In my little part of the world, warm weather and Spring finally made an appearance this week after a long, long winter. The temperatures were only in the 60s but it was as if the entire community had just been released from months of solitary confinement. Everyone was outside. Kids were on their bikes, joggers were glad to be off of their treadmills and those people out walking their dogs looked a little happier than when they had to perform this task in negative wind chills. Cam also pointed out that it even “smelled” like Spring. I’m not entirely sure what this smell is but I completely understood what he was talking about. It is a precursor or future, glorious sunsets and great things to come in the next few months.
In our house, many of these great things will take place around a baseball and/or softball diamond. Cam didn’t make his middle school baseball team (though we are so proud of the efforts that he made) but he is still on an advanced-level travel team along with a number of his friends. His practices will get into full swing (no pun intended) in April. I’m also the head coach of my daughter’s softball team and we just had our league’s player draft last weekend. Our practices start up in April as well. On top of that, we’ll go to a couple of games for our minor league baseball team at their beautiful Downtown stadium and we’ll travel to catch a game or two in person of my lovable, albeit hapless, Cubbies.
Games this year are going to present a new challenge for us. We are going to need to be more conscientious at these stadiums much like we are when we go out for regular meals. We can take the the advice of the famous song and buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack (both are safe for us) but that’s about it at the traditional concession stand. Now, I’m not expecting much on a local level where my kids play. These are volunteer-run concession booths and we’ll just bring our own hot dogs to enjoy them on an Udi’s bun between games. When it comes to the professional stadiums though, my expectations do go up a bit. New stadiums have realized that the fan experience should include a wide variety of high quality food choices. Crab cakes are being served in Baltimore, a meatloaf “cupcake” is served in Detroit and even Rocky Mountain Oysters are served at the games in Colorado. At the parks, the chances of Cam finding something safe to eat are a bit of a mixed bag. Our local minor league stadium is state-of-the-art with open views and great vantage points of the game but the gluten free menu is lacking. Actually, it is non-existent. I don’t remember ever seeing any gluten free options in the multiple visits to the stadium last year. Looking on the team website, it doesn’t look like anything has changed for the upcoming season. For a Celiac, this venue is a plan ahead and bring your own snacks ballpark experience. Fortunately, most major league baseball stadiums now have dedicated gluten free concession stands to go along with their standard and higher quality offerings. For a complete list of stadiums that are gluten free (as of the beginning of last year) see fellow blogger Taylor’s great post at Gluten Away http://glutenaway.blogspot.com/search?q=stadium).
The Major League Baseball stadiums are providing us nice options and allowing Cam (and other gluten sensitive customers) to feel “included” within their friendly confines. But what about other sports? Why is it taking so long for these venues to embrace the fact that gluten free is a necessary way of life for a growing section of the population? About 1/4 of the NFL stadiums are on board and approximate 1/2 of the current NBA arenas have offerings. Our local NHL team doesn’t have a gluten free concession area. Our college football stadium, which seats 105,000 people eight times a year, is antiquated when it comes to it’s food offerings. Think about the money lost at these venues. Consider that 1 in 133 people are diagnosed Celiac and let’s assume that as a consumer they would purchase $15 of food and drink at a game. The hockey stadium seats 18,500 people so, statistically, 139 of these people could be diagnosed Celiac. If these consumers were given the opportunity to buy food & drink, that’s an additional $2,085 in concession sales per game that is not being realized. At 40 games a season, the arena is missing out on $83,400. Using this same formula, the college football stadium is losing $94,800 in business over the course of the eight game season. And this is only factoring in people who have officially been diagnosed. Add in the number of people with gluten-intolerance and/or gluten sensitivity and there is a lot of money being left on the table. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on the food and beverage policies that these, and other stadiums, have in place. I’m sure that it would cost some money to make at least one of their concession areas 100% dedicated to gluten-free offerings and they are probably hindered a bit by what they can purchase from the companies where they get their concessions. But if other stadiums around the country already have these in place, shouldn’t it be an investment to look into?
Over the next six weeks, we are going to have the opportunity to attend two huge sporting events that should provide a lifetime of memories. Unfortunately, I’ve looked at each venue and haven’t found any dedicated concessions (though I have sent an e-mail to one as their web site was pretty vague concerning their food offerings). But you know what? That’s o.k. We have enough time to plan accordingly for these trips and assure that they will be remembered for the right reasons. Continued awareness and advocacy about this growing dietary need will help stadiums and venues such as these to make changes for the benefit of the Celiac customer. Hopefully, the trend continues and this happens soon as we have many more games to go to and so many more memories to make.