Another baseball season has started, much to the delight of many consumers, including those insufferable and pretentious fans who consider football something that happens between the World Series and spring training. Cue the memories, the emotional music, the waxing nostalgic about past players and all those ballpark hotdogs with parents and pals.
Recall, too, all those instances in which sports helped shape payments.
Sports – or, more specifically, sports venues – function as hotspots for payments, sites of experimentation and deployment for the latest technologies and concepts.
Why wouldn’t they? You have tens of thousands of people (unless you are the Miami Marlins or some other unfortunate team) in a central location ready to spend money. And money they will spend: The average price of a hot dog at a Major League Baseball stadium runs $4.52, according to an estimate, while a soda will set you back $4.13 and a beer $5.90. On average, a fan can expect to spend about $80 or so at an MLB game, after buying the ticket (with prices much higher, of course, in bigger cities).
Cashless in Atlanta
One of the biggest developments in the ongoing relationship between sports and payments comes from Atlanta.
There, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium has gone cashless, with only credit cards, debit cards and mobile payments being accepted at the venue, with officials saying the move will help keep prices low for fans. Steve Cannon, chief executive of Falcons’ owner AMB Group, told Bloomberg, “There is a significant amount of effort and cost that goes into the handling and accountability around cash that will get completely removed from the equation.” At the same time, it was said the move would make transaction times quicker and provide more flexibility for price changes.
That said, people who only have cash can still transact there: The stadium will have roughly 10 machines that will let users exchange cash (ranging from $10 to $1,000) for a prepaid Visa debit card.
AMB Group, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, began its cashless strategy amid soccer season, as soccer’s fan base is generally more oriented toward technology. Facts support that. (Lest baseball fans forget, that sport might be “American’s pastime,” but soccer pretty much dominates the rest of the world.)
Late last year, for instance, Allianz Arena in Munich, where the German soccer team FC Bayern Munich plays, adopted NFC ticketing via Apple Pay, according to reports. “With Apple Pay, users will be able to use near-field communication chips to buy concessions and merchandise at the stadium with a tap of their iPhone or Apple Watch.” Not only that, but “Apple Pay is available at all kiosks and in the fan shops in Allianz Arena.”
Indeed, FC Bayern reportedly stands as the first member of the German soccer league Bundesliga “to offer Apple Pay ticketing at its front gates. Visitors to the stadium can load their tickets into their Apple Wallets and hold their iPhone or Apple Watch to a ticket scanner to enter the stadium without needing to establish an internet connection or unlock their phones.”
The last World Cup also brought digital payment activity and progress – specifically, contactless payments. Approximately 17 percent of purchases with Visa in the World Cup’s 11 Russian host cities, for example, used contactless payment technology with devices such as smartphones, bracelets and rings. However, the share of contactless payments inside the stadiums hit 54 percent, made by fans from Russia and other countries.
In terms of FIFA venues, Luzhniki Stadium led all sites for total number of payment transactions, where fans spent 139 million rubles ($2.2 million). Russian citizens and international visitors spent about the same within the stadiums. Russian citizens were responsible for 68 million rubles ($1.1 million) in purchases, while non-Russian citizens were responsible for 71 million rubles ($1.12 million) in spending.
Football, too – U.S.-style football, the game where giant men hit each other and where refs blow calls in New Orleans – has its share of progress in payments and commerce. For instance, the NFL during the 2018 season jumped into the voice-assistant technology game, too. It launched “The Rookie’s Guide to the NFL,” an Alexa skill designed to educate casual and new fans about the game, provide information about Super Bowl history, and give podcast previews about the league’s playoff games from Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora. Previous Super Bowls have seen efforts toward promoting contactless payments.
Welcome to a new baseball season. May your team do well. And may this year’s payments game be better than previous efforts.