Article contributed by Michael Schatzberg
Stadiums are getting a much-needed tech upgrade. The big game, concert or comedy show in the post-pandemic looks a little differently for sports and entertainment fans attending in-person events. Virtual ticket scanning on smart phones, ordering food and drinks via apps and self-pouring beverage stations to avoid high-touch surfaces are now the new normal, benefiting consumer health and safety and helping operators increase their bottom line by cutting out unnecessary labor costs.
Gone are the days of fans missing a home run, touch-down or their favorite song because they’re stuck waiting in long lines at concession stands. With smart phone ordering, contactless checkouts and pick-up pods, fewer consumers are likely to risk missing the event because of the daunting lines, which ultimately negatively impact concessionaires. That’s why more stadium operators are investing in smart technology that can help bring a VIP experience to guests right from their seats.
One way hospitality-driven tech companies are merging with concessionaires at stadiums is by offering handheld tablets that integrate with POS systems allowing fans to order directly from their seats. This allows wait staff to take multiple orders at a time, reducing lines at stands and allowing runners to bring out food quickly and efficiently.
“Consumers are increasingly looking for contactless service in the hospitality sector and stadium operators are catering to this growing demand with innovative digital-driven platforms to better serve guests,” David Blitzer, Co-Founder & Co-Managing Partner of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment
A number of stadiums and arenas have already implemented methods to keep fans safe during the big game by leveraging tech solutions to make the hospitality experience safer. The Prudential Center in New Jersey – known for its live entertainment and sports games — has implemented contactless entry into the stadium with mobile ticketing and contactless payment methods throughout the arena. Fans are also able to order from concession stands via their mobile devices and get contactless pickup in sealed bags.
Others, like Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, introduced cashless concession stands for merchandise, food and drinks so attendees can expect speedier lines and avoid potential germs from exchanging cash.
And to monitor crowd control and uphold social distancing, KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York enlisted a tech innovation platform that has an app alerting fans to how long lines are at concessions and restrooms to avoid gathering in big groups
Now more than ever, consumers are demanding contactless payment methods and food pickup stations, particularly in hospitality settings. More than 74% of Americans used their phone to order and pay for food and merchandise at least once a week, with nearly 48% using their smart phones for purchases several times a week or more, according to recent data surveys. Customers also prefer to serve themselves in the age of the post-pandemic. Nearly half (44%) of consumers also surveyed in the said they wanted to use self-service kiosks when eating out or on the go.
Companies allowing for hands-free payment continue to thrive in the post pandemic. BBot, for example, lets users scan a QR code to order food and drinks with no app download. The app integrates directly with kitchens making sure orders are received and processed fast, enabling staffers to cover twice as many guests.
“The thing we’ve seen work best with our stadium partners is implementing order ahead for pickup lines. Skipping the line to get back to the game is a great guest experience and is necessary for ordering even during the game so no one misses a second,” said Steve Simoni, CEO and founder of Bbot, an order and payment software for the hospitality industry, said.
Customers also prefer to serve themselves in the age of the post-pandemic. Nearly half (44%) of consumers surveyed in the Appetizer Contactless Technology poll said they wanted to use self-service kiosks when eating out or on the go.
Innovations like PourMyBeer, the self-pouring beverage operator, does exactly that by allowing users to pour their own drinks.
And with quick-service concessions, another way operators can maximize on contactless pickup and self-service is by adding hands-free pick up pods from the service Minnow, which promotes both hygiene and reduces the need to have wait staff run food out to customers.
USING DATA FOR FEEDBACK, AND KEEPING GUESTS ENGAGED AFTER THE EVENT
Concession operators can also stay connected with their guests long after the event ends thanks to tech tools capitalizing on guest feedback.
Ovation, a direct-to-consumer platform for businesses, chains and other food operators like Halal Guys and 5 Napkin Burger, helps operators get feedback from customers through easy tools that incentivizes them to rate their experience after a meal or retail experience. This helps manage a business’ reputation online.
For example, when a business contracts out a concession stand at a stadium, tools like Ovation allow them to monitor customer feedback to uphold brand consistency.
Collecting data via ticket sales and in-stadium purchases is also crucial to bringing operators real-time feedback on customer satisfaction.
Innovations like Yumpingo do exactly that by updating operators with customer satisfaction by location, shift, service and dish in cases when customers order food.
LOADED TICKETS WITH CUSTOMER REWARDS AND LOYALTY PROGRAMS
A number of stadiums are introducing value-based ticketing, promoting sales and promotions digitally at retailers and food and drink eateries at the stadium, incentivizing consumers to purchase with a brand or retailer before they even step foot inside the stadium. Tickets are also being used for loyalty programs with rewards for guests that help boost sales.
Spendgo, a tech company that specializes in creating loyalty programs for businesses, allows operators to implement engaging marketing tactics like pay with points features and other ways to engage and retain customers through digital ordering, apps, kiosks, web portals and mobile wallets.
Other innovations that help operators create niche loyalty programs to boost customer retention are Personica, an app that digitized the old-school concept of customers putting their business cards in a fishbowl.
Instead, it collects data like customer emails to send out promotions while also connecting guest activity and online orders directly to a businesses’ loyalty program.
With concerts, games and live entertainment in full swing in the age of the post-pandemic, operators are realizing how vital it is to optimize stadiums and arenas with tech and software that allows for a more convenient, safe and user-friendly customer and overall hospitality experience.
Michael “Schatzy” Schatzberg is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Branded Strategic Hospitality and the Managing Director for Branded Restaurants. He has over 35 years of marketing, brand development, management, business development and hospitality experience. Schatzberg started working at Duke’s in 1995. He went on to turn a single concept restaurant into a multi-unit Hospitality Group -opening a second Duke’s location in Manhattan, and re-branding Big Daddy’s from a 1969 soda shop into a twist on the classic American diner. Schatzberg has developed, grown, and managed 6 hospitality concepts and advises over 22 restaurants in NYC. He is a founding member of the NYC Hospitality Alliance and Member of the New York State Restaurant Association.
After being an early adopter to Hospitality Technology within his concepts and serving as an advisor for many start-up HI-Tech companies, Schatzberg founded Branded Strategic Hospitality, an investment & advisory company, that leverages its ecosystem of hospitality venues, expertise, and deep relationships to influence, redefine and evolve hospitality technology (“HI-Tech”) and Food & Beverage innovation. To date, the company has made 21 direct investments.