Better food and drink options get fans moving
For those fans who view a day at the game as a journey, quality food and beverages are the surest way to get them moving around the stadium.
“Nothing against chicken tenders, but how fun is it to try something new?” said Erin Zinser, vice president of brand activations for venue owner and manager AEG. “They are always looking to add some kind of unique fan experience.”
Zinser helped AEG bring Benihana restaurants to Dignity Health Park in Carson, Calif., and Sprint Center in Kansas City, complete with a teppanyaki chef and items from Benihana’s RA Sushi brand.
Mobile sports fans are all about exploring the building and finding interesting food and drinks to try. In return, concessionaires, venue managers and designers are finding ways to increase destination dining and shopping. That includes creating food and drink areas — sometimes branded with popular restaurants, craft brewers or distillers — aimed at fans who tilt toward the higher end of the culinary scale and prefer a more specialized adult beverage.
Progressive Field in Cleveland, for example, opened a rebranded and refurbished Discount Drug Mart Club area this season. The area holds almost 400 fans, has 88 televisions and has bars sponsored by Ohio microbrewery The Brew Kettle. And like other social and bar areas — at Citizens Bank Park, Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Guaranteed Rate Field and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum — the spaces have drink rails, tables and standing areas to cater to fans who don’t want to be stuck in their seats.
“These are areas specifically designed for fans to congregate, with great food and drink options that complement the atmosphere,” said Carl Mittleman, president of Aramark Sports & Entertainment.
Other venues have freshened up bars and restaurants to draw and keep fans’ attention. For this season, the Cincinnati Reds refurbished two concourse bars and rebranded them via a new sponsorship deal with Jim Beam.
The Kansas City Royals debuted the Bullpen Burger stand as part of outfield areas that include bars, social areas and large concourses for fans to mingle and hang out.
Michael Bucek, Royals vice president of marketing and business development, said changing up and adding to the food and beverage mix is key as fans focus more on grabbing food quickly and spending more time socializing. He said the team will use the All-Star break to evaluate ballpark traffic and spending to see what’s working and whether other areas could be enhanced.
Other venues and their concessionaires are switching up concepts based on the crowd and the event.
Delaware North adds more drink options for concerts as compared to games. Levy switches a stand at Greater Nevada Field from American favorites for Class AAA Reno Aces games to street tacos and cantina fare for USL Reno 1868 FC games.
The goal is to give fans destinations that are tailored to their tastes, spending and movement patterns, according to Andrew Spencer, vice president of customer engagement and revenue for Delaware North.
Designers have created “neighborhoods” with varying food and beverage and architectural themes that further encourage fans to explore and socialize. That was a central effort in renovations at State Farm Arena and a design priority at the Globe Life Field being built in Texas.
Popular national and local brands — ranging from Shake Shack to Dutch Bros. Coffee — can be part of that destination dining mix.
The Carson and Kansas City stands are the first sports foray for Benihana and RA Sushi. AEG is considering bringing Benihana and RA Sushi stands to Gila River Arena, Target Center, Pechanga Arena San Diego and the New York market, where it manages Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Prudential Center in Newark.
“We are all about diversity and broadening guest appeal. That’s what we look for where can we add value to the venues.” said Benihana President and CEO Tom Baldwin.
Concessionaires are also figuring out the role technology plays in the food and beverage experience. That includes deploying self-service kiosks where fans can place and pay for their orders faster.
“We have to make the consumer’s choice as quick as possible,” said Jaime Faulkner, CEO of E15, Levy’s analytics arm.
Faulkner said a consumer friendly touch screen and self-service kiosk can take the time to order and receive food from 90 seconds at a traditional cashier stand and cut that in half.
In other words, they can get lines, and fans, moving.