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49ers find success in first season with concessions-included ticket strategy

By Ben Fischer
Season-ticket holders at Levi’s Stadium got basic food and beverage options.getty images

In 2021, Levi’s Stadium concession sales grew by 23% over 2019 and fan satisfaction scores increased by 13% over the course of the season, in which the San Francisco 49ers debuted their closely-watched plan to include many concessions in the price of season tickets.

Furthermore, said 49ers Chief Strategy Officer Moon Javaid, the changes did not come at the cost of food-and-drink stand productivity. A major fear associated with the change was the ability to withstand the increased demand created by “free” basic concessions, but the service points handling inclusive pricing performed 108 transactions per game compared to 96 at traditional stands.

“On all three of those metrics (revenue, satisfaction and throughput) we scored really well and I was extremely pleased and happy,” Javaid said.

The “member-inclusive menu” concept was intended to launch in 2020, but the pandemic shifted it to 2021. While sports venues have long offered inclusive pricing for certain premium products, the scale of the 49ers’ gambit is unprecedented. For season tickets sold across Levi’s roughly 59,500 regular bowl seats, basic concession items are included and limited to four per transaction. In 9,000 club seats, food and beverage is simply available with no transaction.

Put simply, the 49ers and concessionaire Levy Restaurants gambled that customers, freed from the incremental cost of many common products, would reallocate spending to alcohol, premium food items or other merchandise instead of pocketing the “savings.” (Season-ticket prices went up by $20 per seat on average.) That proved to be true.

The 49ers spent in the “high seven figures” on tech and equipment heading into the season, and continued to make structural and organizational changes to concession areas over the season. 

It paid off. Full-building per-caps (including merchandise) grew 29%, from $30.98 to $40.06, while concessions per-caps grew from $24.38 to $24.80. Leaguewide, food and beverage per-caps grew 15%-20%, Javaid said.

Javaid, who is also executive vice president of the consultancy Elevate Sports Ventures, is using the strong results to proselytize to Elevate clients. (The 49ers are a co-owner of Elevate.) Recently, NFL owners removed some aspects of revenue-sharing rules that could work to discourage teams from including food and beverage in ticket prices.

“We’ve had many conversations, I’d say about half a dozen to a dozen serious conversations, with a couple teams signing, so there will be other teams that are pursuing this,” Javaid said.

Javaid said the shift forced the club to pay closer attention to other aspects of customer service. For instance, out of a fear that fans and workers would be slow to adjust to the inclusive pricing system, the 49ers hired “line busters” — mobile order-takers — that had dramatic effects on wait times, and the 49ers will expand the concept to the entire stadium this year.

“I can’t believe I didn’t do that seven years ago,” Javaid said.

Nick Wolfe, Levy Restaurants vice president of hospitality and strategy, said the debut season of inclusive pricing required a commitment to rapid adjustments and strong communication across many parts of team, stadium and Levy operations.

“You have to have everybody own their piece to it,” said Wolfe, noting the concessionaire and stadium operations, among others. “There’s a lot of risk to it. So you have to have everybody all in.”

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