top executives: Chairman Jeremy Jacobs Sr., Boston Holdings CEO Charlie Jacobs, Co-CEO Jeremy Jacobs Jr., Co-CEO Lou Jacobs, Sportservice President Carlos Bernal

Top venues: Lambeau Field, TD Garden, Target Field, MetLife Stadium, Petco Park, Oriole Park, Globe Life Park 

Venues added in past 24 months: Allianz Field, Little Caesars Arena, SunTrust Park

Outside the arena and ballpark is becoming as important as inside for teams, venue operators and concessionaires.

Activating plaza areas outside buildings and attracting visitors to bigger development plans around ballparks and arenas is a potential growth stream for the concessions industry, said Richard Schneider, COO for Delaware North Sportservice.

“I think it is an area where we are all looking to grow,” he said.

Atlanta Braves President Mike Plant said Delaware North has been a key partner inside SunTrust Park, which opened last year. “They are joined at the hip with us,” Plant said.

Delaware North Sportservice collaborated on the Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit restaurant, which is among the eateries that are open to the surrounding District Detroit.
Photo: rich osentoski / oz llc

He said the company also will be a partner as the Braves move forward with further development of The Battery Atlanta. “We’re rolling out the $300 million phase two of our mixed-use development,” Plant said.

Schneider said he couldn’t talk about new real estate partnerships Delaware North was working on but said there will be more. He points to the type of downtown activation and efforts in Detroit where Sportservice handles concessions at Little Caesars Arena and Comerica Park.

On the food front, “craveable items are a big hit,” Schneider said. That can require finding that happy medium between comfort foods and something visually appealing and unique.

The need to constantly adjust to keep up with changing tastes and trends is the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity in the sector, Schneider said. That requires changing menus and partnering with popular chefs. “How can you bring in more local chefs into your venue?” he said. “You might also partner with a Food Network chef who has a more national following.”

He said venues should keep in mind a large portion of fans still like traditional ballpark food and drinks as well as comfort food. “People still love comfort.”

Schneider said Sportservice has responded to the social media and culture trend with its Dilly Dogs —  a hot dog wiener inside a dill pickle wrapped in a corn dog. The new item has been a big hit at the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Sportservice sees continued growth in craft cocktails and spirits as well as wine, Schneider said, and it’s important to know where and how fans enjoy those beverages. That will propel more pop-up and mobile stands and a variety of seating, ranging from party decks and standing railings to bar and lounge chair areas.

* * * *

Legends Hospitality

Headquarters: New York

Top executives: President and CEO Shervin Mirhashemi; COO Mike Tomon; Dan Smith, president of hospitality; CFO Joe Cormier

Top venues and clients: Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, AT&T Stadium, FC Barcelona, Wimbledon Tennis Championships

Venues added in past 24 months: Banc of California Stadium, Golden 1 Center, Nissan Stadium

Variety is the bread and butter for chefs Robert Biebrich and Matt Eland.

Both are executive chefs with Legends Hospitality: Biebrich at Angel Stadium in Anaheim and Eland at Banc of California Stadium, the new $350 million home to Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC.

Biebrich said sports venues need to mix up their menus to keep up with consumer tastes that are driven by bars and restaurants outside the friendly confines. That’s not easy for a sports concessions business used to a history of ballpark food, sodas and draft beer.

Biebrich said Legends has launched a “Change the Kitchen” concept at Angel Stadium. “It’s a concessions stand that changes after either every homestand or every month,” he said.

In April, the Angels and Legends crafted an Asian menu in the rotating kitchen in honor of 23-year-old Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. The May menu has Philadelphia dishes for slugger Mike Trout, a southern New Jersey native.

Biebrich said fans — just like restaurant patrons — increasingly expect a variety of food options and like to see new menu and drink items regardless of venue “to break up the monotony.”

Biebrich, who was previously the executive chef at the Rose Bowl, said mixing up the menu is especially important for season-ticket holders and those in premium sections who might otherwise eat or drink at restaurants and bars outside the stadium.

Eland and LAFC have partnered with a number of local restaurants and food vendors in L.A. for a menu that represents the ethnic diversity around the stadium just south of downtown and USC’s campus. That includes Seoul Sausage, a Korean street food concept that started out as a food truck and won Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race,” a barbecue concept from Compton, and L.A. restaurant Beer Belly, which centers its menu around duck fat fries.

“We worked to bring in the local community,” Eland said.

Chris McConnaughey, Legends’ general manager at Banc of California Stadium, and Eland said they wanted to bring up-and-coming restaurant and food concepts to help highlight them instead of more established local brands.

“People want to see representation of their community,” McConnaughey said.

Biebrich and Legends also see continued growth of sustainable and locally sourced produce and other ingredients at U.S. venues, especially in politically progressive regions such as California and the Pacific Northwest. Such sourcing efforts show a commitment to sustainability, quality and local products, he said.

