Stadium POS system supplier Appetize gets $20 million in funding

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 12.14.36 PMAppetize, the company behind a new point-of-sale platform being used by such new stadiums as the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center, announced it had secured a $20 million funding round led by Shamrock Capital Advisors.

Oak View Group, the new stadium/technology concern from Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff, also participated in the round, which Appetize said it will use to expand the company size and locations, adding New York and Atlanta offices to the Los Angeles-area (Playa Vista, Calif.) headquarters. In addition to supplying stadiums with their own custom point-of-sale equipment, Appetize’s platform acts as a digital middleman of sorts between mobile apps with food-ordering features, like those from VenueNext (which works with Appetize at U.S. Bank Stadium) and back-of-house systems for inventory, ordering and other analytics.

While its list of sports-venue customers is long, Appetize said it will also use the funding round to help it expand to other large public venue verticals, including theme parks, convention centers, and campus installations.

Andy Howard, a partner with Shamrock, said Appetize’s executive team has great relationships with top concession vendors, and a clear idea of how to help venues not only improve the fan experience (with shorter or faster-moving lines) but also to provide instant analytics that can allow teams or stadium operators to track concession purchases and inventory in real time.

Mobile Sports Report saw Appetize’s devices in use during a recent visit to Golden 1 Center (tech report also coming soon!) and from a quick observation it seems like the flip terminals (which rotate vertically between concession staff and customers) really seem to speed up the transaction process time. Appetize’s systems also helped the Sacramento team put together a back of house app that shows concession purchase totals in real time — an amazing tool for venue owners and operators.

VenueNext adds fan-safety incident reporting feature to stadium app platform

Screenshot of LiveSafe feature in VenueNext app. Credit: VenueNext (click on photo for larger image)

Screenshot of LiveSafe feature in VenueNext app. Credit: VenueNext (click on photo for larger image)

Stadium app vendor VenueNext said it will add a fan-safety incident reporting feature to its base application platform, giving stadiums and other large public venues a way to allow fans to report game-day incidents using their mobile devices.

By partnering with LiveSafe, a company with a suite of safety services based on the idea of “crowdsourced intelligence,” VenueNext will add a fan-safety feature to its app platform, launching the service first on the company’s flagship app for Levi’s Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. According to a release from the companies, other VenueNext customers will be able to add the feature into their apps in the future.

While the idea of using fans, devices and apps to report problems inside stadiums is not a new one — remember CrowdOptic and its ideas to use triangulation to find problem areas in stadiums? — it’s one that will no doubt gain steam as more fans get used to the idea of stadium apps as service platforms. Baylor University, which uses a YinzCam game-day app, allows its fans to report network problems via the app. The power of such reporting tools is that they can precisely geo-locate a problem thanks to network positioning, and with device cameras they can also provide security or repair crews with a wealth of visual information, quickly.

Another screenshot from the LiveSafe feature

Another screenshot from the LiveSafe feature

The options in the LiveSafe feature for VenueNext show a long list of potential problems, ranging from cases of assault and abuse to accidents or traffic issues, or lost items. While the addition of such a platform is a good first step, it’s only as good as the stadium’s ability to respond to alerts and issues.

While the release claims that fans using the LiveSafe feature will be able to “interact with security officials through two-way communications,” there are no guarantees about whether such communications will be live, or asynchronous, or whether or not an alert will elicit a response. A VenueNext representative said “When security responds, the fan will also get the response instantly. The fan won’t get an automatic response to know that it was received unless someone in security manually responds.”

Anyone out there with experience using the app feature at Levi’s Stadium, please let us know if it works as advertised.

Bills, Sabres owners embrace fans through unified ‘One Buffalo’ app feature

Screenshot of the MyOneBuffalo app.

Screenshot of the MyOneBuffalo app.

If Pegula Sports and Entertainment, owners of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Sabres franchises, had one message for fans, it might be “We’ve got you covered.”

With its recently launched MyOneBuffalo app, Pegula has integrated electronic tickets, venue information (parking, concessions, restrooms) and player data, as well as some video extras for the Bills’ version. But MyOneBuffalo also features a digital wallet along with a loyalty program access, where the points and features are automated – scanned or activated by proximity to in-venue iBeacons, rather than via input manually by fans. Inaudible tone technology in the app will be able to detect when fans are tuned in to a game on TV and credit them for watching (provided a fan has enabled location services for the app). MyOneBuffalo also has a “Find Friends” function that allows fans to connect with Facebook friends during games or other events.

