The Real Reason Food Vendors Are Still Missing From Sports Stadiums

Spring is here, and baseball is back! Crowds are (sort of) filling the stadiums, at least as far as COVID protocols will allow, and the air is filled with the sweet crack of bats and cheers of the crown. The one sound you won't hear in the stands, however, are cries of "Popcorn! Peanuts!" "Lee-mo-nade, lee-mo-nade!" or "Get your cold beer here!"

It's not that the parks themselves are devoid of food without hot dogs is unthinkable, and baseball without beer is unprofitable (well, a lot less profitable). According to a 2004 report by Athletic Business, MLB execs found that alcohol sales might account for up to 75 percent of a stadium's revenue. So yes, they're still selling concessions...well, most of them are, at least. 

Food and Wine reports that as of mid-March, four of California's MLB teams – the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, and San Diego Padres – are located in the state's "purple tier" where COVID protocols won't allow for any food sales at all. In many other ballparks, however, food and drink will still be available, although you'll either need to pick it up yourself or order it for in-seat delivery which is not at all the same thing as waving down the beer manor catching a bag of peanuts on the fly. So what happened to all those vanished vendors? Many of the vendors themselves are wondering that exact same thing.

Food vendors still pose too much of a COVID risk

According to Chicago-area beer vendor Lloyd Rutzky, who's been selling to both Cubs and White Sox fans for over 50 years, every year the teams get in touch with the vendors to see who's available to work the upcoming season. This year, not a peep. Rutzky told Eater "I'm sure by the next time there are vendors, there will be a whole lot of different rules," but he's unsure whether that will happen at all this year.

His cross-country counterpart, Oakland Coliseum's Hal the Hot Dog Guy (Hal Gordon), shared similar sentiments with Men's Health last fall. While the A's added a cardboard cut-out of the beloved hot dog salesman to the stands, it didn't make up for his lost revenue, or that of his coworkers. Gordon started a GoFundMe raising over $9000 and allowing him to send $285 to each Bay Area vendor, but this one-time payment amounted to only about 25 percent of what they used to earn per week during baseball season. Gordon fears vendors may be the last ones returning to stadiums, admitting that "People walking in between fans who are trying to socially distance, serving them food without being able to wash hands between each transaction, and maybe most importantly, yelling and projecting our voices all seems like some of the riskiest post-COVID activities." Sad but true...but those hot dogs just don't taste the same when you have to buy them from a stand.