Social media outrage and demands that stadium concessionaire Centerplate Inc. fire its chief executive continued Thursday amid charges of animal cruelty.
Desmond Hague, CEO of Stamford, Conn.-based foodservice contractor Centerplate, was caught on video in an elevator kicking a Doberman puppy and roughly yanking the dog’s leash. The video has been widely circulated in social media circles.
Hague this week issued a statement apologizing for the incident, saying it was “completely and utterly out of character.”
After an internal investigation, Centerplate’s board of directors on Wednesday said they issued a written censure, putting Hague on indefinite probation.
As a condition of employment, Hague was also ordered to personally donate $100,000 to create a foundation in the dog’s name — the Sade Foundation — to support the protection and safety of animals. He has also been asked to serve 1,000 hours of community service at an animal welfare organization.
The board noted that Hague also faces potential criminal charges in Vancouver, Canada, where the incident occurred.
Centerplate’s response, however, was seen as little more than a slap on the wrist by many, who flooded the company’s Twitter account with angry comments and demands for Hague’s ouster.
A Change.org petition calling for Hague to be fired was signed by more than 36,000 as of Thursday morning, and many on social media said they planned to boycott concessions at Centerplate stadiums.
Stadium operators scrambled to distance themselves from the incident.
Centerplate has more than 300 foodservice clients in the sports and entertainment world around the globe, including the new $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., home to the San Francisco 49ers, as well as the Superdome in New Orleans and Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Impact on business
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The Portland Timbers issued a statement saying: “We share the outrage of many of our supporters regarding the recent video that surfaced of Centerplate CEO Des Hague’s mistreatment of a dog in an elevator. Please understand that we have a quality local team of more than 100 Centerplate employees whose employment the Timbers have direct recourse over should any issue arise. In addition, the Centerplate team at Providence Park hires a large number of local nonprofits each game and concession sales are a vital part of those nonprofits’ fundraising efforts.”
The Timbers, however, noted that the Centerplate contract is a legally binding agreement, and noted, “we need to operate within the parameters it allows.
“We have urged Centerplate to take appropriate and decisive action here,” the statement continued. “When the contract expires, we will carefully review whether Centerplate is a company with which we want to continue to associate.”
Likewise, officials with Sun Life reportedly defended local stadium employees in Miami Gardens, Fla., saying, “We believe the reported actions and video are not reflective of our local Centerplate employees who work tirelessly to provide exceptional service to our fans at all of our events. We will continue to monitor this matter.”
In 2012, Hague led the buyout of Centerplate with the company’s management and private-equity firm Olympus Partners in a deal valued at $551 million. Many on social media expressed their views directly to Olympus Partners, demanding a response.
Olympus Partners did not respond to requests for comment at press time.
Hague is an industry veteran who served as president of IHOP before joining Centerplate in 2009. He served as president of corporate perishables for Safeway Inc. and was chair and chief executive of Hot Stuff Foods, formerly Orion Food Systems, which provided food services to convenience stores. Hague is also a former vice president of food retail for 7-Eleven, and has worked for Pizza Hut and Whitbread PLC.
Earlier this year, Hague spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the company’s efforts to bring local foods to its venues, as well as its use of data and new technologies to appeal to Millennials.
Industry expert Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of WD Partners in Columbus, Ohio, said the impact on Centerplate’s business going forward would depend on the velocity of the response and whether consumers follow through on their boycott threat.
“If it continues to gain momentum, it could be very significant,” said Lombardi. “If it peaks and begins to die out, they may be able to weather the storm. I’m sure their crisis team is watching very closely. At some point, there’s going to have to be a decision about the magnitude of damage.”
Lombardi pointed to the social media storm that followed reports on Chick-fil-A’s then-chief operating officer Dan Cathy’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
That incident also prompted calls for a boycott at the time, but “then it just went away,” he said.
Still, executives should be aware that in today’s social media world “there are no secrets and no secret places anymore,” Lombardi said. “Executives are the corporation and the corporations are the executives to a lot of individuals when it comes to social behavior.”
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout