Why Lines Got Long At Winter Classic
Concessionaire Levy says it confronted ‘unique challenges’ at outdoor NHL game
by Tim Newcomb and Don Muret
January 3, 2019
It was all good in the stands for the New Year’s Day game at Notre Dame Stadium, but things didn’t go as smoothly on the concourses, according to fans on Twitter. (Getty Images)
Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., welcomed more than 76,000 for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic outdoor regular-season game Jan. 1, but fans took to social media to call out the venue for long food and beverage lines and stands that ran out of food and beer.
Comments on Twitter told stories of fans missing the entire second period waiting in line, and fans complained about the venue running out of beer early and stands running out of food in the first of the two intermissions. “Forty people deep for a pretzel?” one commenter on Twitter wrote. “They don’t have trouble serving food here for football games.”
Levy, the stadium’s food and beverage provider for all events, had said before the game it planned plenty of hot chocolate and comfort-food items to keep the crowd warm and was already versed in selling beer inside the stadium at concerts, even though it doesn’t sell beer there for Notre Dame football games. It responded after the game that hosting a Winter Classic for the first time at the stadium “presented some unique challenges and attracted a different range of fans.”
Levy said some confusion may have come from converting stands that normally sell food to selling only beer, making it appear those stands were out of food.
Also, per NHL regulations, no beer was sold after the second period. “Stands were restocked as beer was sold,” a Levy spokesperson said. “Some concession stands did run out of an item or two, but none were without food options.”
Levy and Notre Dame Stadium may have also run into a different issue: The timing of food and beverage sales for a hockey game differ greatly from those at a football game. When as many as 80,000 fans fill the stands to watch the Fighting Irish play football, those three-plus-hour games come with multiple breaks in the action, two quarter breaks and a halftime. The meandering nature of a football game leads to plenty of opportunity to hit concession stands. Hockey fans generally stay seated for the action and hit the concourses during one of the game’s two intermissions.
“There are unique challenges when iconic venues host high-profile one-off events as the fan behavior and spending patterns can differ greatly from their existing fan base where they often have detailed data and analysis based on a venue’s historical performance,” said Mike Plutino, founder and CEO of consultancy Food Service Matters.
Plutino says that the ability to “flex” an operation to accommodate capacity and increased consumption is the key to hosting unique events. “We would recommend ensuring that more locations can serve a dual purpose — both food and beverage — as well as adding or enhancing any existing vending programs to significantly increase the current point-of-sale rations while also ensuring that fixed and portable menus are limited in their offering and engineered for speed of service,” he said.