Football season is here, and with it, everyone’s favorite stadium food (and least favorite stadium snack prices). According to The Cheat Sheet, a slice of pizza sees a markup of 69 percent to 75 percent at most sports stadiums. Popcorn is looking at 82 percent to 92 percent. And in many cases, snow cones are closing in on 100 percent markup. Thirsty? Be prepared to pay between $5 and $11 for a beer at most NFL stadium concession stands — a 26 percent markup. Opting for soda will save you a couple bucks but will still cost between $3 and $8 — a 94 percent markup.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of money flowing through the average NFL stadium concession stand on a game night. So what’s the best way to handle that kind of influx? We’re talking tens of thousands of customers in a three-hour span. We’ve noted before that long lines lose customers in this setting because, while beer is important, nobody wants to miss the game to get it.
As always — though perhaps more than most — stadium food managers are chasing the payments holy grail of speed and security. And the problem extends beyond the sports arena: Major stadiums and conference centers also need to be prepared to host large entertainment, education and professional events, often in rotation — so their needs are changing on a daily or weekly basis.
Since the point-of-sale (POS) solution Appetize claims to address these challenges, it’s natural that Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Kevin Anderson has put a lot of thought into where other solutions fall short and how that has kept the convention center space from progressing technologically.
In this environment, Anderson said, people are making walk-up concession and quick-service restaurant (QSR) purchases, mixed with the occasional retail buy at one of the gift stores within the venue. Add in any sales that the convention wishes to make — say, selling books authored by featured speakers at the convention — and that’s another whole layer of complexity, since those vendors need to hook into a payments system or a wireless network to accept any form of mobile payment other than cash.
Legacy point-of-sale systems are slow, said Anderson, but at least they’re capable of complex functionality, despite their shortcoming in terms of innovation and infrastructure.
Mobile payment solutions by companies like Square, Revel and ShopKeep, while innovative, lack the breadth and depth of features needed in a stadium environment, he said, which is why so many large venues haven’t upgraded from their early 2000s-era sale terminals. Those solutions focus on SMBs — they’re designed to “sign up and go,” said Anderson, not to carry massive, multi-location enterprises that need to stock supplies by the hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands.
The other problem with mobile payment solutions in a stadium setting is connectivity. In venues this big, Anderson said, there will be some areas with wired connectivity and some with wireless. Sometimes a cellular data plan will be the way to go. But one thing is for sure: It’s not easy to deploy an effective wireless network across such a large area, and if that infrastructure isn’t in place, then there’s nothing for these systems to ride on.
What Appetize does, and what Anderson believes all large-venue payment processors will need to do sooner rather than later, is upgrade to the cloud. That eliminates the need for any wired connectivity between terminals and servers. It can completely change the format of how business is done on the premises, said Anderson.
A cloud-based system creates flexibility, so if vendors at a convention want to sell their books or other wares, they aren’t restricted to taking cash only, but can connect their POS unit to the server and accept credit cards or digital payments.
Eliminating the server room and associated infrastructure also reduces maintenance costs, while introducing live reporting and analytics that managers can use to improve business in real time (rather than poring over spreadsheets at 3:00 a.m., wishing they’d seen the opportunity while it was there).
There is also some not-unexpected resistance from those who are used to doing things the way they’ve always done them. Large food service companies are used to operating a certain way in the convention center circuit, said Anderson, and venue management can be loath to retrain hundreds of employees on a new retail system when the old one isn’t not working; it’s just not working great.
“These enterprise businesses, like convention centers, need something that is reliable and secure and is a system that they can trust,” said Anderson. “We can’t just be innovative as a company, and I think that’s where other point-of-sale players get it wrong.”