Eric Lindberg, right, a Levy executive for about 28 years, is pictured with regional chef Jonathan Williams at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, where the concessionaire runs the food at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Courtesy Levy)
LINDBERG WAS PIVOTAL FOR EXPANDING LEVY’S PREMIUM ACCOUNTS
Eric Lindberg, a sports food executive who over 30 years played a key role for building Levy into a leader in the premium dining space at arenas and stadiums, died June 20 in Florida.
Lindberg, Levy’s vice president of premium out of Atlanta and responsible for developing all protocols for that piece of food service, was 48 years old. The cause of death is unknown.
His death shocked colleagues across the sports and entertainment industry. Today would have been his 28-year anniversary with Levy, said Alison Weber, the company’s chief creative officer.
“We are devastated at the sudden loss of one of our most caring and talented Levy members, Eric Lindberg,” Levy President and CEO Andy Lansing said in a statement. “Eric played a major role shaping our premium business and setting the gold standard for the industry. He blended his enthusiasm for sports, best-in-class food and beverage operations and warm hospitality into a role he cherished.”
Lindberg started as a Levy intern in 1992 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the company is headquartered. He was hired full-time at Levy by division president Robert Wood. In 1997, Lindberg moved to south Florida to run premium at Pro Player Stadium, the same year the Florida Marlins won their first World Series title.
Two years later, Lindberg relocated to Atlanta, where he was named director of operations for premium dining at new Philips Arena, now State Farm Arena. He was later promoted to Levy’s regional director of southeast properties, including FedEx Forum, which debuted in 2004. That same year, Lindberg took over all aspects of premium for the company.
Consultant Mike Plutino, founder and CEO of Food Service Matters, spent about 13 years at Levy and knew Lindberg well. If there was a new building in development Lindberg was immersed in those discussions with teams during presentations with an eye of taking a fresh look at premium, Plutino said.
“Everyone gets ‘heroized’ when they pass, but you won’t find a person who has a bad thing to say about the guy,” he said. “He was the epitome of Levy and their culture; thoughtful, kind, even-keeled. Eric started out as an operator and never lost touch with the operators. If it was the USTA or the Kentucky Derby, he was knee deep in it.”
Most recently, Plutino consulted for the Golden State Warriors for developing their food operation at Chase Center, the $1.6 billion arena that opened last year in San Francisco. Lindberg was front and center for Levy as they teamed with Bon Appetit to win the Warriors’ business. The arena’s courtside suites, some priced at $2 million annually, set a new benchmark for premium in sports with their wine lockers and exclusive access to courtside seats for NBA games.
“No one knew premium and drove the bus on it like Eric,” Plutino said. “He never settled for the suites and clubs of yesterday. That’s what he did and he brought that level of confidence, that you knew he knew what he was talking about. He was ‘the guy,” and geared that way.”
Premium was Lindberg’s specialty and he flourished in that role, said consultant Chris Bigelow. “He covered a lot of accounts,” Bigelow said. “He was all over the place.”
Over the course of his career, Lindberg helped support the Association of Luxury Suite Directors, an industry trade group, and plan its annual conferences, said ALSD owner Bill Dorsey. Levy as a whole has been instrumental in promoting the association over 30 years.
“Eric was a great friend of the ALSD,” Dorsey said. “The last seven to eight years, he was our go-to person. He was a real road warrior, traveling 200 days a year. Levy has grown immensely and Eric on the premium side was very much a part of that. They loved him there.”
Lindberg’s travel and expertise expanded internationally in the UK and Mexico, where he worked on the firm’s consulting projects, according Weber.
Domestically, Lindberg’s “crown jewel” projects were Wrigley Field’s American Airlines 1914 Club, a cornerstone of the $760 million ballpark improvements, Churchill Downs upgrades and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Weber said.
“The Wrigley club, that was Eric’s baby; to make that come to life in the property where he was an intern was like a dream come true for him,” she said. “He wanted the best premium experience and he wanted people to learn with him along the way. He went to the USTA every year and created that experience as we know it today.”
Editor’s note: This story has been revised since it was originally posted.