We blinked, and it's 2020.
How crazy was that!
We as a human race have probably achieved more than what was thought to be possible when the past decade began. Smartphones have become an indispensable part of ourselves; humans are capable of editing genes with CRISPR; and we are creating meat in labs rather than on farms...
Therefore it's only reasonable that we are impatiently curious to find out what could happen in the next decade. Granted, it could be beyond our wildest dreams, and we have to wait another 10 years to find out. But there's no harm in attempting to predict the future — after all, we've been doing that ever since humans first came into existence.
Here we'd like to make 5 predictions in the sports, live entertainment and hospitality space, specifically as it relates to food technology. These predictions are based on our observations, research, conversations with our venue partners and fans, as well as the state of technology in the near future.
If you manage concessions at a stadium or venue, this blog will hopefully inspire you to brace for what’s coming soon. If you’re a fan who loves attending live sports events, know that your game day experience is about to get 10x better.
1. Mobile ordering will become the default
Picture yourself on the couch at home in front of the TV. And then suddenly you start feeling hungry. What do you do? In 2019, you’d pick up your phone, explore restaurants and menus near you and, very likely, you’d even order from your phone and get the food delivered to your door.
So why wouldn’t you do the same at a stadium in your seat?
Stadiums and venues of all sizes have already started embracing this solution, from high school and colleges to arena and minor league — even drive-in theaters and sports complexes. While we’re still at the beginning of this trend, the huge success and popularity of mobile ordering in the restaurant space is reassuring that a similar shift will happen in the sports and live entertainment industry.
According to a FanFood survey of thousands of fans, 73.6% want a mobile ordering app at sports events if offered, and according to an Oracle study about fan experience, 45% of fans have given up waiting in line for food and drink at a sports venue. Convenience and speed is the default expectation of consumers, especially aided by technology. Companies that offer mobile ordering and delivery solutions like FanFood are starting to pick up steam as more and more venues recognize that a tech upgrade is inevitable.
Some stadiums also opted for self-serving kiosks for faster service, despite these machines typically having higher upfront cost and needing regular maintenance. For example, Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. fully embraced speedy concessions service with self-ordering kiosks, Pour Your Own Beer Wall and Federal Favorites Express, with the Mashgin Self-Serve technology.
2. Healthy and inclusive menu items
Here’s a fun fact: the top-selling concession item across all venues on FanFood is salted pretzel 🥨with a side of cheese, according to our data analytics report on fan purchase behavior.
But the stereotypical view of concessions being just hot dog, burger, pizza and pretzel is over. As people are increasingly aware of the diverse diet choices out there — vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, religion-specific restrictions etc. — concessions menus in stadiums must change too.
There are many ballparks that have become vegan-friendly, including having partnerships with popular vegan brands like Beyond Meat. Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, has a vegan lineup from burgers to falafels to nachos, and fans took it to the ‘gram to express their delight:
At FanFood we always encourage concessionnaires to be creative with their offerings, so that fans are always given new reasons to come back for more! If you want to read more about creative concession item ideas, we have just the right blog for you.
3. Pre-ordering will become available
Pat O’Conner, President and CEO of Minor League Baseball once said on our podcast: “Let’s face it in this country: what’s more fun than food?” And we couldn’t agree more. Very often it’s not just the game that we’re looking forward to at the stadium, it’s also the authentic gameday experience — of which food is an integral part — that builds up our excitement.
For those of us who’d be drooling long before even entering a venue, here’s the good news: you’d soon be able to explore venue options before the gameday and even place orders beforehand on your phone! It’s just like booking a seat at a restaurant — how should “booking” your family meal be anything different at a venue? Just imagine how much time and trouble that would save you!
Expect to see this feature in the FanFood app in 2020. Not only will you be able to explore menu options at all major stadiums and venues near you (even not on a gameday), but also you’d be able to pre-order days ahead and customize a pickup/delivery time for when you actually arrive. Especially if you’re normally with a large group or family, your concessions experience would be completely hassle-free.
4. “Hyperlocal” menu offering
Yes, we all love a good hot dog on gameday, but every region or city likes it differently (and don’t get us started on why Chicago-style is the best). One of the secrets to successful fan engagement at Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) is actually their hyper-local concessions options.
“We have local vendors here that have food that normally people would be lining up for around Los Angeles...some people actually come to the stadium for the food,” according to Christian Lau, Head of Technology at Banc of California on our podcast.
Geographical locations not only heavily influences a fan’s loyalty to a particular sports team, but also to their local food. Food connects people; it embodies the shared memories and pride unique only to people in that specific region. As a result, stadiums and venues have found these local food items very effective in creating a special gameday experience and a stronger sense of belonging for those in attendance.
Of course, if you ever choose to offer hyper-local food, make sure they are impeccable — people can be very protective over the taste of their hometown.
5. A stronger emphasis on fan-friendly pricing
We can agree that going to a sports game is potentially expensive, and that’s partially why
people aren’t going as often as we’d like them to. One of the problems is how much people
need to spend at the venue in addition to the ticket price. Therefore we have seen a trend of concession prices going down, particularly with special offering at themed nights.
If we break down the total cost of attending a game, here’s what we’ve found: an NFL game could cost $502.84 (if you count two adult and two children tickets, two small
beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs, two programs, two adult-size ball caps and
parking), $339.02 for an NBA game and $219.53 for an MLB game, according to
CreditCards.com. It’s just inhibitively costly for a regular family to make attending games a
weekly or monthly occurrence (unless, of course, they are season ticket holders). MiLB is actually the best in this respect, since an average family of four can see a game for just
$64. You can read more about how to reduce gameday cost in our eBook “Fan Retention De-mystified.”
Durham Bulls, one of FanFood’s partner venues, has a weekly Thursday Night Specials where the most popular items — notably chicken tenders and hot dogs — are sold at a much lower price. As a result, Durham Bulls tend to see a significantly larger crowds on Thursdays than most other days of the week.
As we can see, all the changes that are happening in the concessions space have been driven by the desire to create a better fan experience: be it faster and more convenient service, more options to choose from or cheaper prices, the ultimate goal is creating an A+ gameday experience so that your fans would repeatedly come back. If you want to learn more about factors that make or break the fan experience, you can check out our blog here.