As operators reopen live events, going cashless makes the most sense for public safety."

With the debut of the 2021-2022 NFL season earlier this month, the NBA season approaching in late October and other live events like festivals and concerts returning, stadiums and venues are having to rethink how they operate concessions to safely support in-person crowds and offer attendees a better experience.

While capacity numbers in stadiums are fluctuating, we’re seeing some common trends in operations, such as cashless concessions and souvenir shops. In fact, at least 26 of 30 Major League Baseball parks have shifted from cash to cashless in 2021. We’re seeing a similar approach in other major sports leagues, with several NFL teams announcing fully cashless stadiums, and some basketball and hockey venues doing the same. As operators reopen live events, going cashless makes the most sense for public safety.

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium, home of the NFL Atlanta Falcons, was ahead of this trend, making the switch to digital payments in 2019, improving efficiency and increasing revenue. By going cashless, the stadium was able to speed up transactions by around 20 seconds and shorten wait times, which resulted in a $350,000 expense savings in concessions. The stadium also saw a 16% increase in food and beverage sales per capita. To support the cashless environment, Mercedes-Benz stadium and other larger venues have installed “reverse ATMs” where patrons can turn cash into prepaid debit cards, allowing all patrons to benefit from the improvements of the cashless system.

Music venues and stadium events are also using cashless systems such as Square, the mobile payment company that offers a point of sale system. Square offers more than just faster checkout times. By providing users’ purchase history, the technology enables venues to offer patrons a more personalized experience. The Square system also provides stadiums with a better understanding of fans and how they engage with the venue through omnichannel marketing. Data is tracked from all customer purchases, starting from parking in the stadium lots to buying a pregame snack at a digital kiosk, to picking up a halftime bite, telling the stadium what patrons are buying and at what times during the event.

Menu Updates and More

In addition to the digital shift to cashless, stadiums have been using third-party companies, self-serve kiosks and mobile app ordering technology to assist in how they operate their concessions and retail business. These services bring patrons options like real-time menu and availability updates to boost operational efficiency and end long lines spectators are accustomed to experiencing at live events. Fans can use these technologies to place an order on their smartphones, pick it up when it’s ready or have it delivered to their seat.

CHEQ, a customizable app designed to help with mobile ordering, is an example of one of these third-party offerings. The company has partnered with the Miami Marlins to provide a contactless experience for browsing the menu, ordering food and paying through a customer’s personal device. SEATSERVE is another app that enables customers to order food and drinks to be delivered to their seats once inside venues such as EuroLeague arenas and Liverpool’s Anfield stadium.

Radio-frequency identification is also playing a major role in how venues and festivals operate. RFID is typically embedded in a wristband that allows for faster entry into events, improving traffic flow, and, with the ability to connect a credit card, enables cashless payments. The technology also brings the capability of learning more about the patrons attending these live events, such as entrance and exit times, concession purchases and what they’re sharing to social media. RFID technology has been used at major in-person conferences and festivals, including South by Southwest and Coachella, since 2014, but the pandemic has accelerated its use at in-person events.

The reemergence of sporting and live events has forced stadiums and organizers to adjust the way they operate safely during a pandemic. The switch to cashless payments reflects an overall shift to digital solutions, providing stadiums and venues an opportunity to improve operations. Not only does this add health and safety measures for both the employees and the patrons, but it also improves efficiency, supports more personalized experiences and boosts overall convenience, benefits that will last beyond the pandemic.

Kelsey Weber
Director, E-Commerce

Kelsey Weber leads Waypoint’s foodservice e-commerce team. She previously worked on Advantage Solutions’ digital strategy team, where she helped develop the company’s grocery e-commerce capability team.

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