Thousands of fans will fill Australia’s biggest stadiums over the coming weeks as the AFL and NRL final series kick into high gear.
For many, everything that happens on the pitch will determine how they feel the next day, the next week or even the whole year.
This emotional – almost spiritual – connection with a team or league is the backbone of the game experience.
But just as important as the action on the pitch are the choices made by fans at the concession stand – a meat pie with tomato sauce or a cold beer are essentials in the life of a sports fan. .
But just as the way teams and leagues have changed over time, the stadium experience and the menus offered to fans have changed. As stadium operators expand and diversify their dining options, the diets of sports fans continue to change.
Beer pricing at Sydney’s Alliance Stadium starts at $9.30 and peaks at $13.40 for Stone & Wood premium beer, which is well above the retail price at Dan Murphy’s.
Experts say that as stadiums have grown and become more advanced, so has the food and drink they can offer.
Many major sports are no longer played on small suburban grounds; instead, they’re housed in modern coliseums and enclosures that dominate the skyline.
Why stadium menus are important
The majority of sports fans have an undying reverence for the traditional food and drink options available at a game – meat pies, hot dogs, sausage rolls, beer and soft drinks are hallmarks of the sports diet. a supporter.
But for many, these items are much more than something to consume when hungry or thirsty – they have always been sold by the foot; they were there at the start of a person’s sports fandom in their formative years.
Dr Jess Richards, a professor at the Western Sydney University School of Business, says food and drink can help foster the “nostalgic” feelings fans have for their favorite teams and sports.
“These foods and drinks are often associated with fan memories and they have a lot of nostalgia attached to them,” she said.
“Food and drink are really essential to the game day component. It feels like a sort of ritual and generates a meaningful sense of connection; there is tradition and nostalgia.
“When we eat or smell something, it can transport us to a time in history when there was a really big game or something like that.”
She said fans’ memories of these items are a key part of building their bond with their team and fellow fans.
“We all have memories of going to a stadium or your local pitch and you would most likely have consumed a meat pie or a sausage roll, possibly had a beer,” Dr Richards said.
“But those memories that are so tied to those foods, it’s not necessarily that we’re all longing for a lukewarm meat pie.
“That’s what this pie represents and it represents a sense of connection with your sports team, but also a sense of connection with the other fans around you and a sense of belonging to this space.”
Dr. Richards also said these items can help fuel the escapist and exciting environment that only live sport can provide.
“When you eat at a football game, it symbolizes the party, the excitement, the atmosphere,” she said.
“I think there’s a level of comfort that comes from eating foods that we might not eat during the week. It serves a purpose in that it’s a bit of an escape from everyday life and it really adds to the atmosphere and excitement of going to the game.
How the menus have changed
Over time, stadium menus have changed in two main ways: price and the variety of items on offer.
The days when fans could buy a basic beer or meal for just a few dollars are long gone, with prices often in the double digits.
Dr Richards says the typical matchday experience is now a bigger financial undertaking for most fans.
“I think we’ve certainly seen the cost of food and drink go up at stadiums across Australia,” she said.
“A family day out can be over $200 when you factor in transportation, tickets, food and drink purchases.”
But she said most fans accept they will have to pay more as part of the daytime experience.
“I think what we also need to remember is that when you go to a game in a stadium, you will pay a premium,” Dr Richards said.
“Just like an airport or a concert hall, these venues will have very limited competition within them.”
The other change is to the stadium menu items.
Greater variety is now offered to meet the needs of a more diverse group of fans and to utilize the improved facilities available.
“I would say stadium menus have generally been pretty predictable, with meat pies, hot dogs, fries and burgers dominating, usually washed down with beer or soft drinks,” Dr Richards said.
“But we are now seeing changes brought about not only by the spaces and locations in which these games take place, but also by changes in the expectations of fans regarding their preferences.
