That hot dog and soda sold at Lucas Oil Stadium do more than satisfy the craving of a fan.
By Jason Thomas
The person who sold them likely is a volunteer with a school group or nonprofit organization that uses proceeds from concession-stand sales as an essential fundraiser throughout the year.
Nearly 70 percent of the stadium's concession stands are operated by volunteers. They hawk everything from popcorn to french fries with one goal in mind: raise as much cash as possible in a three-hour span.
With school districts staring down a 4.5 percent cut from what was budgeted this year, ordered by Gov. Mitch Daniels in December as a statewide fiscal belt-tightening measure, officials are searching every nook and cranny to fund programs and events left vulnerable.
Among beneficiaries are college tour visits, international trips for students
and athletic-related expenses, such as practice gear.
Three games packed into a two-day span could translate into big bucks for local schools
and nonprofits banking on deep pockets from Final Four basketball fans.
"The amount of money we've been able to bring into the school for students by working the Lucas Oil events has just been a blessing," said Rac Coffee, athletic director and director of technology at Irvington Preparatory Academy, a 287-student public charter school on the Eastside.
"I really don't know where we would be able to get the funds to be able to do some of the things we do for students without working Lucas Oil Stadium."
The earnings can be substantial: up to $800 per event -- depending on how many stands are manned -- and even more if a group works a Colts playoff game, when the home team is winning and the beer is flowing.
"I don't know where else you could get $2,000 to help a kid go to France," said Coffee, adding that his school has worked about two dozen events at the stadium during the past two years and was working a stand in Section 511 for the Final Four. "They just don't have the money to spend on something like that.
"It's a great opportunity, especially in this down economy."
Many extracurricular activities, such as dances and athletic camps, rely on fundraising.
"I think everything we can do in fundraising that is not a door-to-door project by students is an improvement," said John Ellis, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School
Superintendents. "They just don't seem to work well. I don't think they generate as much revenue, and I don't like sending kids out to do that."
Centerplate, the licensed food vendor at Lucas Oil Stadium, contracts with 101 groups to run its 146 permanent and portable concession stands and has doled out more than $2.74 million in its nonprofit program since the stadium opened in 2008.
Of those 101 groups, 56 are schools. The rest are a mishmash of organizations, including dance companies and gymnastics teams.
"What we get is a really good quality of personnel behind the concession stands," said John Stockholm, general manager at Centerplate. "Volunteers really do care and tend to provide better customer service.
"It's primarily a win-win situation," he said. "Not only do we put money back in the community, but in most cases, we end up with a much better grade of stand worker."
Volunteers undergo training through Centerplate, and group leaders are given a seminar by Marion County Health Department officials.
Volunteers "receive training in food safety essentials and are subject to following the policies and procedures of Centerplate," according to Health Department spokeswoman Collette Duvalle.
During the AFC Championship Game in January, volunteers with Knightstown High School
had $13,000 in sales -- a $1,170 payday.
Earning that much cash in one day "means we don't have to sell candy bars," said athletic director Jennifer Jacoby. "As far as the money, it's a no-brainer."
Working the concession stands takes a certain level of commitment. Volunteers often work eight-hour days, arriving two hours early and cleaning up for two hours after the buzzer sounds.
"It's brutal," said Jacoby, whose school planned to have about 40 volunteers staffing seven concession stands on Final Four weekend. "It's not like you just show up for the game and leave. It's an eight-hour process.
"There is a little bit of risk," she said. "But the benefits can be amazing if people take advantage of it."