Digital Payments

PayPal Teams With Phoenix Suns On Mobile, Contextual Payments


Depending on the time of year, or the team involved, or the specific game, the pain can be acute, a signal of regret: You miss that big dunk, or a gorgeous three-pointer, and you know by the cheers of the crowd that the play will be a highlight on the news later that night.

Too bad the cashier at the beer counter was too slow. Or that the hot dog man fumbled with your card or cash. You thought you picked a reasonable time to leave your seat, but you picked wrong — and now all your pals will make fun of you for missing out.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration — or an understatement, depending on the level of fandom — but PayPal and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns think they have a fix.

Omnichannel Sports

They have inked a deal, announced Tuesday (Oct. 2), that is designed to bring the omnichannel experience to sports. It’s not just about buying concessions. It’s about going along for the whole sports (and concert) ride, so to speak — it’s about enabling friction-free transactions for consumers before, during and after sporting and other entertainment events.

The deal, so far, boils down to this:

Fans can use the PayPal digital app to place and pay for orders from their seats and buy merchandise and other items that they can pick up on their way out or have shipped home, thanks to the integrated POS experience at the terminals at Talking Stick Resort Arena, Robert Clarkson, PayPal’s general manager of North America, told Karen Webster during an interview. PayPal Here card readers will also accept credit, debit, or tap to pay mobile payments, which means fans can pay however they choose, including using balances from their PayPal accounts.  As well, PayPal will get a co-branding spot on the Phoenix Suns patches.

The pro basketball team’s season ticket holders — a group known as the Suns’ SixthMan — can also use PayPal Credit to finance their ticket purchase, paying the balance over time. And beyond that — remember, basketball is a global sport, and the NBA has serious international pull — more seamless and digital payments can make it more appealing for, say, a fan outside the United States to buy the jersey of a favorite player.

“Our goal is to serve as an innovation lab to a large degree,” Jason Rowley, the team’s president and CEO, said during the PYMNTS interview. “Other teams, we hope, will look at this partnership as a model going forward.”

Sports Spending

The opportunities are substantial. According to recent research from the University of California Berkeley School of Information, the average fan who attends a Suns game spends about $82 on the experience, a total that includes the ticket, parking, a hot, dog and a beer. The highest spenders in the NBA are New York Knicks fans, at $176 per game, while the lowest are Charlotte Hornets fans, at $47.

In all, U.S. consumers spend $56 billion annually on sporting events — that’s about twice as much as those consumers spend on books.

Of course, the modern, committed fan does so much more than attend a game. Branded merchandise is proof of loyalty. And sports bars and restaurants — some of them partnering with a team or payments providers — often offer deals to those fans.

Contextual Commerce

The PayPal-Suns deal signals not only the evergreen revenue opportunities of sport (and concerts and other events held in arenas) but the rise of contextual commerce. That relatively new, but increasingly vital concept, describes how consumers are moved to buy products and services that relate to a specific, often non-retail, context. For instance, a consumer reading about his or her hobby on a blog might be inspired to buy a related product. So might a sport or music fan when buying tickets (why not buy a shirt, too?) or simply reading about favorite players or bands.

In a recent PYMNTS digital discussion and associated report, Azita Habibi, business development lead at PayPal-owned Braintree dug deep into contextual context, and found that 48 percent of consumers have tried that shopping experience at least once. And those who have tried contextual commerce generally are seeking efficiency, as 59 percent of consumers who have tried it report using the online retail method for a faster buying experience. “Who doesn’t like an expedited experience?” Habibi asked.

The coming Suns season will provide more data and experience about the appeal of mobile payments and contextual commerce at big sporting events — and provide guidance about what comes next.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.