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John Frost

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!





It was Victor’s first season as a concession manager at the ballpark.  He had served as the team’s business manager but because of his love for baseball Victor really yearned to get out of the back office and into ballpark operations.  Because of his accounting background he reasoned that if he took inventory of what was selling each inning he’d be able to better understand how to arrange products to increase sales.   “Just find out what is selling, and figure out a way to make it easier for people to buy it,” he confidently told his staff as they gathered before the first game of the season.  

So he took out his clipboard and calculator and marched off to evaluate each of the concession stands, going about his tasks just as he had when he was business manager.   

Victor noticed that in the first inning almost no one bought any concessions on the first base side.   He thought that peculiar so he decided he’d check those on the third base side.  There he found concessions selling at a brisk pace.  He thought it odd that things would be selling on one side more than the other.    

In the third inning he noticed that ice cream was the most popular item.   And in the fourth inning soda and beer sales increased dramatically.   

As the game wore on Victor saw more things that he found puzzling.   For instance, no one was buying beer in the bottom of the seventh inning.  

Because of Victor’s accounting expertise in inventory management and because he prided himself in being a real get-it-done kind of guy, he immediately went to work moving the concessions around to maximize sales.    


The next game Victor began implemented his new system of inventory management.  In the first inning, he moved all the concessions on the first base side to the third base side.  In the third inning, he took his best selling item, ice cream, and moved it to a more prominent spot where the popcorn popper had been.  It was a lot of work for his staff to make all these changes every inning, but Victor was confident that their extra effort would pay off.   Plus he loved seeing them busy instead of just standing around in the concession stand waiting for customers.  

Mike, stadium’s general manager, noticed that the concession staff busily moving the equipment around each inning, which was causing the lines to get longer since fewer people were available to take the fans’ orders.     

“Mike, no one on the first base side is hungry in the first inning so I’ve moved out all the inventory to the third base side,” he proudly told his boss.   Mike paused for a moment and said, “Victor, no one is at the first base concession stand because they don’t want to miss the at bat of our team’s best player.   Didn’t you notice that the third base side, the visitor’s side, was doing a brisk business?”  

“Oh,”  said Victor, slightly perplexed.   Then he proudly told his boss about moving around the ice cream because of what he noticed happening in the third inning.   

Mike paused, and with a smile put his hand on Victor’s shoulder and said, “Many fans like to get ice cream after they’ve had their hot dog.  It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that it’s the third inning.   

“But what about the beer and soda selling best in the fourth inning?”  Mike replied, “That’s because fans are thirsty after having popcorn and having their ice cream.”   

Even more perplexed Victor said, “Well if that’s true, why doesn’t anyone buy beer in the bottom of the seventh? Aren’t people still thirsty then?   His boss replied, “That’s because it’s against the law to sell beer right before fans get in the cars to drive home.  We are legally obligated to cut off beer sales after the seventh inning stretch.”  


Victor felt very frustrated and embarrassed.  He was beginning to realize that although he was experienced in accounting, it was not the same as being experienced in concessions.  Despite being smart and a hard worker Victor hadn’t yet learned that experience in one area doesn’t automatically result in expertise in another.  There are still things he needed to learn to better understand the big picture.  


Mike put his arm on Victor’s shoulder and said, “I know that you tried to make the right decision.  But if you make decisions based upon what you see in only one inning at one concession stand, you’re not taking into consideration all the other factors that impact concession sales.  Just because things happen at the same time doesn’t mean that one causes the other.   There is a profound difference between correlation and causation.”

Mike continued, “Victor, I’ve been in this business a long time.  I’ve had seasons where I’ve sold a lot of concessions and I’ve had seasons I haven’t done as well.   And you know what I’ve learned?  Instead of moving the peanuts, popcorn and ice cream around and having your staff do busy work, it really all boils down to one thing.
If you want to sell more concessions---get more fans.”    

The moral of the fable:  If one action causes another, then they are most certainly correlated. But just because two things occur together does not mean that one caused the other, even if it seems to make sense.

Need to prove something you already believe? Statistics are easy: All you need are two graphs and a leading question.


John Frost is a partner in Goodratings Strategic Services, and has been a successful major market disc jockey and program director for such companies as CBS, Cap Cities, Westinghouse, Sandusky, Gannett, and Alliance during his 38 year broadcast career.  John joined Goodratings’ partner Alan Mason in 1999.