Cash is no longer king, at least not at a growing number of Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Football League (NFL) venues. Tropicana Field, home to the Tampa Bay Rays, has done away with cash entirely, relying strictly on cashless transactions at concession stands, ticket offices and all other points-of-sale (POS) locations. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to the Atlanta Falcons, has become the first NFL venue to go completely cashless. “There is a significant amount of effort and cost that goes into the handling and accountability around cash that will get completely removed from the equation,” stated AMB Chief Executive Officer Steve Cannon in a recent Bloomberg article.
This trend is gaining steam. Fox Business reports that Visa and the NFL intend to deliver a fully cashless Super Bowl by the year 2025. And many more venues are expected to adopt this cashless approach in the near future.
In order to compete with the power of increasingly immersive home entertainment options, sports teams and venue owners have been investing in new stadium technology to create experiences that are truly worthy of the price of admission. “Smart” venues are harnessing the latest digital technologies to dramatically improve the customer experience and increase operational efficiencies – all while opening the door to enhanced revenue opportunities. In fact, according to a recent industry report, the smart venue market is expected reach a value of $15 billion by 2024.
Today’s increasingly connected world is enabling venue owners and operators to create a more engaging experience that shifts patrons from passive spectatorship to active participation. Fan zones with interactive activities, including digital technologies such as augmented and virtual reality experiences can increase customer engagement. Social media apps are being used to offer greater interaction between visitors, and even in some cases, with players and entertainers. Many savvy venues are leveraging apps to deliver exclusive access and benefits, such as customized messages from players and entertainers, streaming services, real-time stat tracking, and more.
Beyond connecting the spectator to the on-field action or on-stage performance, digital technology is also improving the live experience by providing real-time information on things such as parking availability. This turns the normally frustrating process of finding an open parking spot into a more streamlined activity which improves traffic flow and reduces the time before entering the venue.
Intelligent services, such as Internet-of-Things (IoT), are being introduced to provide invaluable customer information regarding the length of concession and bathroom lines, which are all peccadillos for visitors because waiting in line takes them away from the main event. Apps are also being used to provide artificial intelligence (AI) voice-controlled navigation assistants for help finding seats, preferred concessions or your car after the event.
Another important aspect of digital transformation in sports and entertainment venues is the ability to create frictionless transactions at the POS and faster throughput, including incorporating everything vendors need to safely and securely accept all major forms of customer payment across all channels and devices. As venues increasingly go cashless, POS technology takes on greater importance. POS industry statistics indicate that the POS terminals market is expected to reach $98.27 billion by 2022; a CAGR growth rate of 13.5 percent.
By increasing points of service, such as cashless self-order kiosks for concession stands, as well as mobile ordering apps with designated pickup areas or delivery to seats, patrons are able to order food and initiate payments from anywhere in the venue, cutting time in lines away from their seats. Biometric screening technology using fingerprints can be utilized to further speed transactions and age identification and making them more secure.
Venue and concession operators can vault accounts securely in a mobile application - whether it be Apple Pay™, Google Pay™, Samsung Pay, PayPal, Visa Checkout, or a card on file – allowing them to use tokens to authorize transactions in a secure way that doesn’t require patrons to reenter card details for each purchase. This simplifies the POS transaction and dramatically improves the customer experience.
Innovations in connected commerce technologies are also enabling venue operators to promote lower cost payment options to consumers, such as ACH, in exchange for loyalty offers and other promotions. This provides another win/win for customers and merchants as patrons earn rewards, while merchants drive down the cost of payments.
Of course, with new stadium technology, venues open themselves up to added vulnerabilities that extend beyond the physical world into cyberspace. To avoid being hacked and protect valued brand reputation, operators are turning to state-of-the art technology-driven solutions that secure customer data , detect fraud and provide fraud resolution. Encryption and tokenization are just a few of the tools being employed to ensure customer payment data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Both physical and digital gift card programs are seen as a further opportunity to create new sales for venues, while enhancing customer loyalty and reducing the overall cost of payments. First Data’s 18th Prepaid Consumer Insights Study found that for the fifth year in a row, spending lift from gift cards, which is also known as branded currency, is on the rise. The survey found that for every gift card purchased, consumers are typically spending on average $59 more than the original value of their card. These types of card offerings can be highly effective for fostering increased in-venue sales.
Much has been said lately about the importance of leveraging customer data and analytics to better understand customer behavior and spend habits in order to make highly contextual offers. Analytics technology is enabling venue owners and operators to gain greater insights into what patrons are most likely to buy and when they are likely to purchase. This allows for the delivery of customized offers in real-time when they are most relevant.
The growing adoption of smart venue services, which rely on intelligent automation technology, are driving more efficient operations, while simplifying commerce and encouraging patrons to increase expenditures. Venues today must compete with all forms of entertainment – from movies, smartphones, to in-home options – which require them to innovate and transform. Digital transformation in sports and entertainment venues offers opportunities to engage patrons in ways that can improve the overall customer experience, making a day at the ballpark more enticing than ever.