Stadium Food Culture Must Be Stopped

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A pizzeria near my university ran promotions offering various prizes for purchasing every beer in a specific group. Sample every beer the bar offered — more than 200 in total — and your name went on a plaque.

A friend and I decided to embark on one of the group challenges; completing it won a shirt. In the month of May my senior — Beers of Mexico was the theme — I sucked down some absolute swill. And I did so in the name of a Hanes Beefy-T with a screen-printed advertisement, of which the establishment ran out of my size. I may have used that XXL shirt once to wipe down my car windshield.

At approximately $4 a beer, I spent $60 on a Chamois. That’s enough to have purchased three packs of ShamWows. I can hear the sage words of ShamWow pitchman Vince Offer echo in my mind: Stop throwing your money away!

I have come to terms with reality as I have matured: I was duped by a marketing gimmick. Other pizzerias around, and even on Arizona’s campus offered much better pizza. But the beer tour was a gimmick meant to attract patrons who might not otherwise visit. I could have enjoyed superior pizza and drank a beer I knew I liked had I not been suckered in with a ploy.

Ballpark and stadium food exists with the same ethos. All the rage the last few years has been to introduce an increasingly extravagant menu item as a sort of special attraction. As vendors get more outlandish in both ingredients and portions, these food monstrosities look exponentially less appetizing.

However, the concept is the same as the beer tour, or perhaps the absurdities sold at a county fair. It’s one part gimmick to add to the allure of the event, one part an opportunity to tell a story. At some point, however, we all have to collectively say enough is enough.

With that, I give you the Gridiron Burger, unveiled Tuesday ahead of the Arizona Cardinals’ first preseason game.

The seven-pound hamburger comes with sausage, hot dogs and chicken strips, and a gobsmacking $75 price tag. Then there’s the caveat that finishing this crime against humanity in under an hour wins you a Cardinals jersey and your photo on the videoboard, and the premise is more ridiculous. Not only are they emulating the county fair for food, they’re offering prizes in unwinnable circumstances. This is the free-throw game on a 13-foot rim, played with a medicine ball, ubiquitous at every fair around the country.

Anyone who might have the disposable income to burn $75 on this wholly unappetizing endeavor reflects the nature driving these ridiculous food experiments. Attendance around Major League Baseball is plummeting. NFL attendance hasn’t taken a similar nosedive, but the pro football league has slid somewhat in the last few seasons.

Attending a game — especially an NFL game — is an increasingly cost-prohibitive endeavor. In 2016, nine of the league’s 32 teams charged more than $100 per seat on average. The Cardinals charged an average of $87.86 per seat. Now, Arizona was coming off a 13-3 season. But after two disappointing campaigns — and coming off a disastrous offseason, with Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook giving the Cardinals 100-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, tied for second-worst in the NFL — the average ticket on the resell market goes for $129.

For comparison’s sake, I recently renewed a yearlong pass for my son to Legoland at $199.

Ridiculous stadium food is, as I see it, a byproduct of an issue that is only going to get worse. Owners continue to soak the surrounding communities for more, more, more. A disconcerting stadiums are paid for, in no small part, with public subsidies. Vote down these measures, and the fan base will be ransomed with threat of moving.

Meanwhile, the shelf-life on these venues is getting shorter. The Arizona Diamondbacks began playing at downtown Phoenix’s Chase Field in 1998. A visitor to Chase Field can get a Churro Dog 2.0 for just $11, but perhaps not for long; the organization’s ownership sought approval to explore new venue options in 2022.

A move to Scottsdale would mean that on a day with some congestion along the 10 or Loop 202, one could drive from University of Phoenix Stadium to Gila Bend faster than a trip from the Cardinals’ stadium to the Diamondbacks’ ballpark.

Even as attendance falls, precedent suggests ticket prices are unlikely to fall commensurately — especially with stadium authorities from Arizona to Atlanta enduring shortfalls in publicly generated revenue.    

Enhanced fan experience as a marketer would label it, or gimmicks as the layman might call them, will try to lure in the declining audience. 

The $75 burger and its throwaway prizes appeal to our most gullible urges. It’s crass at worst and unnecessary at best. But congratulations on borrowing two premises from The Simpsons, I guess?