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Posted on Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Feeding the Big House: Michigan Stadium's concession manager preps for 112,000 football fans

By bob horning


Sandy Spencer runs the concessions business at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Daniel J. Brenner |

What’s bigger - the University of Michigan football game itself or the food served with it?

Since, for security, fans are no longer allowed to bring food or drink into the stadium, concessions have become a necessity and a bigger business.

Just before halftime at last week’s game against Northwestern, everyone suddenly left the stadium and turned their attention toward eating.

When they left, Michigan was seven points ahead. If they stood in line a long time, like most did, then sat on the grass and enjoyed the warmth, when they returned, Northwestern was seven points ahead.

Part of the attraction of eating at the stadium is the variety of choices. Besides the traditional hot dogs, sandwiches, and pizza, there is Red Rock Barbeque, Kettle Korn, Damon’s Grill, Super Pretzel, Fresh Roasted Almonds, Cracker Jack, Carvel ice cream, and more.

During a typical September game, 65,000 bottles of water are sold, 15,000 hot dogs, 8,000 personal pizzas, 5,000 popped maize, and 2,500 bags of Kettle Korn. That’s according to Sandy Spencer, who works for Sodexo, the Paris, France-based service company that is in their third year of overseeing all concessions at the stadium. Sodexo has a variety of businesses in 80 countries and handles concessions at 40 other stadiums in the U.S., including Northwestern and Ohio State in the Big Ten.

Spencer, general manager for the company at Michigan Stadium, says that "their goal is to provide an exceptional game day experience for the fan through the food by meeting every taste. We listen to new ideas, and this year, for example, added Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago style hot dogs."

In order to serve the thousands of hungry fans, Sodexo has 41 permanent stands around the stadium, plus 55 to 60 portable locations, a combined 703 points of service.

They hire 1,640 workers for every home game. Sodexo workers man the permanent stands, like UM Concessions or Big House Grill. The workers are members of nonprofit organizations ranging from bands to Girl Scouts to churches to sports teams.

Spencer said that each year the total take for the 59 nonprofits is about $400,000, the result of their 9.5 per cent cut of the sales.

Christy Lansky has a daughter who plays ice hockey on the Victory Honda AAA under 14 girls team. She said that the $500 they make each week at their stand is split between the two or three families that work and it pays for her daughter’s ice time.

"I put in nine hours per week," she said. "It’s fun work, easy, and goes smoothly."

The portable locations are run by owners or employees of local vendors that Sodexo brings in to increase the variety of food choices. Sodexo also caters the clubs and the 82 suites at the stadium and their 2,700 guests.

The night before a home game, Spencer usually doesn’t leave his office until midnight since the food orders for the suites are coming in and the cold food is being prepared. He returns at 3 a.m. for a noon game when the culinary team for the suites arrives.

At 6 a.m., team leaders begin arriving. They and many of the workers park at Wolverine Towers at State and Eisenhower and take a shuttle provided from there.

Then there are team meetings, getting the equipment ready, firing up pizza ovens, assembling boxes, and the like. Gates open to the public two hours before kickoff.

Spencer said he walks for miles on Saturday around the stadium, up and down the steps, back and forth to the concessions, clubs, and suites. He usually doesn’t wait for the elevators.

"I know every nook and cranny in this stadium," he said. His day ends late at night.

Even growing up in Toronto, Spencer was a Michigan fan since it is the closest big university in the states. He remembers the basketball team with the "Fab Five" when he was a freshman in high school.

"This athletic department and university is world class," he said. "It’s an honor for me to work here. I never envisioned being part of it, and now I even have an office at the Big House"

He attended the University of Arkansas (alma mater of Ryan Mallett, the quarterback who transferred from U-M after the 2007 season), played baseball for the Razorbacks, then minor league ball before joining Sodexo 14 years ago. He and his wife have three daughters, from eight years to eight months old.

This year, Sodexo has been making their own pizza in a large room below the east concourse. Spencer said that it is by choice rather than because of the large turnover of vendors. Hot chocolate and coffee are also made nearby, and all three are then transported to the different food locations.

Though there is plenty of food on game day, the prices may keep some from eating at the stadium. Not everyone is willing to pay $4 for a bottle of water, $8 for a sandwich, $6 for a hot dog, or $5 for popcorn. The prices are set by Sodexo, not by the vendors.

Spencer maintains that the prices are comparable to other college and professional sports venues in the area, and in some ways are better.

"For example, we sell a 25-ounce bottle of Absopure, not 20 ounces as most places do," he said. "And we have a 16.9 ounce available for $3. At almost all of our stands, you can get a courtesy cup of water, and we have four hydration stations around the stadium that offer free cups of water. Our $6 hot dog is a Hebrew National kosher beef frank, but we also have a regular dog for $4.50. The rolls for our sandwiches come from Zingerman’s."

In the process of serving so many thousands of people, there has to be unused food and a lot of trash, right?

Spencer said that Don Redding and a crew from First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor collects unused food after the game and takes it to Food Gatherers to be distributed (a total of 10,400 pounds last year).

And the litter that is left from all the food purchased is cleaned up Sunday morning by Father Gabriel Richard High School.

So, now, after all the food is eaten or given away or hauled away, I’m still asking myself what’s bigger - the food or the game itself?

