How inflation is affecting your wallet at stadium concessions this season
It costs more to root, root, root for the home team, especially if you want to pony up for peanuts and CrackerJack.
A maelstrom of complications — including supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19, soaring fuel prices, and extra spending made available to consumers through U.S. government stimulus programs — has contributed to inflation hit a four-decade high of 9.1% in June. The effects rippled through to consumer prices, from gas to groceries — and the price of rough concessions.
ESPN interviewed the five hotel suppliers who provide food and beverages to MLB’s 30 teams – Sodexo Live!, Levy, Aramark, Legends and Delaware North – as well as team representatives to collect data on the price of a hot dog, cheese nachos, Cracker Jack, domestic light beer, bottled water and soda at all 30 parks.
A supplier manager said the company’s cost of acquiring hot dogs increased 20-30% from January 2021 to May 2022 – the “biggest annual increase in the last thirty years”, said the supplier’s manager.
The average price of a hot dog at all 30 MLB parks is $6.33. Fans could pay the most in Seattle at $8.00 for a Mariners dog, though T-Mobile Park has a value menu that offers discounted prices on select items, including $3 for a junior dog. The second most expensive hot dog is $7.50 in San Diego, San Francisco and St. Louis, and the lowest is in Atlanta at $3.50.
The recent spike in hot dog prices was driven by record raw material prices – “packaging, corrugated cardboard, labour, meat, spices, gas” – the supplier’s manager said. Annual hot dog price increases typically ranged between 0% and 5% before January 2021, the vendor’s manager said.
Twenty-eight MLB teams offer cheese nachos, which cost baseball an average of $7.14 a pop. Rising costs for wheat, corn and edible oils have caused tortilla chip prices to skyrocket; over the same 16-month period, prices rose 10% to 20% – “the highest in 20 years”, the seller’s manager said.
Chip production facilities also struggled to retain staff in the first half of 2022 and as a result implemented “blanket” salary increases and other monetary incentives for employees, which has also contributed to the price increase. Before 2021, annual increases in the cost of tortillas ranged from 0% to 3%.
What about Cracker Jack, the staple snack of the American pastime, immortalized in song? Cracker Jack, offered by 28 MLB teams, will cost fans $5.72 on average.
Beer, water and soda were also not safe. The price of sodas and water has increased by 4% to 5% from 2021 to 2022, and beer is expected to increase by 4% to 7% from 2021 by the end of the year, according to the official from the supplier.
Drink sizes varied from park to park, so ESPN calculated costs per ounce. Domestic light beer averaged $0.59 an ounce across all stadiums. According to ESPN data, the highest cost per ounce for a domestic light beer is in San Francisco at $0.73 (a 20-ounce Coors Light will set you back $14.50 – although according to an Oracle official Park, prices provided to ESPN include tax), and the lowest is in Seattle at $0.42 (a 12-ounce domestic beer is on its value menu for $5.00). Water costs fans $0.27 an ounce on average, while soft drinks cost $0.28 an ounce.
Academics say the collision of disruptive forces driving inflation is unprecedented.
“Returns in a timely manner [are proving] elusive with facility shutdowns, waves of COVID variants, doubling of product demand, port congestions and labor shortages,” said Sang Kim, professor of operations management at the University of Yale. “We have never witnessed a succession of disturbances like this.
If the price hikes weren’t enough, some suppliers also faced ingredient shortages.
“This is the worst supply chain I’ve seen in my 30-year history,” said David Kourie, chief purchasing officer and senior vice president of Sodexo North America, who previously oversaw supply chain. of Wendy’s, one of the largest in the world.
Delaware North — which counts defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves among its clients — ran into a major problem last year at the worst possible time. During the Braves’ October playoffs, Truist Park in Atlanta ran out of peanuts, said Jamie Obletz, president of Delaware North Sportservice.
“Our marshal team drove all night to another [team’s park] whose season was over … to load up a U-Haul truck and drive back to Atlanta to sell at the game the next night,” Obletz said.
And in San Diego earlier this year, a warehouse manager had to take a ride-sharing service to a wholesale store to reload on tortillas.
“There are countless stories of unsung associates trying everything in their power to make sure the product is there and ready for fans to use,” Obletz said. “In a normalized environment, you place orders two weeks [ahead], place the order three days in advance, fill up in the morning and you’re good to go. That’s not the environment we live in.”
Kourie and other suppliers expect to feel the effects of inflation over the next 12 to 18 months, and Kourie said it could be some time before prices seem less exploitable, in especially with the recent record high national fuel prices. Yale’s Kim and other suppliers agree that supply chain issues in particular will not be resolved any time soon.
So, baseball fans, get ready to shell out a little more for that hot dog next season, too.