The Detroit Lions’ pregame discounts on booze, soda and hot dogs are helping make the stands more full at kickoff.
The team launched its Power Hour of reduced prices paired with pregame entertainment throughout the stadium in 2016, and this season it expanded the discount concessions program as a further enticement for fans to arrive sooner — and to try to make them happier, even if the results of the games do not.
Data provided by the Lions shows that the number of total attendees arriving within an hour of the stadium doors opening — that’s between 11 a.m. and noon for 1 p.m. games — improved by 8.76 percent from 2016 through this past week. This season, nearly 29 percent of fans are inside the stadium by noon. That’s about 18,000 people, up from 12,300 four years ago.
The Lions place great stock in getting fans inside sooner — and on improving their customer-service rankings. The stadium seats 64,500 fans, and the Lions have averaged more than 60,000 per game for years, with 65 percent entering the stadium through Gate A across from Comerica Park.
“The goal was to get people in the building earlier. The Power Hour was our solution,” said Kelly Kozole, the Lions’ senior vice president of business development. “It’s grown every year.”
Kazole said 85 percent of the Thanksgiving Day game crowd of 65,684 was inside the stadium by kickoff. That’s not easy in an age of increased stadium security and electronic ticketing.
There’s another bonus: fans walking around earlier also are more likely to buy souvenirs.
The discount-concessions strategy is a recent trend in sports, with pro football’s Atlanta Falcons garnering worldwide attention for deeply slashing food and beverage prices at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when it opened last year.
Stadium food prices traditionally are a fan complaint because concessionaires and teams have a captive market and that allows them to set inflated prices compared to the outside world. The Falcons and others are instead cutting prices, accepting less in revenue in return for increased fan satisfaction results and positive media spin.
The Lions’ cheaper concessions (they call it their “Silver Savings” pricing model) aren’t as sweeping, but the team said it’s pleased with results so far. The reductions are in cooperation with Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, which has been the Ford Field concessionaire since the $500 million stadium opened in 2002.
The cheaper fare at Ford Field are certain beers, cocktails, sodas and hot dogs before the game, and they’re available at four main locations. There also are $12 meal combos (beer or soda paired with a hot dog and chips) and $5 Bud Light and Miller Lite beers at certain locations during the entire game. Of the team’s 47 concessions locations, 15 have the reduced-priced meal combos, four have the $5 beer, and one has both, the Lions said.
The four Power Hour locations inside the stadium have seen a 48 percent increase in sales this season, the team said, and the locations offering the cheaper meal combos have seen a 21 percent boost in sales.
Additionally, the checkout speed has improved 28 percent at the discount food locations.
“With the percentages, it’s been better-received than we thought,” Kazole said. The Lions didn’t disclose dollar amounts.
The team conducts surveys and focus groups, primarily with the 40,000-plus season ticket holders, to monitor customer satisfaction and gather other data for analysis. NFL teams also get weekly feedback from the league’s fan surveys.
Kazole said there are thousands of comments throughout the seasons.
“We look at every single one of them,” she said.
The Lions rank in the second quartile of fan satisfaction for food and beverage, Kazole added.
Without disclosing dollar figures, Kazole said the reduced prices have meant less total food and beverage revenue despite selling more items.
“There have been some financial implications,” she said. “You always go in with any new business initiative and talk about the revenue impact. We definitely spent a lot of time on that. We didn’t raise prices elsewhere in the stadium, maybe a little on craft beer.”
The team and Levy were willing to take a revenue hit to improve fan satisfaction and getting people inside sooner.
“They were willing to look at it for us, knowing it was important to move ahead with us,” Kazole said. “(Sales revenue decline) was a discussion item, but it wasn’t the main topic.”
Falcons officials told NPR’s “Planet Money” economy podcast this fall that they expected the concessions discount to translate into $4 million less in sales, but it turned out to be much less than that because of increased fan consumption. Atlanta didn’t disclose dollar specifics. The team’s entire 71,000-seat inventory is taken up by season ticket holders.
Levy also is the Falcons’ concessionaire, but the Lions are unable to match their broader concessions cuts because Ford Field wasn’t built to handle considerably larger food and beverage consumption. The back-shop space doesn’t exist for inventory, Kazole said. Atlanta’s stadium was built to store, make and sell more food.
“We don’t have that sort of infrastructure,” she said. “We don’t want people waiting in line for an hour for a hot dog.”
The Lions said they studied that the Falcons have done, and a front office contingent traveled to the first game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to see how concessions, ticketing, entertainment, and other operations worked.
“We looked at that, we looked at every option,” she said.
The Lions pair their reduced concessions prices with other efforts to lure fans into the stadium sooner. The Power Hours include singers, trivia contests, games, a drumline, team mascot Roary and an extended pregame show on the video boards.
“There are a lot of things to do once you get in the building,” Kazole said.
To further improve concessions wait times, the team and Levy upgraded and expanded its digital point-of-sale system, and also has introduced food ordering on an app, and have built several grab-and-go quick-sale locations for beer, soda, and snack items.
“The number are off the charts of the number of people we can push through,” Kazole said.