Bob Horning, a lifelong Ann Arbor resident, is writing U-M gameday stories for If you have ideas for future columns, please email


Seasoned Cit

Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

Guess what? the $400.000 that went to 59 non-profits was their "payment" for providing very cheap labor that can then charge the $4.00 for water !! Given the labor hours required to staff our church's booth, a quick calculation of the money earned , works out to less than $2.50/ hour per "volunteer" Of course that also means that the UM or Sodexo doesn't have to provide benefits or withhold any insurance or SS $ from those payments. I wonder how long it will take before the Home Health Care Union tries to "enroll" stadium workers.


Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 12:01 p.m.

Maybe you could have a sit-down strike at one (or more) of the games next year. They are obviously abusing the good nature of Michigan football fan "volunteers" to gouge more profit. If they had to pay at least minimum wage (or a freelance day rate)...

Tom Whitaker

Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

It would be great if more local restaurants and suppliers could join the lone local Red Rock BBQ stand inside the stadium fence (Damon's is a chain, so I don't count them as local). We used to really enjoy getting hot or cold cider and donuts from a local orchard, or a cheesesteak from Mr. Spots, along with unique foods from other mom and pop stands. I hope they reconsider this going forward. Those are the kind of touches, along with traditions like following the band to the stadium, that keep people coming back year after year, paying for season tickets and donating. You have to make the experience special--not generic.


Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Oh the humanity!


Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

I ate one of those pizzas yesterday for the first -- and last -- time. AWFUL. For $8, my daughter and I split one and we both agreed, we'll never do that again. Bring back someone who knows how to make pizza. I won't even go down the price-is-obscene lane....


Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

Security? Just an excuse to corral fans into buying chow and drinks at ripoff prices. The Detroit Tigers host 81 games per year at Comerica Park. Crowds of 35,000 to 40,000 are frequent. Tigers fans may bring sealed water bottles, food, purses, bags, camera cases, etc. The Indy 500 reportedly attracts 350,00 fans. Fans may bring coolers, canned alcoholic and other beverages, and more. At least the U of M could distinguish legitimate security restrictions from those aimed at padding profits.


Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

Indy 500 should be 350,000 fans.

Rob MI

Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 2:48 a.m.

There was a time when concession prices at "lesser" sports were considerably lower. This is true no longer, and, as a result, Brandon is destroying the family-friendly atmosphere that existed at them. It's too bad that there are no "S"s in his name--I'd replace them with dollar signs at every opportunity. While you must admire what he's doing in terms of increasing revenue across all sports (many of which bleed money), you cannot overlook the changes he's made that have irrevocably changed the experience at these lesser sports. "Those who stay....will be amazed" the new promos for his master vision for the athletic campus state. People will be amazed, all right--at how much more every aspect of attending a Michigan sporting event costs.

Honest Abe

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.

Comerica Park allows you to bring your own food and drink (water only, juice for kids) And they still sell plenty of food and they profit! UM football doe not have to worry about paying players, so if you think about it, it is more lucrative than pro sports. By the way, you people can HAVE your precious UM football, NCAA football too. I cannot put in words how much I hate UM football.


Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 1:39 a.m.

thanks ill take it. glad you dont want any.

Honest Abe

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.



Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 8:12 p.m.

"Since, for security, fans are no longer allowed to bring food or drink into the stadium," Anyone believe that's the reason?


Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

jcj, not for one second. security, my butt.


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 9:13 p.m.

Kinda funny how they consider UofM people to be the smartest in the country, yet they think they are dumb to believe that


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.

Hey UofM....I hate to tell you this, but if someone can figure out how to put a bomb in a ham and cheese on rye I'm pretty sue they can figure out how to get past your security


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

I remember when they first started this "you can't bring anything in crap." It was back in the eighties and it hit us the worst at Pine Knob (Now dte whatever) It was even so bad at some concerts they had an almost Nazi like recording playing near the entrances through loudspeakers about how "you will be searched" I felt like I was going to prison. Times change. It was inevitable, it's a great business decision but it still blows.


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

I don't know how long it's been this way at the big house.

Superior Twp voter

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

So concerned that a fan might bring a simple sandwich in a bag into the stadium, "for security." Get off my cloud. What an obvious wholesale fleecing of football fans. Never again.


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

Is this a Sodexho press release? What a total mountain of bull.... Just like the food served at Michigan games. Why does participate in this scam by assigning articles like this? Why does the U of M have to farm out food service to a French company? Especially one that provides such awful choices. Somebody is getting huge kickbacks. They HAVE to be. There's no other explanation for this situation.


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

Another long tradition down the tubes- we used to buy a hotdog or sausage pre-game, plus some water. That stopped when ADs started serving shriveled up, nasty looking, worse tasting 'little things'. Now we buy NOTHING there, never will. I've been attending UM games since 1949....


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Go Don Redding/First Presby/Food Gatherers and the vendors who contribute to them. Thanks!


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Not to minimize what Mr. Spencer does but thats like 8 events a year (2 days prep per event) , and by now it almost runs itself. What does he do the other 340 days a year for this French company (America anyone?)


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Really? They don't let you bring in a bottle of water or a sandwich because of Security? Lol Please. These venue owners figured out that if they don't let you bring it in, they can sell it to you for a large profit. Period. If they were worried about "Security" they wouldn't have these gatherings at all. What they worry about is MONEY.

Dexter Man

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 11:44 a.m.

$4.00 a bottle for water x 65,000 what a rip off. I simply refuse to pay these prices for water and those burnt to a crisp hot dogs despite their nationality.


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 11:34 a.m.

Worst and most expensive food in the B1G. Vendors are being scalped by Brandon which causes high prices. Legal extortion I guess.