Best in Class Game Day Fare: A Slam Dunk for Fans This Basketball Season

Published on : 3/15/22
  • With the NCAA’s March Madness just around the corner and the NBA Playoffs tipping off in April, fans are hitting the stands in droves for an opportunity to cheer on their favorite teams. One of the critical parts of the live sports experience is indulging in the food and beverage offerings, and with 72% of sports fans saying they always or usually purchase food at a game, it is undeniable that basketball arenas must stay in the game with enticing and delicious fare for fans.

    The heart of Sodexo Live!’s expertise is its culinary talent, creative spirit and ability to capture the taste of the local culinary scene. We work with our award-winning chefs to develop menu offerings that become full-fledged gastronomic experiences. Our teams are setting new standards in professional sports hospitality by stepping outside the arena of traditional game day fare.

    Lenny Martinsen, executive chef at the Smoothie King Center, says:

    There are almost no rules anymore.

    Elevating the game day experience, one venue at a time.

    KFC Yum! Center

    Home of the University of Louisville’s Cardinals basketball teams, the KFC Yum! Center is one of the largest basketball arenas in the country, with a capacity of 22,000 seats. The Farmstead and Haute Dog premium food station concepts were specifically designed to showcase local flavors and locally sourced products. Fan favorites include the Chicago Haute Dog and Kentucky Cattleman Cheeseburger, made with locally sourced beef. In the suites, the homemade buttermilk-battered chicken tenders are a bestseller.

    The culinary team, led by Chef Donna Hunter, also built an innovative Premium Box offering featuring items such as Bourbon Vegan Meatballs, Pot Roast Sandwiches and Deep-Fried Pork Tenderloins. The venue, which hosts 35 basketball games annually, in addition to other sporting events and A-list concerts, uses eco-friendly, compostable, and biodegradable straws, as well as 100% sustainable forest products.

    In the wake of the devastating tornado disaster in Kentucky, Sodexo Live! donated 3,500+ pounds of food to Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland to support local communities dealing with ongoing food-sourcing issues. Coordination of the donation was made possible by Move for Hunger and the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation.


    Crisler Center

    In August 2021, Sodexo Live! kicked off a multiyear agreement with The University of Michigan Athletics Department, granting the management of catering, food and beverage, and concessions services at all athletics venues on the picturesque Ann Arbor campus, including the iconic Crisler Center. The culinary team, led by Executive Chef Chris Carr, works closely with the Wolverines' Athletic Department to create an exceptional culinary and fan experience, elevating traditional arena fare.

    The most popular game day offerings are classics such as the Chicken Tender Basket, the Bavarian Soft Pretzel and the locally inspired Maize and Blue parfait — a house-made lemon curd topped with a Michigan blueberry-studded vanilla Greek yogurt. There is an emphasis on sourcing locally when possible, highlighting the best of the Midwest. Partnerships with local businesses include Cottage Inn Pizza, Carvel Ice Cream and Slow’s BBQ.

    With a seating capacity of 12,707, the Crisler Center hosts around 50 sporting events annually while maintaining a 95% zero waste status for food packaging, with most offerings served in compostable containers or souvenir items that fans can take home.


    Smoothie King Center

    Home to the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, the Big Easy’s Smoothie King Center is one of the largest venues of its size in the region. Thanks to its proximity to the Caesars Superdome, both venues benefit from a top-notch culinary team, led by award-winning chef Lenny Martinsen. Known for serving creative and exciting menu items ranging from alligator sausage and fresh Gulf shrimp to Cajun gumbo and Ponchatoula strawberries, the menus at the Smoothie King arena boast flavorful, authentic southern and Creole dishes, appealing to all types of dietary preferences.

    Favorite items include Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, Hand-Battered Fresh Chicken Strips and the renowned Ultimate Nachos — an elevated quintessential arena food made with locally sourced cheese from MMI, a small business located in Kenner, Louisiana. Additional local purveyors include Aunt Sally’s Pralines, Bella Blue Pastries and the iconic Zatarain’s. Sodexo Live! has introduced the innovative “The Beer Easy,” a self-serve system offering classic cocktails, wine and local beers.

    Servicing such important venues in New Orleans also means being an integral part of the community. Food donations are regularly distributed to local food banks Second Harvest and New Orleans Mission, as well as supporting COVID-19 and natural disaster relief efforts in the past. Additionally, Chef Lenny Martinsen was honored with the 2019 Governor’s Outstanding Leadership in Disabilities (GOLD) Awards.


    A History of Culinary Excellence in Basketball Championship Games

    This will be the second year in a row that Sodexo Live! will host the NCAA men’s Final Four Championship Game, with the 2021 edition at Lucas Oil Stadium, and this year’s at New Orleans Ceasars Superdome on April 2 and 4.

    Prior major events include the 2020 NCAA Women’s Final Four and three NBA All-Star games in New Orleans, as well as the 2010 and 2015 men’s championship events at Lucas Oil Stadium.

    With our decades-long experience in hosting major championships in both professional and collegiate spheres, we are setting new experience standards in live sports hospitality.


    Learn more about how Sodexo Live! gives fans the ultimate game day experience