Appetize sees more contact-free concessions for venues going forward

Fans at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium use Appetize-powered kiosks to order and pay for food. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

While the timeline for fans returning to large public venues for sports and events is still uncertain, one thing that does seem inevitable is that the future of stadium concessions will see more ways for fans to get food and beverages without human interactions.

That’s certainly the view from Appetize, one of the top players in the venue point-of-sale technology business. In a recent call with Appetize chief strategy officer Kevin Anderson, he said the last few weeks have been among the busiest in company history, as teams, schools and venues seek ways to make concessions operations more touch-free going forward. Though there are no government mandates yet making such technologies a necessity to open venues, it makes sense that when events come back fans might be feel safer using technology-aided methods like ordering and paying online, or paying with touchless device systems (like Apple Pay), as opposed to traditional human-based counter interactions.

“Most of our customers, including venues and managed-service food companies, are realizing that if their venues are not able to accept [contactless] payments today they will have to — and if they don’t have mobile or online ordering, they will need to do that as well,” Anderson said.

App- or web-based ordering should increase

Appetize, which sells a wide range of software and hardware for stadium and other point-of-sale systems, has also recently added support for web-based ordering in venues, something that other vendors like VenueNext have also rolled out. While stadium and team apps with support for in-venue food ordering (with either delivery or pick-up options) have been around in various forms for several years, the idea of a web-based “app” with similar functionality is a newer and growing idea, one that could gain even more traction whenever venues open again.

An Appetize screenshot of what a mobile payment screen could look like.

What web-based systems have in their favor is that they can be used by fans almost instantly, without having to go through the process of downloading an app.

A web-ordering system, Anderson said, “is very well positioned for a post-Covid world” since it could give venues the flexibility of a walk-up encounter without the human interaction. In one scenario Anderson said fans could use their device’s camera to scan a sign or display with a QR code, which would bring up a menu for the concession stand close to the sign. Fans can then order and pay without having to stand in a line, and get an alert to pick up their order when it is ready.

“Venues are not going to bulldoze concession stands, but they will have to figure out how to space out people in lines and how to incentivize people to pay with contactless systems,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be the future.”

Still bullish on touch-screen kiosks

Anderson also thinks that touch-screen kiosks will still be popular going forward, even if some people feel less safe touching a payment or ordering screen.

“We’re still bullish on kiosks,” said Anderson, who said 90 percent of Appetize’s venue deployments included some kind of touch-screen system. For many of its systems, Anderson said Appetize uses antimicrobial screen protectors, and going forward they foresee having sanitization stations near any touch-screen device.

“If you just use one finger to touch the screen and then you sanitize it after you’re done, that’s still better than being two feet away from someone speaking to you,” Anderson said.

Other less-human-contact ideas for venue concessions include more vending machines and grab-and-go type windows, where prepared, boxed items will help keep fans safer. Appetize is also already working on systems where food and beverages can be placed inside lockers that fans can access with a mobile device.

“I think you’ll see more concession stands flipped inside out, where you can just grab a sandwich in a package with a bar code and go,” Anderson said.

Super Bowl LIV recap: Big jump in per-device usage fuels record Wi-Fi mark

Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium hosted Super Bowl LIV this year, where the new single-day Wi-Fi record was set. Credit: Brian Nitenson, MSR

The big game is back on top of the unofficial Mobile Sports Report single-day Wi-Fi rankings, with a mark of 26.42 terabytes of data used at Super Bowl LIV in Miami, according to figures reported by Extreme Networks.

What’s most interesting (to us) about the number is that it was generated in a venue that had approximately 8,000 fewer fans in attendance than last year’s Super Bowl (70,081 in Atlanta for Super Bowl 53 vs. 62,417 for Super Bowl 54). It was also the second-lowest Super Bowl attendance figure ever, just above the 61,946 fans who attended Super Bowl 1.

