Mercedes-Benz Stadium stopped ripping off fans at the concession stand and sparked a revolution

Mercedes-Benz Stadium's shockingly cheap food

When he co-founded the Home Depot chain, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank tried to make the customer experience and pricing the highest priority. He's using that same model for concessions at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – and it's having impact around the country.

Two seasons ago, the stadium unveiled a grand experiment in professional sports: food and drinks that average fans can afford: $5 beers and $2 hot dogs. 

"I'd hear fans, just people around me, just complaining about it all the time. So I, you know, said to our management team, we need to price it every day the same way they would pay any place else they went in the city of Atlanta," Blank told CBS News' Dana Jacobson back in 2017. 

It's meant happier fans, and also higher profits. According to Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, fans spent 16 percent more overall in the first year, even with price cuts of 50 percent. 

"That was amazing. We did not foresee that. Maybe Arthur did in his wisdom but we didn't," McKay said as the stadium prepared to host the Super Bowl. 
 
"In 2018 we repeated those results, number one in every category. It's not hard to figure out that if you listen to the fans, you do what they ask, they'll deliver," McKay said. "The right thing to do, it's incredible how, oftentimes, leads to making money."
 
Scott Rosner, director of Columbia University's sports management program, thinks Blank has changed the next generation of sports stadiums. 

"He has absolutely been successful in that gutsy, smart move," Rosner said. "We talk about lifetime value of customers … and the lifetime value of the customer, for the Atlanta sports fan is, I think, quite higher now because people want to go there. They don't feel like they're being taken advantage of. It's an affordable experience."

Atlanta Falcons hope new stadium can boost surrounding community

NFL teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions have followed the Falcons' lead. 

In Baltimore, the Ravens estimate a meal for a family of four could be purchased for just $44, a savings of 34 percent. In Detroit this past season, fans could get a hot dog, soda and chips for $10, or with a beer for $12.

The pricing strategy is also catching on outside the NFL. Blank's MLS team, the Atlanta United — which plays at Mercedes-Benz — is under the same stadium pricing as the Falcons.  

Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles and some college teams like the University of Texas have dropped prices.

One other key is speed. There is an increase in the number of concession stands and the Falcons have moved the soda machines out from behind the counter.
 
"The speed of service is so important. I doubt we would have ever done it had the Falcons not done it. But once you kind of convert and believe, there's a deep-seated belief this is the right thing to do," said Steve Koonin, CEO of the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena.

And the stadium isn't hiking prices for the Super Bowl. 

"They'll see a volume like they've not seen before because people that will be in the building for the first time are always a little bit, like, 'Really? So I can have these two hot dogs, two sodas. I can have popcorn. I can have a beer and I'm still under $20?' That usually shocks some people," McKay said.

Sports stadiums might just be the beginning. McKay said one of the bigger movie theater chains reached out to him and his team for insight.
 
"We've showed 'em everything we got and we keep checking to say, 'Okay, when are you gonna pull the trigger?'"