Biometrics Are The Seattle Seahawks’ MVP

Waiting in long lines to enter sports stadiums, then again to order at concession stands, is about as synonymous to the football experience as pigskin itself. However, some stadiums, including the Seattle Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field, are starting to use biometrics to authenticate tickets, confirm visitors’ ages and accept payments for alcohol purchases. In the new Digital Identity Tracker, Zach Hensley, the Seahawks’ VP of venue operations and guest experience, discusses how biometric solutions are changing the game.

Opening day came early this year for baseball fans. Thousands descended upon T-Mobile Park stadium in Seattle on March 28 — the earliest opening day in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — to see their home team, the Mariners, take on last year’s World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox.

The trip to the game might have seemed familiar to many of these fans as they formed long lines to scan their tickets and enter the stadium. Additional queues formed at concession stands as attendees reached for their credit cards and IDs to buy beer or wine.

Many guests were able to move ahead of these lines, however, with the help of recently implemented technologies. T-Mobile Park is one of several major stadiums to implement biometric solutions, enabling customers to verify their identities by scanning their fingerprints and irises at major consumer-facing checkpoints.

Over the past year, 18 MLB, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) arenas have deployed biometric solutions by CLEAR. CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, was the first NFL stadium to adopt the technology. According to Zach Hensley, vice president of operations and guest experiences for the Seahawks and CenturyLink Field, these services are changing how fans experience live games and boosting their overall enjoyment.

“Our fans really like the VIP experience of express lanes that shorten their wait time to get into the building,” Hensley said.

Sidelining Physical Identities

He explained that CenturyLink Field first introduced biometric authentication last year, piloting the technology at two stadium gates that handle 65 percent of entry traffic. New users had to stop by a kiosk and provide U.S. government-issued identification forms, as well as answer several questions regarding personally identifiable information (PII). Following that, they enrolled with the CLEAR system by providing scans of their fingerprints and irises.

Those who enroll can choose between two different membership levels. CLEAR Sports is free to use but provides access only to sports stadiums, while a full membership costs $179 each year and includes biometric-based access to TSA PreCheck at participating airports in addition to stadium entry.

Following CLEAR’s successful launch, the technology has been introduced at concession stands throughout the stadium, where users’ biometric data can be linked to payment cards to enable quick purchases. The solution can also be used at the point of sale (POS) to verify consumers’ ages when they buy alcohol or other restricted goods.

“At the concessions POS, there’s quicker transaction times. [Consumers don’t have to] pull out their IDs or credit cards — [they can] do it all with a fingerprint scan,” he said.

CLEAR has been well-received by attendees, Hensley noted, as they no longer need to remember their IDs or even game tickets. Ed O’Brien, head of sports at CLEAR, concurred, adding that biometrics could make sporting events smoother for fans by enabling them to use their own fingerprints and irises for identification and payments.

“Everyone wants everything instantaneously, whether it’s content or whether it’s purchases that can be done on a phone,” O’Brien said. “We feel that biometrics takes that to the next degree. [Users do not have] to carry components around and [can] unlock them on their own.”

Adding Change to the Routine

The sports world is known for its traditions, and old habits tend to die hard. Hensley noted that attendees have grown accustomed to a wide range of practices, including carrying physical tickets to games.

“We have several generations of fans dating back to our previous home in the Kingdome,” he said. “A lot of them [are used to the] same behaviors upon entering the stadium.”

These older fans might be hesitant break their habits and use biometrics, but the technology is becoming more prevalent, Hensley said. He believes that more Seahawks fans will see the benefits of incorporating them into their routines, especially because CLEAR’s Sports tier is free.

A Biometric Game-Changer?

Attendance at NFL games declined from approximately 17.8 million people in 2016 to 17.2 million last year as many fans have opted for at-home experiences. Bundled sports broadcast packages, social media and high-definition televisions allow them to enjoy games from the comfort of their living rooms.

“It’s become much easier for people to enjoy and interact with sports at home or outside of the venue,” O’Brien said. “The in-venue experience is becoming so much more important. … The more roadblocks you put in front of people, the more they’re going to go back to their home experiences.”

Many professional sports venues understand the importance of providing alluring in-person experiences, and some have even slashed concession prices in an attempt to boost attendance. In addition to such tactics, biometric solutions that allow users to quickly enter the stadium or move through concession lines could be key to reinvigorating guests’ experiences or even attracting new visitors.

“Increasing the speed of service and getting fans back to their seats and to the action on the field is our goal as venue operators,” Hensley said.

Professional teams are increasingly willing to try new things to make in-person experiences smooth and enjoyable for fans. Biometric solutions that authenticate identities and act as payment methods while also slashing lines could prove to be the game-changers they’re looking for.