So not surprisingly the fans who connected to the Wi-Fi network at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium also set a new record for average data consumed per connected user, at 595.6 megabytes per user — a big jump from last year’s average data per user total of 492.3 MB. Going forward, we here at MSR think this statistic is even more important than the overall data-used or total tonnage mark, since it more accurately reflects how the network is performing for fans.

“I think the average [data] per user is the metric we’re most proud of,” said John Brams, director of sports and entertainment for Extreme Networks. Extreme, which has a sponsorship deal with the NFL to provide network statistics from every Super Bowl, was also the gear provider for the network at Hard Rock Stadium, the first Super Bowl for Extreme gear since Super Bowl 51 at Houston’s NRG Stadium back in 2017. According to Extreme, the Wi-Fi setup at Hard Rock Stadium uses some 2,000 APs, many of which are deployed in under-seat enclosures in the bowl seating.

The average data used per device, Brams said, is to Extreme the proof of how well each user is served by the network, and is perhaps a more important metric than the simple total of data used.

“If you are asking what is the health of a network, the average [data used] per user is a good metric for that,” Brams said. Brams, like MSR, also believes that the average data used per user is a metric that can be used to compare network performances between different-sized stadiums, like football stadiums and basketball arenas, which might be very far apart in total data used simply because of the capacity differences.

Verizon autoconnect helps out on the Wi-Fi usage

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue is a profile of Dickies Arena in Fort Worth and a recap of a DIY Wi-Fi deployment at Rutgers University! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

With a reported 44,358 unique devices connected to the network this year’s Super Bowl also set a new mark for Super Bowl take rate at 71 percent; the top overall take rate mark still belongs to Ohio State, which saw 71.5 percent of its fans connected when Ohio Stadium saw 25.6 TB of Wi-Fi used this past fall during a game against Michigan State. It’s worth noting that the average data per user mark from the Ohio State game was 341.6 MB.

Wi-Fi ‘coaches’ helped fans connect at the big game. Credit: Extreme Networks

Like at Ohio State, at Hard Rock Stadium fans whose devices were on a Verizon cellular subscription could be automatically connected to the Wi-Fi network, a factor that often results in high take rates. Verizon has similar deals with a number of NFL stadiums and some large college venues, including Ohio State, Florida and Brigham Young. Verizon would not reveal what percentage of its customers were included in the overall unique Wi-Fi connection number at Super Bowl LIV.

Peak network usage hits 10 Gbps

Some more info from the great list put together by Extreme: The peak concurrent user number of 24,837 devices was seen during pre-game activities; the peak network throughput of 10.4 Gbps also occurred before the game started, according to Extreme. Of the final data total, 11.1 TB was used before the game started, with the balance of 15.32 TB being used after kickoff.

“We’ve seen the highest data rates right before the game started at the last four Super Bowls,” said Brams. According to Brams, this statistic may be caused by the fact that people at Super Bowls tend to arrive very early for the games, and by the NFL’s attempts to keep things interesting with plenty of pregame entertainment.

The most used streaming apps by fans at Super Bowl LIV were, in order of usage, Apple iTunes, Apple Streaming, YouTube, Spotify and Netflix; the most used social apps in order of usage were Facebook, Instagram, Twit- ter, Snapchat and Bitmoji. For sports apps, the most used in order of usage were ESPN, NFL, NFL OnePass, CBS Sports and ESPN Go.

When reading through the list of apps, MSR wondered out loud who would be watching Netflix at a Super Bowl. But Brams thinks Extreme’s network statistics have an answer.

“It’s amazing how many people bring kids to a big game,” he said. “And those kids may not be that interested in everything going on at the game, so in between they are streaming shows [on Netflix].” Brams said the Netflix-at-games is a trend at NFL games in general, with Netflix consistently showing up in the top 5 of apps used on a stadium network.

