Spectra Gets Illinois Food Deal

Concessionaire signs five-year deal as part of 'major push in Big Ten'

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: May 9, 2018

The University of Illinois' State Farm Arena, where a $170 million refurbishment was recently completed, has new club lounges.

University of Illinois sports fans can expect a renewed commitment to local food brands and the use of nonprofit groups after the Big Ten Conference school signed Spectra to run concessions and premium dining at all athletic facilities in Champaign.

The Philadelphia vendor signed a five-year deal with Illinois in an agreement announced this week. Spectra replaces Sodexo, which ran the food for three years after the school operated it in-house for many years.

Sodexo signed on for five years with a five-year option, according to a 2015 story on the deal, which would mean it is leaving before the end of the contract.

The deal marks Spectra’s first Big Ten contract and its 13th college account overall. Others include Texas Tech, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Central Florida and Colorado State. Aramark and Levy, which recently took over the sports food operation for Northwestern, another Big Ten school in Illinois, were in the hunt, said sources familiar with the negotiations.

“This deal takes us to a higher level in college athletics,” said Jay Satenspiel, Spectra’s regional vice president overseeing the Illinois account. “We’re making a major push in the Big Ten.”

In Champaign, Spectra hired John Hopple as general manager. Hopple ran the food at Texas Tech’s sports venues and most recently worked at Talen Energy Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. Hopple had expressed a desire to return to the college market, Satenspiel said.

Hopple starts June 1 in Champaign, the date Spectra’s deal officially takes effect.

Spectra’s goal is to revitalize the school’s nonprofit program, which has struggled with fewer groups working concessions, according to Satenspiel. For the new food provider, it’s an important piece of feeding fans at the university’s Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center and a way of giving back to the community. Spectra officials plan to contact fraternities, sororities, cheerleading squads and other on-campus organizations to come back and work sports events, he said.

Local brands play a key role in sports food, and Spectra wants to bring Joe’s Brewery back into the fold. The sports pub specializes in burgers and craft beers and is a hot spot in Champaign, but had dropped off the stadium’s food roster. The vendor wants it  to rejoin under the new operation, Satenspiel said.

Hickory River Smokehouse of neighboring Urbana, already part of stadium concessions, is expected to return for the 2018 season, he said.

On the premium side, there are opportunities to increase the level of food quality, especially at State Farm Center, the school’s 55-year-old arena, which went through a multiyear, $170 million renovation that was completed in 2016. Designed by AECOM, the club lounges are among the nicest in the Big Ten, and the arena now has the proper support spaces to serve higher-quality fare, Satenspiel said.

Spectra officials see promise as Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman, hired in February 2016, attempts to improve the school’s two revenue-producing sports. Former NFL coach Lovie Smith returns for his third season as the Fighting Illini’s head football coach. Brad Underwood recently completed his first season as head coach of the men’s basketball team.

“It’s a new era for University of Illinois sports, and we’re proud to be part of it,” Satenspiel said.

Jason Lener, Illinois’ senior associate athletic director, said in an email that he could not talk about the Spectra deal until after the school completes negotiations with Sodexo regarding its exit from the food contract.

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: May 9, 2018