Most of that is pretty standard fare for pro team apps. Where MyOneBuffalo distinguishes itself is on the backend. It’s integrated on Venuetize’s mobile platform, which hosts a variety of functionality from Authorize.net (PCI-compliant payment processing); Delaware North (hospitality, food service management); Experience (fan upgrade software); Micros (Oracle’s point-of-sale system); Radius Networks (iBeacons, geo-fences); Skidata (loyalty rewards portal); Ticketmaster and Tickets.com (ticketing systems); TruCa$h (physical gift cards); RetailPro (merchandise POS system); and YinzCam (mobile app development).

Higher expectations for fans

After traveling to lots of NFL and NHL games, owner Kim Pegula challenged her management staff to meet fans’ higher expectations of the venues, technology and their relationship to the team, according to John Durbin, director of marketing for Pegula Sports and Entertainment. “The impetus behind MyOneBuffalo was enhancing the fan experience,” he told Mobile Sports Report.

Bills and Sabres owner Kim Pegula. Credit: Bill Wippert

Bills and Sabres owner Kim Pegula. Credit: Bill Wippert

Venuetize is hosting three versions of MyOneBuffalo: One for the Bills, a second for the Sabres, and a standalone version, which can be used by either visitors to the HarborCenter entertainment district, fans at home, or supporters of the Buffalo Bandits, the city’s National Lacrosse League franchise (also owned by Pegula).

Like other owner-managers of professional sports teams, Pegula is looking to MyOneBuffalo to gain deeper insights about fans’ movement, behavior and spending.

“They [Pegula Sports and Entertainment] are trying to get the 360-degree view of the fan,” said Karri Zaremba, founder and chief operations officer of Venuetize. “They wanted a mobile app that would work seamlessly across all their properties and brands.”

Once fully deployed, MyOneBuffalo will provide more insights to attendance numbers, assess the impact of various campaigns and initiatives, and measure purchasing patterns, social activity and any correlations. This is fertile ground for the application of predictive analytics, a holy grail in business at the moment, not just in sports and entertainment, to allow organizations to anticipate better, save money and delight customers, or in this case, fans.

“When we started to align our business operations with the Bills, we had a lot of different data sources across our entities, so one challenge was that we had no way to connect dots between someone going to lots of Bills and Sabres games,” Durbin said. “So to have an analytics platform that collects all this data and know that it’s the same fan gives us data to make their experience more customized—and a better experience, quite honestly.”

Adding restaurants and retail to game-day experiences

Network upgrades have been recently completed at New Era Field (formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium) where the Bills play; KeyBank Center for the Sabres; and the adjacent HarborCenter, a hockey-themed, mixed-use development that includes a Marriott hotel, a two-story restaurant-bar with flatscreens everywhere, and lots of retail, that opened in 2014. “The trend that’s happening right now is these entertainment districts for teams with restaurants and retail,” Durbin explained. “We’re trying to create a seamless experience across these three venues. We wanted an app with similar features, regardless of which location you’re at.”

KeyBank Center, home of the Sabres. Credit: Bill Wippert

KeyBank Center, home of the Sabres. Credit: Bill Wippert

MyOneBuffalo taps six different location-based technologies: beacons; geo-fences; inaudible tones; Wi-Fi; image recognition; and wearables – MyOneBuffalo is integrated with FitBit.

Inaudible tones can be used in a couple different ways. They can be played through the public address system or the software developer’s kit can detect it so that it triggers something. Inaudible tones can be used for basic data collection or more interactive features, where a sponsor offers a premium. “We’re still working through ways to use the inaudible tone,” Durbin said. “We don’t have a clear timetable as to when that will be available.”

The Pegula organization is looking at other ways to tap MyOneBuffalo. At the top of that list is reducing wait times for gates or concessions and re-directing fans to ones that are less busy, Durbin said. They’re also looking at methods to pre-order concessions or merchandise so a fan doesn’t have to wait in line; they can walk up later, scan their receipt and walk away with their order. “We want to add features and create a robust experience for fans,” Durbin said.

