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    Evolving Trends in Concessionary Staffing: Sports Stadiums in the Digital Age

    Sports stadiums have come a long way in recent years. In an ongoing effort to attract and retain fans, stadiums are increasingly rigged with Wi-Fi hotspots, luxurious premium seating, eye-catching LED video displays, and gourmet food and beverage options. Team owners have good reason to woo their fan-base; stadiums come with hefty price tags (think $1.6 billion!) and in order to generate profit, consumers must be persuaded to not only buy tickets but to spend money on souvenirs and food once within stadium grounds. The concessionary service, in particular, represents a significant revenue driver, and stadium managers are seeking innovative solutions to enhance service offerings and adjust to new staffing and labor demands.

    Food Service

    While the signature stadium fare of hot dogs and nachos are still widely available, stadiums have looked to provide a diversified menu to please a new crowd of ticket-holders. With newly installed ventilation capabilities, modern stadiums can host a variety of food vendors that tap into regional tastes and nationwide nutritional trends with a mix of ethnic flavors and organic ingredients. Foodservice might include on-site chefs stir-frying entrees in woks or carving open-faced beef sandwiches on a fresh roll. Sushi and cappuccinos are increasing in popularity alongside the traditional peanuts and pretzels. C.T. Nice, Aramark’s vice president of food and beverage reiterates this pivot to the modern consumer: “[We ask ourselves], what’s in season? Where is it grown? Is it organic? We take into consideration all of the issues that concern today’s consumer and try to get as close to the ideal as possible.”1 Food and beverage sales continue to be a primary driver of stadium revenue, with the top three stadiums accruing from $49 to $59 million in 2015, according to the Chicago-based research firm Technomic.2

    Pop-Ups and Kiosks

    While the construction of ventilated space is essential for the use of fryers, ovens, and grills, an increasing number of foodservice offerings are available via ‘pop-up’ operations. As Randy Shelly of Shawmut Design and Construction has explained: “The ‘pop-up’ concept, converting underutilized space into revenue-producing attractions, is one trend we’re watching and participating in. We recently completed the new Clippers Courtside Club at the Staples Center and the big appeal, from an owner’s standpoint, is the ability to quickly set up the club before games and dismantle it quickly after.” Hot dogs can be grilled on rollers, and popcorn popped without the need for ventilated venues. Portable flat-top kiosks have also been useful to test-market new food offerings to determine whether they should be featured as permanent menu items.

    Mobile Software Services

    While these concessionary offerings are more wide-ranging than ever before, the difficulty remains in getting those food items into consumers’ hands in the most efficient way possible. Eric Hill, co-founder, and COO of SportSnax, a Mississippi-based mobile concessions software provider, puts it succinctly: “Fans have spent all this money and time getting to the game, getting into the game, getting to their seats. The last thing they want to do is get up and go stand in line for food.”3 The SportSnax app has solved this problem by allowing seat-based fans to peruse a menu, select the items they want, enter their credit card information and seat number, then sit back and enjoy the game while concession workers prepare and deliver their food. In addition, Aramark partnered with MLB Advanced Media LP, the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball, to develop an app for Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. The At Bat app allows Phillies fans to check in at the park, interact with the stadium’s foodservice operations, and similarly order food to be delivered to their seats.4

    The Staffing Challenge

    These innovations, as exciting as they are to incoming fans, present unique challenges in the staffing sector. These diversified service offerings require a number of additional food operators: not only staff to take the orders, cook the food and, now with these seat-delivery apps, run the food items from vendor to the consumer. Staffing is challenging in seasonally operated stadiums because it can be difficult to find and recruit experienced staff for short-term hire. As Jay Satenspiel, the regional vice president for Spectra by Comcast Spectacor (the foodservice provider for the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum) notes: “This facility is only open in March, so we’re training people and then they leave. It’s a constant battle.”5 The search for high-quality staff presents an additional burden to organizations’ HR departments who are then obliged to source, recruit, onboard, and train a high-volume of new candidates annually typically within a very short time-to-hire interval.

    Stadiums increasingly need staff to fulfill a wide range of functions. As their diversified offerings grow, so do the areas of personnel-specific expertise. Many stadiums seek to generate revenue in the off-season with hosted events or music concerts; staff recruited for this purpose frequently require additional background checks, security clearances, and drug testing. Guest services personnel may require specific criminal history and sex offender searches; ticketing office positions may need to undergo credit checks due to their taking and processing of customer credit cards. Ensuring that all forms are accurately and efficiently executed and the background screenings completed correctly, represents an additional challenge for an HR already managing internal, long-term employee operations. Given the challenges of seasonal hire and the added difficulty of procuring staff to support increasingly diversified operations, a stadium frequently benefits from a third-party agency who can facilitate high-volume hire when and as needed.

    Headway Workforce Solutions has been proud to provide sourcing, recruitment, onboarding and payrolling in support of Durham Bull’s expanded operations for the past two years, including concessionary stadium staff, parking attendants, restaurant staff, and traffic control officers.