* * * *


Headquarters: Chicago

Top executives: Andy Lansing, president and CEO; Jeff Wineman, executive vice president of business development; Alison Weber, chief creative officer

Top venues: Churchill Downs, Dodger Stadium, Nationals Park, Marlins Park, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, StubHub Center, T-Mobile Arena

Venues added in past 24 months: Audi Field, CenturyLink Field, Chase Center, Levi’s Stadium, Providence Park, Target Center, Tropicana Field, T-Mobile Arena, Vivint Smart Home Arena

The world of concessions has come a long way since Alison Weber sold hot dogs as a teenager at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

Weber, who is now chief creative officer for Levy Restaurants and one of the top executives in the concessions industry, says data analytics, automation and local food and beverage brands are big focus and growth areas.

“We continue to keep a focus on hyperlocal in our concessions areas,” Weber said. That includes food truck staples such as street tacos and Asian street foods in coastal markets, and barbecue in others.

She also sees the now established trend of craft beers at ballparks, stadiums and arenas expanding more into craft cocktails and “home-grown liquors and craft distilleries.” That mirrors consumers’ preference for local at bars and restaurants and continues to expand ballpark menus beyond hot dogs and nachos.

But the challenge for Chicago-based Levy is translating local food and drink into a larger scale and busy game-day setting while not compromising taste.

“We have to figure out how to serve it to the masses,” Weber said. On the food side, she said, that can include “making space in our concession stand to hand-press tortillas.”

Looking to grow its retail segment at venues where it operates team shops, Levy rebranded its retail arm last year by launching Rank + Rally. The company works with teams including the Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Blues and Golden State Warriors on team shops and merchandise sales.

There is also a big push on two technology fronts — automation and data analytics.

Levy and Miso Robotics announced in March they would bring robotic kitchen assistants to sports venues to help prepare food. “We believe in AI,” Weber said, adding that automation and AI can help create frictionless and more efficient operations. The venture is being launched by Levy at Dodger Stadium. Levy is also an investor in a $10 million funding round for Miso.

Weber said the food preparation assistance will give more time for concession employees to focus on customer service and get them to “front of the house.” That might  encourage more concessions workers to stay in the business if they aren’t stuck in the back, she said.

Levy also is investing in and growing its data analytics efforts. That data includes not only purchases inside venues but consumer behaviors away from the game.

“We’re interested in what’s going on outside the building,” Weber said, referring to segments such as coffee consumption and retail.

Levy looks at social media activity in and around venues and works with data analytics firms to gain insights from those numbers. “We take those experiences and that data helps shape how we program buildings,” Weber said.

* * * *


Headquarters: Philadelphia

Top executives: CEO Dave Scott; President John Wentzell; Scott Swiger, vice president, culinary excellence

Top venues: Avaya Stadium, Citizens Bank Park, Wells Fargo Center, XL Center, Singapore National Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Venues added in past 24 months: Orlando City Stadium, Regency Furniture Stadium

Nothing beats an origins story — for millennials and foodies.

But your father’s greasy spoon hamburger or grandfather’s drink of choice aren’t what Mike Pulscak and Scott Swiger are talking about as the next big things for ballpark food and drink. It’s plant-based burgers, craft and virgin “mocktails,” and foods with authentic origins that are top of mind for them.

Swiger is vice president of culinary excellence and Pulscak is western regional chef for Spectra Food Services & Hospitality. The Spectra duo see demand for regional cuisines, especially those from Mexico that drill down to the provincial and local levels.

“There’s interest in the different regions of Mexico,” Pulscak said of wider restaurant and food trends. “Regional Mexican cuisine is hot right now.”

That includes sourcing and finding ingredients unique to those areas, such as peppers.

“They want to know the region it’s from,” Swiger said, noting that the greater foodie culture likes origin stories but also food from ballparks and stadiums that is authentic. That includes interest in fusion foods that combine flavors and different types of cuisine.

Spectra chefs compete in the company’s first Culinary Innovation Summit in Chicago last year.
Photo: courtesy of spectra

To foster a culture of innovation, Swiger organized the company’s first Culinary Innovation Summit last year in Chicago. The event brought together Spectra’s top culinary professionals to discuss the latest trends, techniques and concepts while also competing to create new menu additions to be implemented in venues across the country. The second summit is planned for this August in Philadelphia.

As more consumers focus on sustainability and eating organic, healthy or vegan, Pulscak sees growth for plant-based burgers. To that end, Spectra is serving The Impossible Burger at Oakland A’s games at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The burger is made of soy, wheat, potato protein and coconut oil. It is provided by Silicon Valley Impossible Burger, whose investors include Bill Gates and Google Ventures. Spectra touts the non-meat burger as requiring about 75 percent less water, 95 percent less land and producing 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases than ground beef from cows.

On the drink side, Pulscak and Swiger project the now-established craft beer trend is extending into more venues picking up drinks and partnering with local micro-distilleries. “You are going to see the same things with spirits,” Pulscak said.

The Spectra chef is also bullish on mocktails — virgin cocktails without alcohol. “For people who don’t drink,” he said, “you need to be able to serve them something beyond water and soda pop.”

That also stems from some current millennial and cultural trends around cocktails and more sports venues serving margaritas, piña coladas and other mixed drinks.

Spectra also touts its sustainability efforts, including retrofitting 18 venues with high-efficiency LED lighting. That has helped save 6 billion watts of energy, and those savings equate to the emissions from 850 cars for an entire year. Spectra plans on expanding the LED program to other venues.