As the NFL kicks off its regular season, some sports teams are experimenting with a secret ingredient to help reverse declining attendance: cheaper food.
Recently, the Detroit Lions announced concession discounts for the first hour after gates open at the stadium, with $5 beers and lower-priced meal combos available at certain stands throughout the rest of the game. Lions Team President Rod Wood explained in a statement that the team's program aims to serve fans "without hurting the quality or speed of service."
To be sure, concession sales are relatively inconsequential to an athletic team's overall revenue, experts say. Still, cheaper prices can provide a sentiment boost; and for fans vacillating on whether to spend money on a game ticket, it can work as an added incentive.
With an increasing number of fans opting to watch in the comfort of their own homes, arenas are facing more competition than ever for getting fans through the door. The dynamic "speaks to the incredible amount of competition that exists for consumer share of mind and wallet," said Columbia University sports management professor Scott Rosner.
In July, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks announced plans to slice concession stand prices in half, becoming the first professional basketball team to offer what it called "fan-friendly" pricing.
The move comes as the team – which last season suffered the worst attendance record in professional basketball – awaits the completion of a $193 million renovation of State Farm Arena that management hopes will help excite the fan base and fill seats.
The Hawks are Atlanta's third pro franchise to offer cheaper food stand prices, following moves a year earlier by the NFL's Falcons and Major League Soccer's Atlanta United, when they moved into the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Both teams topped fan satisfaction surveys that measure food and beverage experiences at sports venues. Meanwhile, Falcons data showed that average per-fan spending on concessions soared 16 percent over the 2016 season, with the trend continuing into last season.
Deep price cuts may cost stadiums needed revenue, but according to NYU sports management professor Wayne McDonell, it's a relatively low-risk bet. When fans are saving on concessions, they may be more willing to spend elsewhere, like on merchandise or tickets to other games, he said.
"I think we saw that with the Falcons," McDonell told CNBC recently, citing "the accessibility and affordability of food" as a way to help fans feel invested in the game.