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Mercedes-Benz Stadium Concessions: A Fan’s Perspective

Surprise! Doing right by your customers is good for business.

News: Mercedes-Benz Stadium Open House Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

From day one, Atlanta United has set out to make the fan experience extremely positive. Even at the venerable Bobby Dodd Stadium, it was clear that an Atlanta United game was going to be a bucket list must for any self-respecting soccer fan. The anticipation around the move to the brand spanking new cathedral of sports that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the experience it would provide was, of course, enormous. And not just for the ability to cram an ungodly number of us in; it was billed as state of the art for many reasons.

One of the new developments was Arthur Blank’s insistence on what came to be called “Fan First Pricing.” Or, in other words, keep it cheap. In a complete reversal of the standard stadium concession pricing concept—namely, gouge the fans for as much as possible because they are a captive market—the Falcons and United were going to make the food and drink prices as affordable as possible.

Anyone who has been to a game at the Benz knows exactly what I’m talking about. But what has just come to light in a couple of reports released in the last week is just how successful that pricing approach has been. Steve Cannon, CEO of AMB, the parent of both teams, spoke to ESPN’s Darren Rovell and informed him that fan spending at Falcons games was up 16% over 2016 despite the prices being about 50% lower. That’s 16% per fan, so total spending was presumably up a bit more than that since the Benz has a slightly higher seating capacity than the Georgia Dome did.

So, we are presented with the staggering conclusion that if you make something cheaper people buy more of it. That’s not even Econ 101; it’s basic common sense.

A second report yesterday provided the results of an NFL and MLS stadium poll by the Voice of the Fan (part of Sports illustrated). The food and beverage offerings at all stadiums in both leagues were evaluated on variety, quality, speed of service, value and overall. The Benz ranked 1st in every category for both leagues. The rankings for value were especially notable: 8.5 versus an average of 5.0 for the NFL and 8.8 versus 5.8 for MLS. Grading on a curve, that’s an A+.

As a parent who never attends games without at least one of my kids — and their friends as well sometimes — this is a game changer for me. Generally speaking, you don’t find prices like these at minor league stadiums or even high schools. In fact, about the only place I go to regularly that has lower concession prices than the Benz is Costco. At Bobby Dodd Stadium, the concessions were, let’s face it, a nightmare. I didn’t even consider buying food inside the stadium and handed over my hard-earned cash for drinks only when it was hot. Why on earth would I choose to shell out about $10 a head for poor-ish quality hot dogs and sodas after waiting 20 minutes to get served? No way. I’d rather go to the Varsity just down the street or, if I have the time, somewhere else more comfortable and appealing.

Now, I can bring the family inside the stadium an hour early if I decide not to stay down in the Gulch at the tailgate. I can find plenty of food and drink options that won’t break the bank. Even better, if my kids decide during the game they want something more, I can give them a $20 bill and my refillable cup and they will be back within five minutes with a pile of food, my refill and, most importantly, change.

So, from me at least, rather than getting $10 or so over the course of a game, they’re getting at least $20 — probably more. This year, it will for sure be more because all my kids are at least 16 and have driver’s licenses. And that means beer. For me, that is, not them.