Bringing a “Taste” of Live Events to the (Stay At) Home Team

| June 9, 2020

By Guest Columnist: Paul Pettas, PR & Communications Director, Centerplate / Sodexo Sports & Leisure

350,000+ for a star-studded international tennis tournament. 150,000+ for a business convention. 40,000+ attending a baseball game or concert. We make a business out of live events – hosting thousands packed together at sporting events, theaters, conventions and meetings all around the country – and the last few months have been extraordinarily trying, with many difficult decisions to make.

Just last week, our colleagues at the Hollywood Bowl announced the cancelation of its season, marking the first time in 98 years that the iconic amphitheater in Los Angeles has had to shut down.

This pandemic has taught us that, for many people, sports and entertainment are great unifiers… they’re part of the human spirit. Watching reruns of The Last Dance (captivating as it is) and Korean Baseball at 5:30AM just don’t cut it.

Since this all began, I’ve admired certain brands and how they’ve smartly showed empathy and agility in breaking through with an authentic voice: Shake Shack’s social cooking series comes to mind, DoorDash hosting a virtual dinner party to benefit Feeding America and WarnerMedia thinking on the fly to digitize new shows for the season.

And for me personally – as 1) a professional building my career communicating the value proposition of the live event space, 2) a sports fan, and 3) as someone who knows the economic impact of the sports and entertainment on peoples’ livelihoods – this entire crisis has been concerning.

A silver lining though – this has meant breaking down silos, improving how we communicate within our own Centerplate and Sodexo universe and tapping into social media platforms to connect directly with key stakeholders to build a stronger virtual community. Bringing a taste of our venues to our guests and connecting with a new home team, if you will.

This will only accelerate new trends, demonstrate just how resilient this industry is and, while nothing can replace a sellout crowd for March Madness or the Miami Open, there have been bright spots. Here are a few I want to recognize from the incredible people I am proud to call colleagues:

-Working with Taylor Park – our Executive Chef at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, the top atmosphere in baseball – to set up a virtual cooking class via Zoom on Earth Day with fish & chips and shrimp basket ballpark favorites, promoting sustainably sourced seafood with Ocean Conservancy.

-Chef Dayanny De la Cruz – our Executive Chef at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami – conducting a Reddit AMA Q&A session on behalf of the forward-thinking Dolphins franchise during NFL Draft Week to coach fans who were making loaded pulled pork plantain nachos and other items for the occasion.

-Curating recipes from our Nashville chefs at First Horizon Park – Jerry Infantino – and the Music City Center – Max Knoepfel – for a digital cookbook of the city’s top dining destinations.

-Chef Molly DeMers, Sodexo’s Head Chef at the Seattle Aquarium, recording a YouTube cooking tutorial using staples in her home kitchen to create a simple, delicious, meatless meal.

-Publishing a Mother’s Day cooking video on Facebook with Chef Frank Marrara and Chef Nick Norton from Louisville Slugger Field to share delicious frittata and casserole ideas for brunch.

It has also been important to tell the inspiring stories of our teams around the US and Canada who have donated tons of food items, volunteered at food banks and produced hundreds of thousands of meals when their venues morphed into field hospitals, surge centers and alternate care facilities – like the San Diego Convention Center and Baltimore Convention Center – and others like the Raleigh Convention Center and University of Michigan who donated leftover food when events started getting canceled. And in Miami where, combined our teams at Hard Rock Stadium and the Miami Beach Convention Center have produced 400,000+ meals to be distributed to homebound senior citizens.

Though it is impossible to say what the “new” normal for live entertainment will look like, these magical moments will come back. And, as with anything else, I can guarantee that Centerplate and Sodexo – and the entire sports, entertainment and hospitality industry – will be ready. We will adapt and embrace the changes, knowing the value of human connection and the power of sharing a memorable event with others… things which we cannot ever take for granted again.

After all, Tokyo 2021 is just around the corner. And we’ll be ready.

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