Hot dog and beer vendors will be a rare sight in NFL stadium hallways this season, as officials work to overhaul concession operations and create a safe environment for fans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Only a handful of the 32 NFL teams will have fans in attendance at the start of the season this weekend. With social distancing mandates in place, multiple NFL stadiums have eliminated food and drink hawkers entirely in favor of contactless and, in many cases, cashless models intended to limit potential exposure and set fans with their snacks. your favorite games as safely as possible.
Closures, attendance limits and necessary safety measures have had a major impact on the stadium workers, many of whom will not work at all in the first weeks of the season. Even in NFL stadiums that host fans, concession staff are expected to be limited for the foreseeable future.
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“A salesman, a guy who sells beer, if there is one, will definitely be impressed,” Mike Plutino, CEO and founder of the stadium concession consultancy Food Service Matters, told FOX Business. “We don’t expect long lines for a lot of things right now.”
Currently, four teams – the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, and Miami Dolphins – have announced specific participation plans. The Dolphins allow a maximum of 13,000 fans, or 20% of Hard Rock Stadium seating, to their first home game. The Chiefs and Jaguars are limited to around 16,000 fans in their home stadiums, while the Colts will only host 2,500 at their first home game.
According to Plutino, NFL teams typically generate $ 1 to $ 2 million in concessions sales on match day. That revenue figure will drop significantly at anticipated participation levels, even as fans attending spend more than they normally would to make up for the lack of tailgating options.
“I think the food service guys have all been full steam ahead trying to reinvent, rethink and reimagine the business and make sure it’s safe for the fans and the internal workforce,” Plutino said.
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Under normal conditions, most football stadiums offer nonprofit groups the chance to work in concessions to raise money for their causes, such as a fundraiser for a high school gang. Street vendors in the stadium – workers who walk the aisles for hot dogs, beer, and other snacks – typically earn most of their income from sales commission and tips, while lobby workers generally receive an hourly rate. Street vendors are often hired through a third-party company.
The pandemic has enforced a global shift in the way sports stadiums do business, accelerating the shift towards a technology-enhanced fan service that was already well underway in many venues.
Centerplate Inc., the food and beverage partner for dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium and the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, has been developing service plans for its NFL clients for months. Match security measures by both teams include cashless transactions, mobile orders for single-serve foods in closed containers, and plexiglass shields at the concessions booth.
“We don’t want fans to feel like it’s a small experience,” said Steve Pangburn, CEO of Centerplate. “We want them to have a truly unique experience because they come back after a very difficult time and we want them to say, ‘Wow’ and remember this experience.”
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Hard Rock Stadium will not have food or drink vendors at the Dolphins games to comply with social distancing rules. Centerplate is also limiting the number of workers at food prep stations and streamlining menus to include only fan-favorite items so fans don’t have to linger in line.
Pangburn acknowledged that Centerplate would have fewer staff than on a regular NFL Sunday, but noted that the staff-fan ratio would actually be higher than normal and the level of reduction would nowhere near the fan attendance limits. Workers will earn their normal hourly rate. The elimination of tailgating for safety reasons means that the stadiums will open earlier than usual, allowing the possibility of more hours for the working staff.
“It’s going to be about the fan experience. We’re not reducing the number of outlets to that level,” added Pangburn. “We’re really trying to make it look and feel almost normal time.”
The Jaguars and their food service partner, Delaware North Sportservice, have taken similar measures at TIAA Bank Stadium. Food and drink hawkers will not be on site and condiment stands will be closed for the foreseeable future.
In addition to cashless payment options, stadium officials will serve all food in closed containers, install plexiglass barriers and allow fans to bring their own reusable water bottle into the facility.
“We are working to determine our level of concessions and personnel, without changing the hourly rates for our employees,” Delaware North Sportservice said in a statement.
The Chiefs have switched to a cashless model at all concession stands and outlets within Arrowhead Stadium through a partnership with payment service firm Tappit. Additionally, the team has increased the ratio of outlets to fans to allow them to spread and order without fear of violating social distancing rules.
“There will be a variety of limited contact and contactless concession experiences available, including ‘Grab N’ Go ‘, self-checkout, order pickup and ordering kiosks throughout the stadium,” the Chiefs said in a post describing their stadium policy.
Aramark, the Chiefs’ food service partner, did not respond to a request for comment.
The NFL requires fans to always wear masks when attending games this season. Although only a few teams will have crowds at first, league officials have left open the possibility of changing participation policies over the course of the season.
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More fans would require a larger staff of stadium workers, though it’s unclear when conditions will allow for the return of street vendors and other traditional elements of the live event experience.
“The amount of sport-related livelihoods in the food service line alone is simply extraordinary,” said Plutino, a consultant for the stadium’s concessions. “The amount of hands that the sport feeds, I don’t know if anyone has done the math, but it’s an extraordinary amount of ripple effect.”
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