A view of the field just before kickoff. Credit: Brian Nitenson, MSR

Super Bowl LIV sets new Wi-Fi record with 26.42 TB of data used

Under-seat Wi-Fi (left) and DAS (right) enclosures at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. Credit: Extreme Networks

The big game is back on top of the unofficial Mobile Sports Report single-day Wi-Fi rankings, with a mark of 26.42 terabytes of data used at last Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV in Miami, according to figures reported by Extreme Networks.

What’s most interesting (to us) about the number is that it was generated in a venue that had approximately 8,000 fewer fans in attendance than last year’s Super Bowl (70,081 in Atlanta for Super Bowl 53 vs. 62,417 for Super Bowl 54). So not surprisingly the fans who connected to the Wi-Fi network at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium (which uses Extreme gear) also set a new record for average data consumed per connected user, at 595.6 megabytes per user — a big jump from last year’s average data per user total of 492.3 MB.

With a reported 44,358 unique devices connected to the network this year’s Super Bowl also set a new mark for Super Bowl take rate at 71 percent; the top overall take rate mark still belongs to Ohio State, which saw 71.5 of its fans connected when Ohio Stadium saw 25.6 TB of Wi-Fi used this fall during a game against Michigan State. It’s worth noting that the average data per user mark from the Ohio State game was 341.6 MB. Going forward, we think this statistic is even more important than the overall data-used or total tonnage mark, since it more accurately reflects how the network is performing for fans. But we also like keeping a record of the biggest totals as well, since it does provide a high-water mark for stadium Wi-Fi usage.

Peak network usage hits 10 Gbps

Some more info from the great list put together by Extreme: The peak concurrent user number of 24,837 devices was seen during pre-game activities; the peak network throughput of 10.4 Gbps also occurred before the game started, according to Extreme. Of the final data total, 11.1 TB was used before the game started, with the balance of 15.32 TB being used after kickoff.

The most used streaming apps by fans were, in order of usage, Apple iTunes, Apple Streaming, YouTube, Spotify and Netflix; the most used social apps in order of usage were Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Bitmoji. For sports apps, the most used in order of usage were ESPN, NFL, NFL OnePass, CBS Sports and ESPN Go.

According to Extreme, the Wi-Fi setup at Hard Rock Stadium uses some 2,000 APs, many of which are deployed in under-seat enclosures in the bowl seating. For Super Bowl LIV Verizon customers also had access to an automatic login feature, which in many other stadiums (including Ohio State and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta) has accounted for a significant amount of the connected Wi-Fi users.

THE MSR TOP 40 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 54, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Fla., Feb. 2, 2020: Wi-Fi: 26.42 TB
2. Michigan State vs. Ohio State, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 5, 2019: Wi-Fi: 25.6 TB
3. Super Bowl 53, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Feb. 3, 2019: Wi-Fi: 24.05 TB
4. Penn State vs. Ohio State, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 23, 2019: Wi-Fi: 20.7 TB
5. NCAA Men’s 2019 Final Four semifinals, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., April 6, 2019: Wi-Fi: 17.8 TB
6. Wisconsin vs. Ohio State, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 25, 2019: Wi-Fi: 17.0 TB
7. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
8. Maryland vs. Ohio State, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 9, 2019: Wi-Fi: 16.1 TB
9. Miami (Ohio) vs. Ohio State, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 21, 2019: Wi-Fi: 13.7 TB
10. NCAA Men’s 2019 Final Four championship, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., April 8, 2019: Wi-Fi: 13.4 TB
11. Florida Atlantic vs. Ohio State, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, Aug. 31, 2019: Wi-Fi: 13.3 TB
12. Cincinnati vs. Ohio State, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 7, 2019: Wi-Fi: 12.7 TB
13. Garth Brooks Stadium Tour, Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo., June 8, 2019: Wi-Fi: 12.63 TB
14. 2018 College Football Playoff Championship, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 8, 2018: Wi-Fi: 12.0 TB
15. Auburn vs. Florida, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla., Oct. 5, 2019: Wi-Fi: 11.82 TB
16. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
17. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 8, 2019: Wi-Fi: 11.58 TB
18. Ohio State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 28, 2019: Wi-Fi: 11.2 TB
19. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
20. 2020 College Football Playoff Championship, LSU vs. Clemson, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La., Jan. 13, 2020: Wi-Fi: 10.12 TB
21. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
22. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
23. Northwestern vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 5, 2019: Wi-Fi: 9.2 TB
24. Tennessee Titans vs. Denver Broncos, Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo., Oct. 13, 2019: Wi-Fi: 8.98 TB
25. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
26. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
27. Northern Illinois vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept. 14, 2019: Wi-Fi: 8.5 TB
28. Rolling Stones No Filter Tour, Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo., Aug. 10, 2019: Wi-Fi: 8.47 TB
29. South Alabama vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Aug. 31, 2019: Wi-Fi: 8.3 TB
30. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
31. Chicago Bears vs. Denver Broncos, Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo., Sept. 15, 2019: Wi-Fi: 8.09 TB
32. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
33. SEC Championship Game, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 1, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.06 TB
34. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
35. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
36. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
37. Tennessee vs. Florida, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla., Sept. 21, 2019: Wi-Fi: 6.94 TB
38. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
39. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
40. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