VenueNext lands $15 million Series B funding, adds San Jose Sharks as 1st NHL client

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Stadium and venue app developer VenueNext has secured a $15 million Series B round of financing, as well as its first National Hockey League client, the San Jose Sharks.

Both announcements were made by VenueNext Tuesday, just ahead of Wednesday’s season opener for the Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose. The new app is ready for fans to download in time for the Sharks’ game against the Los Angeles Kings. Later this season fans will also be able to connect via the arena’s new Wi-Fi network, which will use Wi-Fi gear from Cisco.

The new round of funding brings VenueNext’s total of announced venture capital to $24 million, following a $9 million round raised last summer. Causeway Media Partners, which led the initial round, is also leading the new round; according to VenueNext some of its first-round investors are also participating in the B round, but the company did not yet name any of them other than Causeway. Twitter, Live Nation and Aruba were among the Series A investors in VenueNext.

Adding hospitality and healthcare to market targets

In the increasingly competitive market for stadium and team application development, VenueNext has had a solid year in breaking away from just being the app provider to the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, its initial offering. So far this year, new VenueNext apps have appeared at Super Bowl 50, Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, and at the Minnesota Vikings’ new home, U.S. Bank Stadium. VenueNext also announced a new app being developed for the Saratoga and Belmont horse-racing tracks, which will be launched next year.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

While VenueNext still hasn’t come close to publicly announcing the 30 clients CEO John Paul said the company would have by the end of 2015, the list of announced clients now includes the 49ers and Super Bowl 50, the Dallas Cowboys, the Orlando Magic, and now the San Jose Sharks. According to VenueNext, it does have clients signed already in the healthcare and hospitality markets, but cannot name them due to confidentiality agreements. VenueNext said it will announce more customers in the next few months.

Sharks fans get beverage, not food, delivery to seats — for now

One of the signature VenueNext services at Levi’s Stadium, the ability for all fans to use the app to order concessions delivered to their seats, will initially only support in-seat beverage ordering and delivery for Sharks fans, according to VenueNext. That service is similar to how the VenueNext app was used at Super Bowl 50. Other new services now available at SAP Center via the app include digital ticketing, with the ability to view, upgrade or transfer tickets; the ability to view and manage parking passes; mobile ticket access via the VenueNext ticket kiosks; and team content.

According to Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora, the team was first introduced to VenueNext during the NHL Stadium Series game at Levi’s Stadium in February of 2015.

“We were impressed with their execution at that event and have witnessed the business success they have generated at sports venues throughout the country,” said Tortora of VenueNext in an email communiction. “We look to bring that standard to SAP Center.” According to Tortora, wayfinding and virtual reality experiences are among features that will be added to the app in the future.

The Sharks app page also says that during the season the app will add a large list of Sharks-related content, including team and league stats, and it will also add in-game trivia contests. So far in most of its deployments, VenueNext has added and improved features in its apps over time.

On the Wi-Fi side, the venue is now getting its first full-scale Wi-Fi network for fans, a deployment that will include the use of Cisco StadiumVision for digital-display controls. According to the Sharks, the Wi-Fi network is expected to be operational by Dec. 1.

“To complement our new Sharks app and the use of it at SAP Center, we are in the process of deploying Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, a best-in-class Wi-Fi platform used in sports venues around the world,” Tortora said. “We want our patrons to be able to easily and reliably connect while at SAP Center to allow for the best fan experience when attending Sharks games and other events.”

VenueNext said it now has 90 employees, with offices in Santa Clara, Calif., San Francisco, New York and London. The new funds, the company said, will be used to “continue to innovate on our platform,” and also to help launch the new vertical markets as well as expansion to international clients.

Belmont, Saratoga race tracks to get VenueNext app in 2017

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Operators of the famed Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course horse-racing tracks have signed a deal with VenueNext to bring that company’s mobile app platform to both venues in 2017, with features including online betting integrated into the mobile app.

In an announcement Monday, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) said it will use VenueNext’s platform and mobile app to provide a set of features to race-day fans including the ability to store digital tickets, to purchase food, beverage and merchandise and have those items delivered to seats, to have wayfinding maps to help fans find their way around the facilities, and to view live and archived content.

The VenueNext apps will also integrate the functionality of the NYRA Bets system into the app, so that fans can place wagers directly from their mobile devices, according to the companies. The VenueNext app will be available first at Belmont Park in the spring of 2017, followed by a summer rollout at Saratoga, the companies said.

