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Volume 22 No. 36
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Mixing up menus between concerts, games

A beer at the ballgame may be a staple at stadiums and arenas, but when those same venues stage concerts, fans tend to get thirstier and eat a lot less.

Those are among the most obvious differences that teams, venues and concessionaires cater to when toggling between game nights and major concerts. Digital menus and tracking fan preferences have allowed for a much more targeted approach not just between event types, but in the case of concert tours, various music genres.

For a country show, think about specialty barbecue for the menu and stock up on bourbon and other dark liquor, said Andrew Spencer, vice president of consumer engagement and revenue at Delaware North Sportservice. A pop performer, in contrast, usually means higher demand for vodka and light liquor, he said.

Spencer and other industry executives cited a range of internal statistics showing the food-to-drink and drink-to-food ratios for a game versus a concert. Spencer pegged concessions at a baseball game in the range of 55% to 60% food, compared with drinks accounting for 70% of sales at a concert.

Those figures drive inventory and often prompt venues and concessionaires to convert stands used for food at games to premium bars or beer stands on concert nights.

It’s often not just different food and drinks in demand, it’s a different crowd, too.

“[You have] a group of people who aren’t in the building on a regular basis,” said Alison Birdwell, central region vice president at Aramark Sports & Entertainment, referring to concert audiences. “[You have to] make sure communications and signage are clear.”

Because of the way a concert unfolds — there are no timeouts, save for a classic rock drum solo — servings for food and drink may differ. Concessionaires pointed to the need to be responsible selling alcohol while also offering, for example, a slightly larger beer so that fans don’t have to move back and forth from their seats.

Food may lean more in the direction of a handful of items, such as nachos, soft pretzels and packaged items, allowing for faster line speed when a majority of sales are likely to be beverages.

Luis Rivera, chief operating officer at consultant First Star Solutions, spent 18 years with Levy, Delaware North Sportservice and others. He was based at various stadiums and arenas, where he saw the differences in demand and taste between sports fans and music fans.

He said a concert crowd tends to pay less attention to price. Often, when he worked at arenas and stadiums, “[We] took menus and shrank them to offer one or two food items to move lines faster.”

Other adjustments may include selling shareable food and snacks, since concertgoers tend to be with several people and are less inclined to want a full meal. Aramark’s Birdwell said prices mostly fluctuate with portion sizes. In other cases, a venue and concessionaire might sell a soda for the same price as for a ballgame, but without the souvenir cup. Then again, Michelle Artimez, culinary marketing manager for the Miami Heat, said the team recently introduced an arena-specific souvenir cup for concerts and it proved to be popular.

At the recently renovated State Farm Arena in Atlanta, a 200-capacity Concert Club opened in May. The premium section is positioned to face the stage with what the arena bills as “optimal concert sound.” Members gain entry to every NBA Hawks game and all concerts, with all-inclusive food and alcohol, in-seat delivery and private entry.

Robert DiCicco, Levy vice president of hospitality and strategy at the Atlanta arena, said the gains on a concert night can be significant. For acts such as Elton John and the Eagles, who generate higher alcohol sales, the arena swaps out as many as five or six food stands for beverage-only service. And it usually pays off: DiCicco said food stands converted to bars on concert nights increase per-person sales by an average of 150% compared with what the stand would generate during a basketball game.