Wi-Fi breathes new life into ‘The Swamp’ at the University of Florida

Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium got a full-venue Wi-Fi network this fall. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Can Wi-Fi help bring new life to an old venue? In a way, that happened this fall when the University of Florida lit up a stadium-wide Wi-Fi network at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the 88,548-seat venue known by most as just “The Swamp.”

Though at Florida, like most SEC stadiums, the fans don’t really need any technology to fire them up, the addition of a NFL-caliber Wi-Fi network from Extreme Networks and Verizon was quickly embraced by fans in Gainesville, with one early contest against Auburn cresting the 11-terabyte mark for total data used. If nothing else, with the network in place a whole world outside of the stadium walls gets to see the arm-chomping craziness that makes Ben Hill Griffin Stadium one of the nation’s premier college football venues, thanks to social media and other apps that let fans share their game-day experience.

But beyond the obvious benefits for fans, the new network also brought new features to the Gators’ back-of-house business operations, including being able to connect a new point-of-sale system for concession stands, while also providing the potential for better digital engagement with the people in the stands. According to Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, the addition of Wi-Fi has given Ben Hill Griffin Stadium somewhat of a new lease on life, with the ability of the new to augment the old.

“We had a lot of the inherent challenges of putting technology into a 90-year-old venue,” said Stricklin, “but it’s also interesting how technology allows you to work around those challenges.”

Under-seat APs in the club section

By partnering with stadium-application developer VenueNext, which has recently expanded its services to include a back-end POS system, Florida can now offer fans at home games a wide menu of digital-powered services, like the ability to order food and drinks ahead of time for pickup at express windows, and the ability to click on a phone to say “Water Me,” to have cold water delivered to the sunny-seat sections of the stadium.

For the business of running the stadium, the new VenueNext POS system allowed Florida to shed its old cash-drawer system to one that can now provide a connected way to manage concession stands.

“The new app and POS technology makes concessions better for everyone, it’s faster for those who order ahead of time, and the lines are shorter,” Stricklin said. “It’s a fascinating idea that technology can extend the useful life of a facility.”

Scenes from a retrofit: drilling and conduits

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue are profiles of the new Wi-Fi deployment at the University of Oklahoma, as well as profiles of wireless deployments at Chase Center and Fiserv Forum! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Like many other big-bowl stadiums at the big foot- ball schools, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is a work built over time, with different renovations and additions adding layers of concrete and seating in ways that definitely did not have wireless networking in mind. And like many other schools, Florida had a tough time historically making the case for the capital outlay needed to bring Wi-Fi to a venue that might only see six or seven days of use a year.

