Vaughn McClureESPN Staff WriterClose
- Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
- Also worked at Chicago Sun-Times, Fresno Bee
- Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002
Fans coming to see the Los Angeles Rams face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII will pay thousands for game tickets, but at least they can fill up on $2 hot dogs and some $5 beers once inside Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay reiterated the stadium would have its “Fan First Menu Pricing” for the 75,000 spectators expected to attend the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. Just like at a Falcons game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, concessions will feature 12 popular food and beverage items — including $5 cheeseburgers, $3 nachos with cheese, and $2 refillable soft drinks — at lower prices than any other major professional American sports venue, plus without tax for easier concession-stand transactions.
A glance at last year’s Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis shows a hot dog is $4 less expensive at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and beer is $1.10 less per 20 ounces.
Increasing the prices based on the magnitude of the Super Bowl was never an option, McKay said.
“We said this in our negotiations with the SEC, the college football championship, the Super Bowl, and the Final Four … what we basically said is every customer that comes through that door is our customer,” McKay said in a phone interview. “So we want to treat all those customers the same and give them the same experience in food and beverage.
“What was interesting with the SEC negotiations, [late] commissioner Michael Slive kept telling me, ‘Hey, I want a provision in this contract that talks about the pricing and prohibits you from being able to raise the prices for our game.’ And I said, ‘Commissioner, we want the same provision.’ It was interesting that we had a common goal yet two different mindsets. So we put that in the bids for all the major events, including the World Cup.’ ”
Officials introduced the “Fan First Menu Pricing” when the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in August 2017. It was a vision brought forth by billionaire Falcons owner Arthur Blank, a vision resulting in immediate success in the eyes of stadium executives. McKay said that from the last year of the Georgia Dome through the first year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the spending per customer went up 16 percent despite the 55 percent drop in prices.
“So that just shows you the amount of volume that took place,” McKay said.
A meeting took place two weeks ago with concessionaire Levy to make the final preparations for the Super Bowl. One last-minute alteration was to add another walk-in cooler. There are 12 walk-in food coolers and 29 for keg storage. Fans will have more time to spend, so the stadium can’t afford to run out of items. To illustrate, the stadium will have 75,000 bottled waters and 55,000 hot dogs stocked for the Super Bowl.
“Traditionally, we open the door two hours before, but for this, we’ll open four hours before,” McKay said. “So there’s no question, from a food standpoint on hot dogs, chicken tenders, whatever it may be, we’re going to be well-stocked, because we know that we’re going to face a high-volume event just, for no other reason, the amount of time it’s going to be open.”
As for any congestion at concession stands, McKay is confident the 680 points of sale that include at least one of the items from the fan-first menu will alleviate any issues.
“It does you no good to charge $2 for a hot dog if it takes an hour to get it,” McKay said.
McKay said it’s like comparing “apples to oranges” in trying to break down how every single item sizes up with other stadiums. Compared with Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida — the site of next year’s Super Bowl — a hot dog at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is $4.75 less, and beer is $2.80 less per 20 ounces.
McKay was hopeful that other franchises would introduce the lower-priced model, and they slowly have. Thirteen professional and college sports teams followed the Falcons/Mercedes-Benz Stadium lead in announcing the lowering of concession prices, including the Atlanta Hawks, Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions.
“The one in the NFL that really adopted a program similar to ours is the Baltimore Ravens,” McKay said. “And what we like is at the end of the year, in the NFL fan ratings, we finished No. 1 in all food-and-beverage categories. And from how I understand it, the Baltimore Ravens are now No. 2 in many of those categories.
“What I like about it is [the Super Bowl] gives us a chance to further tell the story nationwide. We still have people that come to our venue for their first event, and they’re surprised by it. You’re going to have a lot of fans coming from all different parts of the country, whether it’s the two teams’ fan base or it’s just fans that are coming to a Super Bowl. We like the fact that No. 1, they’re going to have a great experience, and No. 2, they’re going to take the story back and continue to push the story.”
More NFL franchises certainly seem open to following the Falcons/Mercedes-Benz Stadium lead.
“Everybody has to study what the Falcons did,” Kevin Demoff, CEO and executive vice president of the Rams, told ESPN. “I think it goes beyond just cutting the prices. It’s how they managed to increase volume, increase service. Their fans responded. You do the homework not only on the prices but the quality and the speed of service and the lines.
“It’s a great credit to the organization and everything they did around the concession program, the hospitality, the game-day experience. The concession piece is important. And clearly, the headlining element is the prices. But nobody would be talking about the prices if the food wasn’t good and the service wasn’t good.”