One of the many truths we dread but accept is that the benefits of bigger things usually come with costs. If you want to live in a bigger city, for example, you have to bear with its traffic. And if you want to eat or drink something at a big-league sporting event, you’re going to pay through the nose.
Charlotte is no exception to this. Concession prices at Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets games are right in line with NFL and NBA standards, which means crazy expensive. Even our minor league Charlotte Knights, who now play their baseball uptown, have concession prices with a metropolitan feel.
That’s just the way it is at big-time sporting events, at least for as long as most of us can remember. You can accept it, eat before the game, or stay at home.
But now, the Atlanta Falcons are disrupting that basic truth. The NFL team announced this week that when fans buy food and drinks at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they’ll get charged Chevy prices. A hot dog will go for $2. Same for a regular Coke – and refills will be free. Those prices and others are the lowest of any concessions at the major sports level (with the possible exception of the Masters and its $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches).
The Falcons – and owner Arthur Blank – did it by upending the way they (and we) think about concessions. Previously, Blank and his team did concessions the way most teams do, by selling rights to a vendor for guaranteed cash, then letting that vendor charge pretty much whatever it wanted. For the new stadium, however, Blank’s company crafted an operator relationship that allowed the Falcons more control over prices.
The goal, according to team officials, was to match food and drink prices that fans would pay nearby. The bigger goal was to take a stadium experience that fans barked about in survey after survey and make it more bearable. That’s Business Principles 101, as is the Falcons’ hope that they’ll sell a lot more hot dogs at $2 than they would have sold at double the price, making up for the smaller margin.
Also, fans might buy more tickets if they know a Sunday at the stadium won’t cost them a third of their monthly mortgage. This is important. The Falcons, like lots of teams, have a harder time selling cheaper seats than expensive ones, in part because the customers that buy those cheaper seats are more cost-sensitive. So lower concession prices can be good for everyone. Fans should cheer the effort.
That doesn’t mean you should expect the same soon from your Carolina Panthers, which don’t have many issues with ticket sales. Same for the Charlotte Knights, which still are a hot minor league ticket, especially on weekends.
The Hornets, however, have some difficulties selling out the upper bowl at Time-Warner Cable Arena. Part of the calculation for Hornets fans – at least for this fan – is that a snack and drink for two teenage boys almost doubles the price of their tickets. The fan experience is a little less fun when you’re feeling miserly about the Dippin’ Dots your sons want.
The Falcons, at least for this season, are trying to change that. They’re showing that just because your fans love you, it doesn’t mean you should gouge them at your stadium. Maybe it’ll show other teams – and other fans – that it’s not something anyone has to accept.
Peter St. Onge