At his previous job as athletic director for Mississippi State, Stricklin was part of an SEC advisory board that just five years ago didn’t see stadium Wi-Fi as a priority. Fast forward to 2019, and both the world in general and Stricklin have changed their views.

Flashing covers conduit leading to under-seat APs

“At one point, Wi-Fi was seen as a luxury item [for stadiums],” said Stricklin. “Now, connectivity is like running water or electricity. You’ve got to have it.”

An RFP process for a full-stadium Wi-Fi network ended up getting Florida to choose a $6.3 million proposal from Verizon and Extreme, which have paired together for similar big-stadium deployments before, mainly at NFL venues like Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.

“Obviously they’re experienced,” Stricklin said of the Extreme-Verizon pairing. “The success they’ve had before played a big role in increasing our comfort level.”

Like at those stadiums, at Florida Verizon has its own separate SSID for Verizon customers, who can be automatically connected to the Wi-Fi upon entering the stadium. Other guests can sign in for free via a portal screen.

According to Matt Vincent, Florida’s director of infrastructure operations, construction of the network actually started during the 2018 season, with small-section roll-outs of the service. Over this past summer, however, the heavy lifting went in, with Extreme finishing the full-stadium design with 1,478 APs, all Wave2 802.11ac. Of that number, approximately 1,200 are in the main seating bowl, with most of those located in under-seat enclosures.

Unlike some other under-seat deployments where a separate core drill was done for each AP location, at Florida Extreme was able to reduce the number of concrete holes needed with some ingenious use of conduit and metal plating. In many areas of the stands, one hole through the concrete supports a number of APs, with conduit and metal plating covering the connections under and behind the seats and benches.

Gator fans can now share game memories while at the stadium

If you know what you are looking for, when you wander the maze of concourses under the seating sections you can spot a new network of conduit pipes that bring the cabling from the network out to the seats. In concourses, clubs and other areas with overhead mounting places, Extreme also used omni-directional antennas and other typical indoor equipment for coverage.

Getting to 11+ TB with fast, consistent coverage

At Florida’s biggest home game of the year, an Oct. 5 game against Auburn (a 24-13 Florida victory), Gator fans used 11.82 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network, one of the top totals ever seen at a college venue. Mobile Sports Report visited the stadium for a Nov. 9 game against Vanderbilt, and found strong performance on the network stadium-wide, including in harder-to-cover areas like concourses and narrow seating areas under overhangs.

Starting our testing in the club-seating lounge area, MSR got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 68.6 Mbps on the download and 65.2 Mbps on the upload, in front of a stuffed alligator with a very toothy grin. Heading down to the main entry gate, we got a mark of 50.2 Mbps / 61.8 Mbps as fans were streaming in just ahead of game time.

In a somewhat enclosed seating area on the lower level behind one end zone, we got a test of 21.9 Mbps / 29.9 Mbps just as the Gator mascots took the field for pregame activity. Moving up into the upper deck of section 43, we got a mark of 47.8 Mbps / 50.9 Mbps just after kickoff. Heading under the upper deck stands to the top concourse we got a mark of 43.6 Mbps / 55.5 Mbps, while drawing puzzled stares from fans wondering why we were taking pictures of the metal tubes running up the back of the seating floor.

An AP underneath a bench seating area

Stopping under the other end zone for a Gatorade break, we sat at some loge-type seats and got a mark of 61.2 Mbps / 64.4 Mbps. Then moving back out into the stands we got our up-close picture of the sign welcoming us to “The Swamp,” where we got a speedtest of 54.0 Mbps / 53.8 Mbps.

An island of connectivity among the crowds

While Florida’s Vincent spends most of his game days working to assure the network keeps running at top performance, he said that stadium staff enjoys the Wi-Fi as well.

“It’s been just a night and day difference for everyone since we added the Wi-Fi,” Vincent said, noting a tweet from a fan during the Auburn game that said “the only place in town his phone could connect was at the stadium.”

