Twenty thousand hot dogs were sold at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium last season.
That number is very important to Adam Martin, general manager of Centerplate, the company responsible for concessions.
“It’s all a numbers game,” Martin said. “It’s all just looking at numbers and doing your research and homework.”
Preseason preparation begins for the Ole Miss concessions crew in late July. The grand total of products sold last year is divided by seven games to create a rough estimate of how many concessions to pre-order. The crew also looks at the projected crowd attendance to determine how much product they should bring in for the new season. And they order early to give their vendors enough time to find and obtain what they need.
The crew obtains the ticket sales numbers from the ticket office prior to each game. This data helps them better understand the amount of product needed for each individual game once preseason orders have arrived. The crew also keeps par sheets to track the activity of the concession stands. These sheets record how much product is sold and how much is wasted to help make predictions for future games.
Martin said it’s all based on sales history.
Once the preseason preparation is completed, the concession crew begins preparing for individual games. The process of game day preparation begins on Monday. Cisco trucks deliver products directly to the stadium, pulling up to gate 21 on the south side of the stadium. The product is unloaded and distributed to the stands.
“If we did that Saturday morning, we wouldn’t have any chance of getting the food up to the stands,” Martin said. “Some of the items that are paper products, souvenir cups, bottled soda, anything that’s not perishable, we can bring in weeks prior.”
On average, the concession crew will use 55 five-gallon bibs of Coke to supply a football game — some of this is a backup product. Just for the Liberty game, 2,240 cases of 24 water bottles were ordered, as they are one of the products with the highest demand, alongside hot dogs, Coors Lite and Miller Lite.
All of these products are distributed via 40 concessions stands, 10 portable concession locations, 20 beer ports and 95 skyboxes/field suites.
These numbers rise and fall with the popularity of each game but remain relatively linear. SEC games and the home opener game draw the most attention and, therefore, the most foot traffic for concessions.
“Anytime we play an SEC school is where we are going to sell the most product,” Martin said.
Melissa White, a new worker, felt the impact the homecoming game had on concession stand popularity.
“The line at the Arkansas game never ended,” White said. With a line an hour and a half long, White had to close down her stand at the end of the third quarter.
White arrives at the stadium four hours prior to the start of the game. Her responsibilities include counting stocks at stands and icing down drinks so they are ready to go when the gates open. White will serve fans until the end of the 3rd quarter when it is time to recount stock, clean up and head home.
Despite these challenges and all of the logistics involved, the concessions department rarely runs out of food.
Concessions normally does not waste a lot of food because of the calculations that they make before the game, but when there is excess food, it is thrown in the garbage. This is much more common in games where the crowd size is much smaller than anticipated. The most common cause of this is the weather.
All of this food requires a staff of about 400 people, and some have to start work early.
“So for an 11 o’clock game, the kitchen staff will be in between 3:30 and 4 o’clock in the morning to start preparing for the suites and club areas, the premium areas of the stadium,” Martin said, “The concession staff come in later. They’re cooking hot dogs, chicken tenders, french fries. That sort of thing that doesn’t take a whole lot of time to cook. So they arrive about four hours prior to kick-off.”
Ole Miss is not the only vendor inside the stadium. Other companies such as Chick-fil-A sell in the stadium.
“Chick-fil-A has a sponsorship deal with IMG, who sells all the sponsorship for Ole Miss Athletics, which allows them to sell food in the stadium,” Martin said. “We’ll provide the beverages for them, and they provide the staff and all their product for it to run their locations. So it’s basically a subcontractor deal.”
The reason that concessions has not struggled as badly with workers is that they started looking for employees early, and they work with nonprofit organizations.
“We use a lot of nonprofit organizations. We basically contribute a percentage of sales back to the nonprofit organization,” Martin said. “But we start recruiting our nonprofits in May and June, and we start recruiting employees for football season in early July to try to get them ready for the September start.”
These organizations have to have a 501C3 — a type of charitable organization where donations made are tax-deductible — for concessions to be able to work with them. The majority of the nonprofits that concessions work with are churches.
The involvement of nonprofit organizations in staffing stadiums is not a new idea. It has been around for a long time.
“It is industry standard, especially for these large stadiums,” Martin said. “We’re open seven days out of the year for these huge events. So it’s hard to find people who are willing to work just seven days out of the year consistently, which is why this industry standard is to use nonprofit organizations to help fill out the concession stands.”
Although there has been a shortage of workers, one worker in particular has used their time to perfect an existing recipe. Chef Will, a worker of three years, is in charge of making the pulled pork for sandwiches and nachos inside the stadium.
“So it’s not outsourced,” Martin said. “It’s not out of a box. It’s you know, start to finish. It’s our product.”