Everybody loves snacking on stadium food as they watch their favorite team. (And hold their breath, hoping that their team emerges the victor!) Tickets to the game can cost a pretty penny, whether you prefer NFL games, MLB games, or even college football matchups. But your wallet can also take a hit thanks to unbelievably expensive stadium food. The prices of your favorite snacks vary by stadium and city. However, some foods and snacks are typically more overpriced than others.
Sports Management Degrees reports that the concessions companies that sell you your popcorn or hot dogs pay a flat rate — often in excess of $100,000 — to the stadium. Their other costs include the cost of their product, the wages they pay their employees, and the team’s take (which is usually 40% to 50%). Plus, most foods at the stadium are sold to the customer at a major markup — which explains why a single hot dog might cost you as much as $5 or $6.
Below, check out some of the overpriced foods you’ll have to overpay for the next time you go to a game.
Average markup: 26%
They may not technically count as food, but beverages — especially beer — are just as important as snacks at the concession stand. A glass of beer will cost you a lot at many stadiums — between $5 and $10.75 at NFL stadiums, for example. And there’s no doubt about it: Beer is a very profitable item for concessions vendors (and the teams that get a cut of their sales).
According to data from Team Marketing Report, a beer costs between $3 and $7.75 at MLB stadiums. At NBA arenas, a beer will cost you anywhere from $5 to $10.50. And at NHL arenas, a beer will cost you between $5.25 and $10.50. The profit margins will vary based on what concessions vendors are charging and what kind of beer they’re serving. Nonetheless, AZ Central reports that industry guidelines for concessions businesses suggest a 26% markup for beer.
15. Soft drinks
Average markup: 94%
If you’re not drinking beer at the game, you’re probably drinking a soda. According to data from Team Marketing Report, a soft drink will cost anywhere from $1 to $5 at MLB stadiums. You can expect to pay $3 to $6.25 at NBA arenas. At an NFL stadium, you’ll have to shell out $3 to $8. And at an NHL arena, you’ll need to pay $3 to $6.
The concession vendor’s profit margins depend on a lot of factors. (Perhaps even including the perennial question of whether they dispense Coca-Cola or Pepsi brand drinks!) Nonetheless, AZ Central reports that industry guidelines suggest a 94% markup for cold beverages like soft drinks — which probably leaves room for a pretty handsome profit.
14. Hot chocolate
Average markup: 148%
If it’s cold outside, many fans try to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. However, you’re likely overpaying for that styrofoam cup of thin hot chocolate (which was probably mixed from a powder, just like the kind you can buy at the grocery store). AZ Central reports that industry guidelines suggest concession stands mark up hot beverages, like hot chocolate, by 148%. The profits the vendors see from these markups vary. But we’ll tell you this: Unless the staff at the concession stand is making your hot chocolate with real chocolate and freshly whipped cream, you’re probably overpaying.
Average profit margin: 47% to 64%
Everybody loves nachos, including sports fans. But Sports Management Degrees reports that concession vendors have a 47% to 64% profit margin on sales of nachos. That’s a pretty hefty markup for what’s usually just a tray of tortilla chips with some cheese sauce, and perhaps a few slices of jalapeño peppers, drizzled over the top.
Nonetheless, eating nachos at a game — particularly a baseball game — is a time-honored tradition. We wouldn’t expect it to stop anytime soon — even if, according to FDA standards, the cheese sauce isn’t technically real “cheese.”
Average profit margin: 54 to 69%
People love eating soft pretzels at the mall, on boardwalks, at movie theaters, and of course at sports stadiums. KaTom reports that concession vendors have a 54% to 69% profit margin on soft pretzel sales. But it’s not just your standard, salted pretzel you’ll likely encounter the next time you head to a stadium concession stand. As The Daily Meal notes, vendors at many stadiums and arenas are putting a new twist on the classic snack. Whether you want a burger on a pretzel bun, a hot dog on a pretzel roll, or just a super-sized, 2-pound pretzel, there’s definitely something for everybody.