While saying the decision to deploy Wi-Fi was still somewhat of a leap of faith, Stricklin gave credit to the Florida staff members who prepared the reports outlining the benefits such a system could bring to the venue, for both the fans as well as for the school.

“It’s a little like Indiana Jones when he steps out [over the cliff] and doesn’t see the floor below him,” Stricklin said. “It’s an intense capital outlay [to build a Wi-Fi network] and I don’t know that we’ll ever see it all returned in terms of numbers. But again, I thank the staff and partners like VenueNext who all had a great vision of what a connected stadium could do. With mobile ticketing, you have the opportunity to learn who’s in your stadium. There are concrete ways we can use connectivity to engage, learn about fans, and keep up with them. It’s a wise investment.”

The white dots are under-seat APs

Wi-Fi coverage was good throughout ‘The Swamp’

Conduit carrying cables to under-seat APs proceeds in an orderly fashion up the underside of the stands

VenueNext debuts new strategy, products at University of Florida

VenueNext powers a new app at the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where it also debuted new products like a POS system and a web-based app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Created in 2014 to provide stadium apps for sports teams, VenueNext has pivoted toward focusing on mobile commerce services, a strategy that includes building web-based apps for teams, schools and other large public venues as well as for big events.

Though the company hasn’t completely given up on building team and stadium apps, executives at VenueNext pointed toward the company’s partnership with the University of Florida as a good example of its new strategic focus. In addition to providing the school with a stadium app that launched this fall, VenueNext also debuted its back-house point-of-sale transaction system at Florida, as well as a web-based app for stadium services and purchases. According to VenueNext executives, the new offerings are part of a new focus on mobile transactions, one that de-emphasizes the company’s former goal of providing full-service, custom-built apps with a wide range of features, including concessions ordering, instant replay video, venue wayfinding and loyalty programs.

Cailen Wachob, VenueNext’s executive vice president for sales, retention, marketing and operations, said “we’ve been pretty quiet about it” in regards to the company’s new offerings and strategies. Originally launched as the provider of the team and stadium app for the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, VenueNext raised $24 million in venture funding to fuel a push into what looked like a burgeoning market for team and stadium apps as venues became increasingly connected.

After an initial flurry of professional team customer wins, including other NFL teams like the Minnesota Vikings, NBA teams including the Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets and Utah Jazz, and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, VenueNext did not have any big-name announcements in the past year. In mid-2018, VenueNext founding CEO John Paul was replaced by Orlando Perez, former chief marketing officer for the Orlando Magic, a point at which the company “took a step back to look at what we wanted to do, moving forward,” Wachob said.

An express pickup window for concession orders made on the Florida app.

What that turned into was a new focus more on helping teams, venues and events with mobile commerce activities, rather than a strict direction of just providing a do-everything app with bells and whistles like instant replay video. That combination proved alluring for Florida, which is VenueNext’s first big-college customer.

“We wanted to pick a lane and focus on that, rather than be a custom developer shop,” Wachob said. That means that while VenueNext will still build team apps, it may use third-party functionality as needed.

“We’re more focused on the venue commerce utility,” Wachob said. “We’re not going to be focused on building out things like replay and video.”

Tough market, lots of competition

Since VenueNext’s launch, the stadium and team app has gotten extremely competitive, with multiple players joining the game. Early market leader YinzCam remains the player with the most customers, but it has been joined by a list of providers that includes Venuetize, Hopscotch, Built.io and Rover.io as well as older apps from operations like CBS Interactive and Sidearm Sports. The problem all app providers face, however, is the lukewarm adoption of stadium apps by fans in general. While teams and venues all tout the idea of a stadium app as a way for fans to have a so-called “remote control” for their game-day visits, the reality is that most fans don’t download or use the apps widely, except when forced to for things like digital ticketing.

Screenshot of the web-app ordering system at Florida.

