The Baltimore Ravens are slashing prices on game day concessions next season, cutting the price of stadium food and beverages such as hot dogs (from $5 to $3), hamburgers (from $8.50 to $6) and fountain sodas (from $5.25 to $3).
The team will also offer a 12-ounce domestic beer for $5, a new option at M&T Bank Stadium.
The move follows a similar decision from the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United of MLS, who both play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, to move toward “fan friendly” concession prices last season.
After three straight years without a playoff appearance and substantial complaints from fans after some players demonstrated during the national anthem in 2017, Baltimore’s front office was desperate for a goodwill gesture that would win back Charm City fans. Team President Dick Cass acknowledged a “disconnect” with fans during the NFL owners’ meetings in March, saying, “We have to do a better job of engaging with our fans.”
But the decision, announced this month, to cut concession prices isn’t just a smart PR move. It could be shrewd in dollars and cents, too. After Atlanta cut its food prices for the 2017 season — timed with a move from the Georgia Dome into the new stadium — fans spent 16 percent more on concessions than they had the previous year.
At kickoff time of Falcons’ games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last season, the volume of concessions sales matched full-game sales from the 2016 season, Falcons President Rich McKay said in an interview.
“That meant fans got in better. That meant security experience was better. They participated in retail. They had something to eat. The overall fan experience really improved,” McKay said.
The Ravens are hoping for a similar bump, especially after pockets of empty seats were shown on TV toward the end of the season.
Baltimore’s NFL franchise isn’t just trying to make nice with fans. It’s trying to change the value proposition fans consider when they think about going to a game, said Nick Watanabe, assistant professor of sport and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina.
Tickets at M&T Bank Stadium in section 539, what can safely be referred to as “nosebleed seats,” are $85 each. And let’s say each member of a family of four ate a hot dog and drank a soda. Under the old price system, that’d be another $41.
Under the new price system, it’s $24.
“If you’re just looking for an experience for the whole family, this feels a lot more welcoming,” Watanabe said.
That little bit of money saved really does make a difference, he said. Ticket prices are often so high, that even knocking the price down a little bit isn’t enough to change consumer behavior. But food prices are low enough that lowering them even slightly could change behavior.
“People have taken advantage of that captive audience,” McKay said, “and in doing that they’ve taken pricing to the point where it just needs a reset.”
And what if teams lose a little bit of money on cheaper concessions? Pro sports franchises prosper by selling tickets and merchandise and media rights, something that’s easier to do if stadiums and arenas are full week after week.
Cass, at a news conference announcing the price changes, said the team was expecting to lose “something in excess of a million and a half dollars” by lowering prices, a drop in the bucket for an NFL franchise. Cass said the team would absorb the loss.
Even if that lost revenue becomes permanent, “Go for it,” Watanabe said. “It’s worth it to have your fans that much happier.”
But McKay from the Falcons added a word of caution: Prepare for the volume cheaper food prices will draw. Atlanta stadium architects designed the Falcons’ new stadium with that in mind, McKay said.
“It’s one thing to discount food and put food at a street price, but it doesn’t do any good if you have to wait 25 minutes to get it,” he said.
Don’t think this will solve all the franchise’s problems, like its playoff drought or political differences between players and fans, Watanabe said. Maybe draft choices Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson could at least help with the former.
“Lowering the price of beer makes me happy in the very short term, but I don’t think it’s going to make me think, ‘Oh, Baltimore, you’re such a great franchise,’ ” Watanabe said. “Fans are smart. They know the NFL is not doing this to be nice. They’re doing this to make a profit.”
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