What will be interesting to watch is whether or not either track updates its connectivity ahead of the app deployment; according to the Belmont website, that track does have free fan-facing Wi-Fi, but only in the clubhouse areas with limited access in the grandstands. The Saratoga list of amenities for fans does not include any Wi-Fi information.

“VenueNext has a proven track record for delivering innovative fan experiences to sporting venues across the country and we’re proud to partner with them,” said NYRA President & CEO Chris Kay, in a prepared statement. “This partnership is yet another step in our efforts to continuously improve the guest experience through the use of technology. By leveraging VenueNext at Belmont and Saratoga Race Tracks, integrating our new NYRA Bets wagering platform and our new HD Video mobile app, NYRA will create a new standard for the horseracing industry and provide the New York fan base that is so passionate about Belmont and Saratoga the very best experiences possible.”

VenueNext, the stadium app development company created to build the stadium app platform for the San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium, now has seven announced customers for its various stadium-app and stadium-app management systems, including the Orlando Magic, the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings, and Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. VenueNext also provided the stadium app for the recent Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.

Cleveland Browns: New YinzCam analytics platform produced $1 million+ in ROI

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Credit: Cleveland Browns.

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Credit: Cleveland Browns.

In sports it’s one thing to have a great playbook, and quite another thing to have a team that can execute the plays.

You can make a similar comparison to the state of sports business analytics — teams and venues are awash these days in ways to collect digital data on fans. But not many teams have figured out how to act on that information to effectively improve the fan experience, and improve the business bottom line, making many digital-fan engagement efforts seem unfinished.

That quest — to find a return on investment for a team’s digital operations — may get a big push forward this week with the announcement of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform, which is designed to bring together all kinds of digital fan data info in a place where teams can see it and act on it in a consolidated, structured fashion. According to early users the platform allows teams or venues to establish a highly personalized connection to the fan — while powering more efficient business processes at the same time.

At the SEAT Conference this week in Las Vegas, YinzCam will announce its new product and present a case study with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who have been testing the YinzCam software ahead of its general release. In an interview last week with Mobile Sports Report, the Browns said the YinzCam software did the one thing other existing products and services couldn’t do — help them analyze and act on the data they gathered from various digital fan interactions.

Screenshot of YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform view of fan profile. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

Screenshot of YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform view of fan profile. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

In one test, the Browns said the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform allowed the team to save more than a million dollars in season-ticket renewals by being able to more effectively target fans who might be thinking about not renewing, and to connect with them via the fans’ preferred method of communication, trying to convince them to renew. According to YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan, the Business Intelligence Platform will be generally available on Monday.

New direction for YinzCam

The Business Intelligence Platform is a significant business shift for YinzCam, which to date has made its name by producing team and stadium apps that focus mainly on content, either for fans at the game or (increasingly) for fans at home who want to stay connected with their teams. With more than 150 mobile apps developed for teams in all the major U.S. professional sports leagues as well as in the NCAA and in international arenas, YinzCam is by far the leader in the market of stadium- and team-specific applications.

While YinzCam’s Narasimhan said the company’s apps have always used data to help bring a better app experience to fans, the new twist in the business platform is that YinzCam can combine its mobile-app fan interaction knowledge with other team data stores — like ticketing and concession purchase information from other potential team partners, like TicketMaster or Legends — to present a single, unified view of a digital fan profile. The platform will also allow teams to construct single campaigns across multiple communication channels — like email , phone outreach and social media — without the sometimes challenging task of sharing or merging contact lists.

Screenshot of YinzCam's Browns app

Screenshot of YinzCam’s Browns app

“By combining YinzCam’s mobile app capabilities with all of our sources of information, this platform offers our team the ability to organize, understand and evaluate data in a manner that addresses our main goal of continually improving our fans’ experience by customizing it for each individual,” said Cleveland Browns executive vice president and chief financial officer Dave Jenkins, in an email conversation. “In addition to understanding our fans better and providing an opportunity to accommodate their personal preferences, the system integrates information clearly across multiple areas so our team can communicate effectively with fans, allowing our staff to work more efficiently and successfully.”