While teams and venues (and the app providers) may claim that fans use stadium apps, the reality is that actual statistics for fan app use are rarely ever provided. In the few instances where teams or venues do provide statistics for things like app usage at games, team and stadium apps fall far behind general-purpose mobile apps like social media apps, email and application updates.

In-venue transactions, however, do offer a way for teams and venues to lure fans to an app or web platform, either by requiring it (in the case of digital ticketing) or by making it an attractive feature, by supporting things like in-seat delivery, raffles and games, order-ahead concessions or in-venue “experience” purchases like seat upgrades or things like on-field tours, or meet-the-players gatherings.

VenueNext famously had an ambitious goal of providing in-seat concessions delivery services for all seating areas at Levi’s Stadium, but that program was shelved in 2017 after limited use and challenges in providing the service to 70,000-plus potential customers.

What has emerged in the market as a more manageable solution are less-ambitious programs like offering delivery to limited seating areas (usually premium club areas) or mobile order-ahead services with express window pickup. The app for Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium offers the latter, with several areas around the venue having pick-up windows set aside for the mobile orders.

POS, kiosk ordering and web-based apps

Wachob said that Florida was also the first live customer for VenueNext’s new POS software system, a product that puts VenueNext into competition with players like Oracle’s Micros and Appetize. The system supports 180 different stands at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which Wachob said had previously used a cash-drawer system. VenueNext’s website also now includes promotion of kiosk-based self-serve concession systems, a rapidly growing service in sports venues.

VenueNext also rolled out its first live web-based app for Florida, where fans can interact with venue services without having to download an app. Once an unthinkable move for a company devoted to apps, the new service even has its own name and website, ordernext.com, linked to the main VenueNext site. The ordernext platform at Florida provided a way for fans to simply click on a link that said “Water Me” to get cold water delivered to seats in the stadium’s sunny section. Wachob said the site also allowed fans to purchase in-venue experiences, like an on-field pass or a visit with the Gator mascots.

“The new app and POS technology makes concessions better for everyone, it’s faster for those who order ahead of time, and the lines are shorter,” said Scott Stricklin, Florida’s athletic director.

The ordernext platform puts VenueNext into direct competition with providers like Rover.io, which tout the fast performance and greater flexibility of a web approach as opposed to a standalone app. Notably, Rover lists the Vikings and the Hornets as customers, even though those teams also have a VenueNext app. Stadium tech integrator AmpThink helped launch a similar program a year ago at Texas A&M, where the 12thmanlive.com site provided quick links to contests, discounts and other game-day activities.

To VenueNext’s Wachob, not being religious about whether services are offered in an app or on the web is part of the company’s new focus on mobile commerce first.

“Sometimes fans at the venue might not want to download the app,” Wachob said. “The ability to just go to a site [for a transaction] is really powerful. That’s the power of mobile — allowing the fan to determine what’s important to them.”

Broncos fans get technology to help speed up concessions at Mile High

A fan uses the visual-recognition system to purchase concessions at Empower Field at Mile High earlier this fall. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Can technology finally help improve one of the biggest pain points in the game-day experience, namely waiting in line for concessions? At the Denver Broncos’ Empower Field at Mile High, a number of new technology initiatives debuted this year, all designed to improve the fan experience around concession purchases by providing more choice and streamlined checkout procedures.

While there are no hard numbers yet on the experiments, a Mobile Sports Report visit to Mile High earlier this year saw heavy use of the new technologies, which mainly include touch-screen ordering and payment systems as well as an innovative visual-recognition device to tabulate items in grab-and-go scenarios. A few quick interviews with fans at the stands got mixed reactions on whether or not the new technology actually speeded up the processes, but some stopwatch clocking showed speedy checkouts, especially those using the visual-recognition technology, where items are placed on a scanner bed which then quickly recognizes and tabulates the total on an attached payment screen.

