Sports arenas and entertainment venues have been digitizing for years, albeit at a leisurely pace, but COVID-19 was the kickoff for contactless payments and digital ordering now elevating the fan experience with new systems to streamline — and even personalize — large events.
During a recent PYMNTS TV ‘On the Agenda’ panel, Ben Conrad, vice president of digital marketing and automation at the Milwaukee Bucks, Geoff Johnson, general manager of Bypass and Clover Link at Fiserv, and Scott Mackay, vice president, global digital commerce at Fiserv, agreed that connectivity is changing sports fandom faster now, even as COVID-19 variants cloud the picture.
Conrad noted that Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum had done “foundational” digital work, but “[COVID] accelerated it to a different level to where all of a sudden there were super-specific things we had to get done just to be able to have fans back inside of our arena.”
Describing how the fan journey is changing, Conrad told Webster that having “multiple systems all in one spot, like our app, and being able to communicate on a one-to-one basis was really critical” as the stadium moved from 25% to 50% to 100% capacity “in a week and a half.”
That means the ability to communicate digitally with fans before they even arrive is now vital to the end-to-end experience. “Without all the different things that we had connected within our app and the ability to market on a one-to-one basis, that would’ve been really difficult,” Conrad said.
Happily, any fan with with the app downloaded to their phone can experience these changes — flavorfully.
“We needed to communicate [food and beverage ordering changes] because as we went to 100% capacity, there’s a large chunk of people that had not been to a game all season,” Conrad said. “At that point, you’re at maybe the most exciting [place], which is an Eastern conference finals game, and it’s the first time they’ve ever been at a game [where] they go to order food and beverage — and it’s a completely different experience than they’ve ever had.”
Integrating Bypass mobile-ordering technology from Fiserv with the company’s connected commerce capabilities and its Clover point-of-sale (POS) platform gives spectators at Fiserv Forum new ways to enjoy the game while cheering on the 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks.
“We kind of kicked into overdrive on working with teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, and really thinking holistically about the industry,” Johnson said. “How could we put technology in place that would allow the fans to order food and pick it up safely, but almost more importantly, do that without breaking the operational experience for the teams?”
The result is an in-app experience that lets consumers know exactly where and when their food will be delivered, fresh and ready, and gives them control to pick up at various points in a game — or during their least favorite song at a concert. In a word: convenience.
The PYMNTS study “The Connected Consumer in the Digital Economy: Who Wants to Live in a Digital Connected Economy — and Why?” found that “Convenience seekers earn more in annual income than any other connected persona group, with 46% earning more than $100,000 per year.”
Per the study, “They also appear to be the most financially stable: 37% say they do not live paycheck to paycheck. They not only have the greatest appetite for connected experiences, but also have an interest in transacting inside of a single ecosystem.”
A Day in the Life of a Connected Fan
Planning better fan experiences in the arena takes a lot of work outside the arena.
“When we look at a day in the life of the fan it starts several days ahead, everything from digital engagement in the ability to buy ticketing, reserve parking, and then the journey the day of,” Mackay said. “Really, the fan can be connected throughout the entire day, whether that be driving directions, parking, access to the facility, the reservation or ordering of attire, a jersey or a hat before getting into the stadium or the arena itself.”
In retrofitting connected stadiums, Mackay said the team takes inspiration from what’s happening in restaurants and grocery stores with QR codes, the integration of digital wallets and other payment options — “applying value to a ticket stub and the ability to then redeem those values either before or during the game itself.”
“So, the digital experience has evolved and a lot of it has come from outside of the sports and entertainment [realm] but is being propagated inside,” Mackay continued.
Staying connected with fans outside the stadium is also vital to getting them inside.
As Conrad told Karen Webster, “We want to start communicating with that fan — especially someone who’s already purchased a couple days before — just to make sure that they know all their options coming to the games, so that no matter what they’re doing, they can have the most efficient and most beneficial experience when they get here, whether it’s something as simple as parking or merchandise.”
Tackling New Opportunities
Arenas coast-to-coast are seeing the benefits of digital connectivity. With more to come in 2022, fans and venues are set to win big.
“I think the fans are going to reap the benefits, and it’s not just Fiserv Forum,” Johnson said. “It’s The UBS Arena that we just launched in New York that has had record breaking levels of [concession sales per capita] and they’re almost 100% [set up as] marketplaces. I’ve never seen a stadium operate like that.”
Fiserv is also transforming the fan experience by working with Gillette Stadium and the New England Patriots, the Phoenix Suns, the Miami Heat and others.
Mackay believes that partnerships will begin expanding into other venues, like the hotels and restaurants fans patronize before and after events.
“Maybe different technology integration points, maybe different applications depending on the team or the fan,” Mackay said. “But I think it elevates everybody’s fan experience by being able to orchestrate these complex connection points in a very simple, seamless way.”
It also boosts the bottom line for venues, Conrad told Webster. During the playoffs, the Bucks found that mobile orders generated about 32% more revenue than traditional walkup concession sales.
As a result, the team has reoriented its concessions strategy to take push mobile ordering as much as it can, building on insights from the data it garners.
“As our data gets more sophisticated, and especially with our app and the single sign-in elements that we’ve built into the platform, we’ll be able to understand who is at the game at that time, what they’re doing, what they want to buy and then provide them opportunities outside of the space … that they could engage in, like retail,” Conrad added.
“All of that is kind of open territory for us to help push our fans and help engage our fans in that way and provide upsell opportunities throughout our own properties.”