Teams and concessionaires have moved quickly to up their game for the Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals, implementing new ways to elevate the fan experience, from pregame entertainment to food and beverage operations.
While the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals bring new challengers for the Stanley Cup, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors meet for the fourth consecutive NBA Finals, which tests the creativity in planning.
“The toughest part is that you have to outdo the previous years and previous games over and over,” said Allison Sutera, central region vice president for Aramark.
Aramark handles the food and beverage at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and Capital One Arena in Washington, while Levy Restaurants handles F&B and retail at Oracle Arena in Oakland and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Both Aramark and Levy reported sharp rises in per-cap spending for the playoffs leading to the finals, with Vegas seeing a 42 percent increase over the regular season, Cleveland 10 percent and Washington up 30 percent.
Teams and concessionaires are working to make the most of playoff crowds that arrive earlier and have more time to spend because of later start times.
The Cavaliers and Aramark are putting a bigger focus on cocktails and craft beer sales after seeing success with second-half beverage sales during the Eastern Conference Finals. That has entailed turning an Aramark kitchen in the lower concourse (the Launch Test Kitchen) into a bar area offering “Cleveland Cocktails.”
It’s these little extra touches that help to serve both the thousands in the arena but also the millions watching around the world.
Aramark is increasing its staffing by 50 employees to a total of 400 and is adding 20 extra points of sale.
The Cavs are also bringing in local food trucks for the Finals as pregame and outside watch party crowds grow, said Tracy Marek, Cavs chief marketing officer.
In Oakland, Catherine Cronin, president of Levy’s Rank + Rally retail unit, expects another strong performance even with yet another Cavs-Warriors finals. “Four years of Cavs and Warriors means four opportunities to challenge and reinvent ourselves,” she said.
Travis Allen, Rank + Rally regional director, said 40 new NBA Finals-focused products and product lines are being introduced, including Disney-style collector pins and limited edition, $150 Finals-themed basketballs. “We want it to feel like a new store,” Allen said.
On the team side, the Warriors worked with top sponsors to create memory worthy spaces for fans to snap pictures to be printed on commemorative tickets or to post on social media.
In Vegas, Levy and Rank + Rally have also upped their staffing and rolled out new products at T-Mobile Arena for the Stanley Cup Final, expanded concierge services for retail purchases from premium ticket holders, and continued to expand retail and F&B areas outside the arena.
Nothing is more Vegas than the pregame production the Knights have provided for playoff games. A 120-person production team led by Jonny Greco, vice president of events and entertainment, and Ayron Sequeira, senior director of entertainment production, put on the much-watched show.
Greco was previously with the WWE while Sequeira came to the Knights from the Detroit Red Wings where she was director of integrated media.
Sequeira said the turn-around time for the 4.5-minute shows is 72 hours but the playoffs and the addition of special acts such as Imagine Dragons performing before Game 2 can mean major, last-minute reworks.
In Washington, the Caps and Aramark are putting a local Chesapeake Bay bent on the franchise’s second-ever Stanley Cup Final. Brent Hardin, Aramark east regional vice president, said that entails playing up crab cakes and doing an old-school crab boil with corn, potatoes and onions.
The Caps and Aramark are putting on “suite parties,” carving out new social and F&B areas in premium levels. They will also have a local F&B stand that will change concepts each period. Aramark is upping staffing by 75 extra employees, to 450 total, and 25 more points of sale.
Jim Van Stone, president of business operations and chief commercial officer for Caps parent company Monumental Sports & Entertainment, talked up the team’s outdoor hockey festival around the arena during home games that includes a musical stage set up at the National Portrait Gallery across the street. Road game watch parties inside the arena have garnered strong crowds. Capital One Arena had 11,000 fans for the team’s Game 7 win at Tampa, 12,000 for Game 1 against the Knights, and an estimated 15,000 for Game 2.
For the NHL, its efforts in Las Vegas and Washington center on “amplifying everything that they’ve done during the year, and just further raising the bar,” said NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer. “It’s these little extra touches that help to serve both the thousands in the arena but also the millions watching around the world.”