“These new stadiums have the facilities to be able to create more options in what they cook, whereas in the old suburban grounds those facilities just don’t exist.
“There are still affordable options in these new stadiums like meat pies, sausage rolls, hot dogs, all under $10. But we’re also seeing more variety, higher quality, and healthier food and drink options that some fans believe represents better value for money.
Dr Richards worked with the Parramatta Eels when their supporters began returning to CommBank Stadium in Sydney’s west once Covid-19 restrictions eased.
She spoke with fans about how they felt about the stadium experience, with the consensus being that they enjoyed a variety of items on the menu.
“Those who wanted to stick with footy favorites under a five could absolutely do so. But there were more options that represented the community the stadium exists in,” she said,
“Particularly in this area, it’s incredibly culturally diverse demographically, so being able to have noodles and all these different cultural cuisines was really important to the fans because they felt like they had a place in this new stadium. “
Do the stadiums meet the expectations of the supporters?
Stadium operators must maintain a delicate balance between catering for new supporters with more diverse food and drink options, without disturbing existing supporters.
When changes are made, they risk alienating people by pricing them out with fancier items or removing fan favorites.
The price of items at Sydney’s new Allianz Stadium recently drew the ire of 2GB radio host Jim Wilson.
Wilson said he appreciated the quality of food and drink on offer, but argued the cost of food and drink was “exorbitant” and unaffordable for families.
Hospitality boss Justin Hemmes, whose Merivale Group handles catering for the pitch, hit back at the critics.
He argued during a lively interview on Wilson’s show last week that Merivale had introduced a line of products to give people choice.
“It’s not exorbitant,” Hemmes said.
“We have entry point offerings with improved quality at the same price.”
Wilson noted that beer pricing starts at $9.30 and peaks at $13.40 for Stone & Wood premium beer, which is well above the retail price at Dan Murphy’s.
He called on the pub baron to make food and drink more affordable, similar to the prices of the liquor chain or retailer Costco.
“It’s not a fair comparison,” Hemmes said.
“You’re talking about very different companies and completely different business models. You can’t compare Dan Murphy’s to stadium surgery.
Dr Richards agreed that Allianz Stadium prices were fair to the consumer.
“Anyone in Sydney knows that’s quite comparable to the price of drinks in Sydney. I don’t think there’s any incredible abuse,” she said.
Australian Rules fans fumed earlier this year when celebrity chef and restaurateur Guy Grossi was brought in by the MCG to revamp its menu.
As part of the change, Red Rooster, Crust pizza and crispy strips have all been controversially rejected, infuriating soccer fans.
Royal Stacks, Gami Chicken and SPQR Pizza have been welcomed into the fold, while a range of vegetarian, halal and kosher options have been introduced.
Dr. Richards said the change shouldn’t be viewed negatively just because it’s different, but stressed the importance of continuing to produce what fans love.
“Rather than abandoning the traditional experience, it’s about expanding and having more options,” she said.
“People may have dietary needs or just want to eat a little healthier while watching their team wear themselves out and hopefully beat their opponent.”
The future of stadium catering
Going forward, sports fans should expect stadium menus to continue to change and change.
As larger and better pitches are built, operators will continue to use these improved facilities to push the boundaries and test new features.
The growing nature of sports fandom also means it’s important to ensure menus are welcoming to a diverse group of people.
Dr Richards says the rapidly changing ‘soccer fan diet’ reflects the ever-changing nature of the sport.
“I think healthier food options will become more important, especially foods that allow for dietary requirements like gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan foods. We are going to see them on the menu more and more,” she said.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of meat pie to Australian sports fans and I’m certainly not saying we’re getting rid of pie.
“But what these stadiums are able to do is just extend that and give people more options. I think if people have more options they will feel more comfortable.
“They will feel that their needs are met and their expectations are met, and ultimately that’s what will ensure that they return to the stadium the following weekend to support their team.”
Originally published as How football food and drink options are changing