For those of us who are now (maybe unwillingly) becoming accustomed to checking out our own items at supermarket self-checkout terminals, the Broncos’ stands that utilize the visual-recognition devices (from a company called Mashgin) are far easier to use than trying to scan a barcode for each item. At Mile High, the scanners are the perfect endpoint for a series of stands called “Drink MKT,” which are basically spaces with coolers filled with multiple beverage choices, from bottled water through multiple types of beer and other alcoholic drinks, including $100 bottles of John Elway Cabernet. At those stands fans simply walk in, choose what they want from a cooler and queue up for the scanners. When items are placed on the scanner beds the system’s cameras detect the items and generate a total bill, which is paid for by credit card on an attached terminal. Human-staff intervention is only needed to check IDs and to help fans open up the beverages before they leave the stand.

Fans line up to order fried chicken via a digital-screen kiosk.

While one fully jammed Drink MKT stand on the main concourse level didn’t seem to be moving any more quickly than traditional concessions windows (“It’s not faster, but there are way more choices,” said one fan), on the top-level concourse a stream of fans grabbed beverages just after the game’s start, with each transaction taking only a minute or less from setting the items on the scanner to leaving the stand. “It’s fun!” said two fans leaving the Drink MKT stand on the top-level concourse. “And it’s way faster.”

The Mashgin scanners were also in use at another stand clearly designed to speed up the food-getting process, a walk-through type arrangement where fans could grab from a limited selection of food and beverage items (pizza, popcorn, hot dogs, plus beer and soft drinks) before paying at a Mashgin scanner. Again, the only human interaction from a staffing point was to check IDs, help customers with the payment system, and ensure all beverages were opened before the fans left the stands. Truly, the interaction that took the longest was the can opening process, which is tricky to do yourself if you are carrying several items (there are no bags to carry the concessions from the stands). The Mashgin systems are showing up in other sports venues, including this report of it being combined with the Clear system to speed up payments even more.

Display ordering and payment systems also emerge

Another self-service technology (which many have probably seen in fast-food restaurants or other venues like airports) in use at Mile High is the use of digital display screens to let fans order from on-screen menus and pay with a credit card at the same terminal. At Mile High, like other systems used at some stadiums and at many fast-food restaurants, the digital terminals spit out a paper slip with an order number that fans use to pick up their items at a separate window.

Fans with club-level seats can order drinks and food for delivery to their seats via the team app.

On the main lower-level concourse at Mile High, such a system was in heavy use at a fried-chicken food stand, with many fans clearly comfortable with the ordering, payment and pickup process. MSR saw some similar systems in use at Chase Center, the Golden State Warriors’ new home, on a recent visit there this fall.

The Broncos also have another type of digital-screen ordering system in one of their premium club areas, where fans can order items from several different “stands,” each with a different entree or dessert item. Again, a paper ticket is generated that the fans then take to the food-preparation stands to pick up their orders.

Club-level fans also have the opportunity at Mile High to order food and drink to be delivered to their seats, via the team app. The food ordering and delivery function is powered by Tap.in2, a company we’ve profiled before.

We’ll circle back with the Broncos after this season to try to get some stats on whether or not the new stands and technologies won over fans and improved the service, but it’s heartening to see stadiums and teams push the envelope a bit to help fans get back to their seats more quickly. More photos below!


A look at the entry to one of the Drink MKT stands

The grab-and-go format of the Drink MKT stands offers fans a lot of choice

Technology can help, but the just-before-kickoff crush will always produce a line

The order-and-pay kiosks at a fried chicken stand are familiar to anyone who’s done fast food recently


A club-level kiosk system allows fans to pick from several different food stands


Most kiosk systems seemed to have a good amount of customization available

The club-level stands offer flexible choices


The Mashgin checkout systems were also used at a grab-and-go food/beverage stand


Tailgating at Mile High can still be classy and old-school


In case you hadn’t heard, the place has a new name

Hard to beat a sunny Sunday at Mile High