11. Caramel apples
Average profit margin: 60% to 76%
Caramel apples make a delicious — if messy — treat. So we’re always excited to see them on the menu at stadium or arena concessions stands. While fans love the taste of this dessert, concession vendors likely adore them for their big markups. Wise Bread reports that concession vendors have a 60% to 76% profit margin on caramel apple sales. (For the record, candy apples come with an even bigger profit margin of 80% to 88%.) Still, knowing just how much of our hard-earned money is going directly into the concession vendor’s pocket probably won’t stop us from enjoying a caramel apple when the mood strikes.
10. Belgian waffles
Average profit margin: 62% to 77%
Belgian waffles — a type of waffle with deeper pockets and a crispier texture than the standard American waffle — aren’t the most common stadium food. But when vendors put them on the menu, everybody profits (except the customer, of course). Wise Bread reports that concessions vendors have a 62% to 77% profit margin on sales of Belgian waffles.
Despite the hefty markup, Ohio teams and fans seem particularly enthused about their Belgian waffles. A brand called Taste of Belgium is the official waffle of the Cincinnati Reds. And fans of the Cleveland Browns can try a grilled Breakfast Bratwurst on a Belgian waffle at the team’s FirstEnergy Stadium.
9. Hot dogs
Average profit margin: 62% to 81%
Fans eat countless hot dogs at sports stadiums across the country. But as the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (yes, it exists!) will tell you, “Hot dogs and sausages are the perennial MVP of concession stands at Major League ballparks across the country.” Similarly, The New York Times reports that hot dogs, pizza, and popcorn still make up about two-thirds of food sales at sports stadiums — even as baseball fans warm up to more novel and creative concession options.
Sports Management Degrees reports that concession vendors have a 62% to 81% profit margin on sales of hot dogs. But it’s not just standard hot dogs that are making vendors (and teams) tons of dough each season. Delish reports that you can find plenty of “insane” hot dogs and sausages at MLB stadiums across the United States. One particularly unique entry? The Pittsburgh Pirates Cracker Jack and Mac Dog, which comes topped with macaroni and cheese, salted caramel sauce, fried pickled jalapeños, and caramel-covered popcorn.
Average profit margin: 69% to 75%
It’s no secret that Americans love their pizza. So it should come as no surprise that pizza is one of the most popular — and profitable — stadium foods. Sports Management Degrees reports that concessions vendors have a 69% to 75% profit margin on sales of pizza. (Pretty impressive when you consider that most of that pizza probably isn’t very fresh, and in fact, is usually just reheated.)
Most of us aren’t picky about our pizza (so long as it doesn’t come up with any toppings we hate). However, fans of gourmet pizza will be excited to learn that at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, you can enjoy a pizza that The Week considers one of the best football stadium foods in America. In fact, the stadium boasts outposts of Marc Vetri’s popular Pizzeria Vetri. Each bakes its pies in custom, on-site brick ovens and serves delicious margherita pizza, sausage pizza, and rotolos, a Vetri signature made of rolled-up pizza dough with ricotta, soppressata, and marinara.
7. Funnel cakes
Average profit margin: 75% to 85%
Funnel cakes aren’t just for carnivals and fairs! You can also enjoy this sugary snack — which consists of deep-fried batter served with powdered sugar or other toppings — at many stadiums and arenas as you take in the game. Wise Bread reports that concessions vendors have a 75% to 85% profit margin on sales of funnel cakes. That makes this snack one of the most overpriced foods you’ll see on the menu.
A plain, sugar-topped funnel cake may be just what most fans want. But if you go see the Arizona Diamondbacks at their home stadium, you can always try the new chicken and funnel cake sandwich. USA Today reports that the dish includes garlic black pepper cheddar, strawberry jam, and maple syrup — and makes the list of the craziest foods at MLB parks.