Acting on data

As more teams install wireless networks in their stadiums and increase their digital interaction with fans — via such activities as digital ticketing, concession purchases, content consumption and various fan loyalty programs — the business desire is to use that digital engagement to better serve the fan while also increasing business efficiency and support new channels of revenue. However, as our recent Wi-Fi analytics feature found, even the leaders in digital programs are still at the starting points of using analytics to power such ideas.

According to members of the Cleveland Browns’ business analytics department, the team has been trying to build a data-based approach to fan engagement for the past several years, but didn’t find what they were looking for in the way of a product or service until hearing about YinzCam’s new platform. According to the Browns, the YinzCam business platform is a breakthrough, since it provides the means to not just harvest all kinds of data, but to also bring those numbers together to be acted upon in a simple, unified fashion.

Dave Giller, manager of business analytics for the Browns, said other firms with analytics products and services only seemed to offer products that “gave us the data and a container to put it in. YinzCam was the only one who could show us insights, and that really made all the difference.”

The Browns use many methods of communication to stay in touch with fans, including group selfies. Credit: Cleveland Browns

The Browns use many methods of communication to stay in touch with fans, including group selfies. Credit: Cleveland Browns

Joe Moeller, also a manager of business analytics for the Browns, echoed Giller’s view. “There are lots of ways to get data, put it in a warehouse, and then build a fan profile,” Moeller said. “With YinzCam, we have a solution for that third step — ‘here’s what I do with the data I have.’ That’s huge for us.”

Testing the math

To find out for themselves if the YinzCam platform could help the team in a measurable way, the Browns set up a thorough pilot program around the question of season ticket-holder renewals — a business question at the heart and soul of many teams’ operations. What the Browns wanted to find out was whether or not a system like YinzCam’s could help them improve an important process — being able to identify season ticket holders who might be leaning toward not renewing, and to connect with them to try to keep them in the fold.

According to Giller and Moeller, there were two significant factors in the pilot — first trying to identify which fans might be in danger of not renewing, and second, how to best reach those fans with targeted communications. As a baseline, the Browns established control groups that put some season ticket holders randomly into groups to be contacted either by email, or phone calls, or via social media; then other groups were built using the YinzCam platform to both find ticket holders who might not be interested in renewing, and to find the best ways to reach those ticket holders.

Giller and Moeller said the method of communicating to fans and ticket holders is a primary concern these days, since many people have a preferred method of digital communication, with no single method applicable across demographic spectrums.

“Some people respond better through a particular platform,” Giller said. “We worry about whether people will get freaked out if they get a DM from us on Twitter.”

Screenshot of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform dashboard. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

Screenshot of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform dashboard. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

At the risk of oversimplifying the process (interested parties at SEAT can learn more details at a panel describing the Browns’ experiments on Monday at 11:30 a.m. Vegas time), what the Browns found was that using the YinzCam business platform, they were able to increase their success rate of renewals by 16 percent over a non-YinzCam method — a process that gave the Browns more than $1 million in renewal revenues compared to the non-YinzCam method.

“We report up through the CFO, and it’s his responsibility to make sure this [analytics] is a viable business,” Giller said. A million-plus, everyone agreed, was among the best ways to show a digital-program ROI.

Where does it go next?

While ticketing operations are usually the best place to show business improvements, Narasimhan and the Browns are interested in additional steps the business platform can be used for, including managing tasks like content delivery, merchandise and concessions discounts, and additional ticket purchases and upsells.

“There are more questions to be answered, like which content do we produce, and which medium should it be delivered through,” Moeller said. He added that the YinzCam platform will also allow the Browns or other teams to show engagement data to potential sponsors for team apps and other engagement platforms, so they can compare how the team-specific connections stack up against other media and engagement programs.

YinzCam’s Narasimhan said that the business platform could be customized in many ways depending upon a team or venue’s desires for outcomes. From a market perspective, the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform seems to be a significant shift in direction for the Pittsburgh-based company, one that might help fend off the growing competition from new players like VenueNext, a company whose team- and venue-app strategy is focused on fan services, like ticketing and concessions, over content, with its own analytics platform to help teams better assess the performance of digital operations.

Whether or not teams pick YinzCam or VenueNext or some other competitor to help turn data into profitable actions, the good news for teams and venues is that the biggest player in stadium and team apps is now bringing its playbook to back of the house operations; like in any sport, increased competition can only lead to a better final outcome for all.