Future Cities

Food & Beverage Tomorrow: F&B’s crucial role in the success of sports and entertainment complexes

Food service increasingly key to attracting fans to areas within and around venues

October 3, 2023 5 Minute Read


Attracting fans to arenas and stadiums has never been more important for U.S sports franchises. With teams’ values and operating costs skyrocketing, team owners are looking to their venues to help maximize revenues—even as consumer spending and the overall U.S. economy slow.

To keep fans coming back, teams are either building new venues or upgrading existing ones with the aim of reshaping the fan experience through unique food service experiences and technology that will enhance fans’ experience and encourage them to spend more on food and merchandise.

Owners are also looking at the areas surrounding the arenas for additional retail and real estate opportunities—ranging from open-air plazas with retail on the outside of the venue to large-scale mixed-use development incorporating apartments, office, hotel and retail—to create a year-round presence around the venue.

State of play

The valuations of sports franchises are soaring, largely thanks to the exponential increase in revenue from television contracts. At the same time, however, costs for teams are also rising as player salaries, state-of-the-art venues, practice facilities and greater staffing needs pressure the bottom line.

To stay ahead, teams need to monetize every aspect of their business, especially during games. Offering fans premium food and beverage experiences at concession stands, in suites and at on-site clubs is proving to be a winner for many teams.

The good news for teams: fans are flocking back to games in the aftermath of pandemic-induced closures. The five largest professional sports leagues reported marked increases in attendance over the last season—an opportunity teams are eager to capitalize on.

Figure 1: Change in Attendance for Largest Sports Leagues, U.S.

Image of bar graph

Source: Across the Timeline, ESPN, NHL, Soccer Stadium Digest, CBRE Research.

Teams are also exploring opportunities beyond game days, using their venues to host corporate and community events, and introducing food and beverage concepts in mixed-use development surrounding the arena.

In the arena

Food service at arenas has evolved greatly in recent years. Today’s fans expect—and are willing to pay a premium for—curated food experiences that go well beyond hot dogs and beer.

In suites, teams are offering custom catering that patrons can order on demand or in advance prepared by top chefs. At clubs, teams are not only offering top-shelf liqueur and high-end food but incorporating their team’s brand into the experience to deepen the relationship between fans and franchises. Concessions feature local brands and unique concepts , enticing fans to pay more for the experience.

To execute these concepts, teams are partnering with specialists in the field, like Bon Appetit and Legends Hospitality, who understand how to scale and serve thousands of fans quickly and efficiently.

They’re also harnessing technology, allowing fans to order and pay from their phones or kiosks during events for either pick-up at stands or delivery to their seats, and offering ticket packages with food options built into the price.

Outside the arena

Teams and their partners, which may include local government authorities, that are planning new venues or renovating existing ones are focused on site plans that connect the venue to the surrounding community and allow fans to dwell for longer before and after events.

In urban and downtown settings, which are typically built on land-constrained sites near or within existing communities, the aim is to ensure the venue’s design connects to the neighborhood and promotes traffic flow around the venue, enabling restaurants and stores on the perimeter of the venue to sell to passersby year-round.

Arenas like Chase Center in San Francisco are creating mixed-use settings with office and residential incorporated into the venue’s site plan. They also often feature plazas that can be used by teams for events like watch parties for major games and farmer’s markets during off-peak periods.

Flexible food and beverage concepts are required for these settings, however, as they need to be able to serve the day-to-day needs of the surrounding neighborhood as well as temporarily scale to serve thousands of customers quickly during events.

For suburban venues, arenas and stadiums are often anchors for massive mixed-use developments built on large sites that incorporate apartments, offices, hotels and shops. When executed well, such as The Battery in Atlanta and Patriots Place outside of Boston, fans can choose from a host of restaurants and food concepts while on-site, enabling fans to choose from a host of pre- and post-game dining and shopping experiences.

The importance of a team’s brand

Sports franchises’ brands can also add value in terms of attracting shoppers and diners to a destination, capitalizing on fans’ emotional connection to the team and its venue. Team brands can also be a powerful pull in leasing, as business owners—many of whom are also fans—see opportunities in associating their brand with the local franchise. Many teams use perks like preferential access to team events to sweeten or close deals.

Teams also use public spaces adjacent to their venues as gathering spaces for major events and games, adding a community element to the franchise’s relationship with fans. These events often include unique onsite food and beverage options that mirror what teams are offering inside the venue.

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