Average profit margin: 82% to 92%
Popcorn is a popular treat at movie theaters, boardwalks, and sports stadiums. It seems that most of us are always willing to overpay for this delicious food. Sports Management Degrees reports that concessions vendors have an 82% to 87% profit margin on sales of small cartons of popcorn. Incredibly enough, that profit margin jumps to 88% to 92% on larger cartons of popcorn.
More food for thought? According to researchers, “people with large buckets of popcorn ate about twice as much as those who had medium buckets — even when the researchers filled some of them with two-week-old kernels.”
5. Corn dogs
Average profit margin: 82% to 89%
Starting the countdown into the top five most overpriced foods at sports stadium is the humble corn dog. While a corn dog usually isn’t the most expensive item on the menu, Wise Bread reports that concessions vendors have an 82% to 89% profit margin on sales of corn dogs. (That may tell you something about the quality of the meat involved!)
Over the years, plenty of creative twists on the classic corn dog have made headlines on sports news sites. One of the most notable was the questionably named “D-Bat Dog.” SB Nation reported that “the Diamondbacks’ concession people think this 18-inch corn dog looks like a baseball bat.” But we have to say, “looks like a baseball bat” doesn’t exactly sound like a selling point as far as food is concerned.
4. Ice cream cones
Average profit margin: 84% to 90%
Nobody can say no to an ice cream cone on a hot day. That likely explains why this sweet treat is a near-ubiquitous fixture on the menus at stadiums and arenas nationwide. It’s also good for vendors; Wise Bread reports that concession stands have an 84% to 90% profit margin on sales of ice cream cones.
As you might expect, the sky’s the limit on the number of creative variations fans have seen when ordering this treat. And of course, Eater notes that ice cream doesn’t always have to come in a cone. Particularly at MLB stadiums, fans have been ordering ice cream served in mini plastic helmets since the 1970s.
3. Cotton candy
Average profit margin: 85% to 94%
Cotton candy makes it into the top three in the most overpriced foods at sports stadiums. Wise Bread reports that concessions vendors have an 85% to 94% profit margin on sales of cotton candy.
Interestingly enough, some stadiums not only let their vendors sell cotton candy but also pump the scent through their HVAC systems. As ESPN reports, Edward Jones Dome, the home stadium of the St. Louis Rams scents its air with “warm, softly spun sugar notes with hints of raspberry.” In the first year, concession sales went up — not only for cotton candy, but for other menu items, too.
2. Shaved ice
Average profit margin: 88% to 93%
Shaved ice is exactly what it sounds like: A treat made by shaving ice off a block (and flavoring it with brightly colored syrup). Wise Bread reports that concessions vendors have an 88% to 93% profit margin on sales of shaved ice. Because ice costs little to produce and vendors can buy flavored syrups cheaply in bulk, these treats are one of the most profitable items for concession stands.
Shaved ice doesn’t exactly sound like a dessert that lends itself to creative interpretation. But vendors have found a way to introduce fans to something new. The Infatuation reports that at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, one of the best treats to sample is the Raspado Mexican shaved ice. As the Los Angeles Times notes, “Raspados are usually blended ice drinks made of various fruits, often (and at their best) seasoned with a generous hit of the savory and spicy condiment chamoy.” Sounds like a major improvement on the standard shaved ice to us!
1. Snow cones
Average profit margin: 92% to 97%
It’s not just shaved ice that rakes in the profits for concession vendors. Snow cones, a closely related dessert that uses crushed rather than shaved ice, takes the number one spot as the most overpriced food at sports stadiums. Sports Management Degrees reports that concessions vendors have a 92% to 97% profit margin on sales of snow cones.
But ordering a snow cone doesn’t always mean settling for a simple concoction of ice and syrup — at least not if you can get to Guaranteed Rate Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox. There, you can order an “adult snow cone,” which Eater reports comes with your choice of syrup and vodka. Sounds like a winner to us!