How do you decide how many hot dogs to provide at the game?
Food and sports just go together. Athletes have to refuel and spectators need their concessions. Popcorn, hot dogs, pretzels: you can buy it all at Ryan Field.
Robert Ryder is Sodexo’s Operations Manager for the concessions at home football games. He deals with the math behind the food, sorting through over fifteen years of historical data on the food sales at Northwestern home games. Ryder first looks at the opponent, who can influence the amount of each item Sodexo orders.
“Folks from different parts of the country eat differently,” Ryder said. “Wisconsin fans eat a lot of bratwurst.”
Game time also affects the items Ryder orders for spectators. The fans at an 11 a.m. game buy lunch, but at a 2:30 p.m. game the crowd already ate lunch and just wants to snack. Any economics major would tell you to make a steady profit with varying game times Sodexo has to adjust the pricing of the menu.
“If you want a popcorn and hot dog to be similarly priced, you can change the sizes of those two items to kind of match up. So if it’s not a lunchtime crowd and they buy popcorn instead of hot dogs it doesn’t drastically affect your per capita sales,” Ryder said.
Weather and the team’s performance play a part in the total sales. If its pouring rain and the ‘Cats are down, the fans go home, which means they’re not at Ryan Field buying concessions.
Some fans forgo the concessions because the prices can be hard to swallow on a college budget. Ryder says the price is high because it is split to cover costs beyond the price of the product and the salaries of the employees.
Your purchase could support Northwestern student groups ranging from club athletic teams to Dance Marathon. Sodexo needs people to man the stands a few weekends a year and nonprofit campus groups need money. So in exchange for student’s help, Sodexo gives a percentage of the stand’s profits to their group.
Ryder says concessions also funnel money back into Northwestern athletics.
“We do support the athletic department in a very meaningful way through the concession program. It’s real money that goes back in to supporting student athletes and facilities.”
The ‘Cats may be more hungry for victory, but for those not playing, might as well load up on some popcorn and pretzels.