Why is venue parking still mainly low-tech?

Mountain View city sign to parking lots

If it’s not the number one pain point for a fan’s game day experience, parking is at least in the top five headaches list for any venue, and from where we sit it’s a puzzle as to why we haven’t heard more success stories about technology-based parking systems. Is it mainly due to lack of control of real estate and venue services contracts, or is it just a low priority that is still an overlooked possible money maker?

For every press release or story we hear about charging fans extra for an in-stadium “experience” like meeting team members during a practice or shootaround, I’m confused as to why there aren’t similarly numerous stories about premium parking plans that are available to the everyday fan, and not just season-ticket holders. At just about any venue we’ve been to, it’s easy to spot where the club-level patrons get to park their late-model imports: Right near the door.

No parking perks for regular fans

Editor’s note: This essay is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new under-seat DAS deployment for the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, and a look at the new DAS at Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

That’s an obvious perk for those who are scratching big checks, but what about the thousands of “regular” fans whose best bet is often just to arrive hours before game time to get a better spot? Why aren’t there more systems that would allow the upper-deck crowd to spend maybe 10 or 20 bucks more to guarantee a closer spot, or one with other amenities (close to the exit, bathrooms, etc.)? Is it because teams may not have control over lot spaces, or is it just due to lack of interest and/or creative thinking?

Maybe we need to dig deeper to find these stories ourselves, but if this kind of thing is happening at your venue, let us know. Though I don’t qualify for handicapped status, on some days a flareup in my surgically repaired back would make it extremely worthwhile for me to pay extra to be closer to the stadium, or to park in a lot that has a shuttle or pedicab service. I’d also pay a premium to be able to reserve a spot next to a friend, to make sure we can tailgate together.

Uber, Lyft causing cellular overload?

I also throw ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft into the mix here, and wonder if any venue has successfully solved what I call the “Uber overload” problem. Even as most venues now have a set-aside area for Uber and Lyft dropoff and pickup, I have now twice heard of a problem I’d bet is duplicated in many other venues: Namely, ride-share services that are screwed up because there isn’t enough connectivity outside the stadium to handle the crush of fans seeking that final connection with their driver.

Can you find your way to the Uber pickup at MSP? Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

In one place I heard of this happening — AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — the Uber driver I was with said that many drivers had the experience of getting a ride request, only to be unable to find (and confirm) the ride because neither driver nor rider could connect outside the stadium walls. Maybe that’s improved lately (this conversation was a year ago) but the driver told me an interesting workaround — drivers en route to AT&T Stadium would first head to a fast-food restaurant on the parking lot fringes and use the restaurant’s free Wi-Fi signal to tell riders to meet them there. Anyone else out there have this problem and/or found a solution? Let me know. I will also start trying to check ride-sharing services and parking at stadiums in our profile visits, so stay tuned.

In forward-thinking places like the Westfield-managed Century City Mall we’ve seen parking technology installed with priority status, perhaps because a guaranteed place for the car is of higher importance to shoppers than to eventgoers. We have seen some parking startups help teams and venues shift payment systems to digital platforms, which has produced savings in time and money from the inevitable failures of cash-based transactions through a car window. But that seems like just the start. If your team, venue or startup has a story to tell here, you know where to find us.

VenueNext names Orlando’s Perez as new CEO

Anthony Perez

Anthony Perez, former chief marketing officer for the Orlando Magic, has been named the new CEO of stadium- and team-application developer VenueNext, replacing founding CEO John Paul.

According to a VenueNext press release, Perez had been with the Magic for the past 10 years in “various leadership roles,” including executive vice president for strategy and CMO, a title he gained in 2017. According to the release, Perez helped develop the Magic’s virtual currency strategy which has been one of the big successes for VenueNext as its app powers the program. The Magic were VenueNext’s first NBA customer and the second customer overall after the San Francisco 49ers.

Former CEO Paul will remain as vice chairman on VenueNext’s board, and according to the release will assist the company on future moves like a planned expansion into European markets. A longtime computer industry veteran, Paul led VenueNext’s charge into the app market for stadiums and arenas with a strategy based more on enabling services like ticketing, loyalty programs and mobile concession ordering and delivery, with the Niners’ new Levi’s Stadium as its proof of concept platform in 2014.

With $24 million in venture funding as of 2016, VenueNext appears to be in good shape, even if it is still a ways away from reaching its publicly claimed target of 30 customers that Paul said it would have three years ago. While the company’s website does not have a full list of customers, VenueNext has said in the past that it does have clients signed already in the healthcare and hospitality markets, but cannot name them due to confidentiality agreements.

Eagles sign Appetize for new point-of-sale system at Lincoln Financial Field

Self-serve kiosks from Appetize allow fans to order and pay for their own food for nearby pickup. Credit all photos: Appetize

The Philadelphia Eagles have signed a deal with Appetize to bring its technology-centric point of sale system into Lincoln Financial Field, a deal designed in part to help speed up concessions transactions for home fans of the new Super Bowl champions.

According to a press release out today, Appetize will install “more than 500” iOS- and Android-based terminals inside the Linc, including some touch-screen fan-facing checkout displays as well as self-service concession kiosks that are meant to function much like the terminals found at airports for checking in to flights.

Kevin Anderson, co-founder and chief strategy officer for Appetize, said in a phone interview that internal company tests have shown that the self-service kiosks can speed up a concessions transaction by as much as 20 percent, good news for fans who are tired of spending lost minutes standing in line waiting for a cheesesteak. For teams and venue owners, the 10-inch screens being installed at other, regular concession stands in the Linc can help with upsell, as Anderson said that the screen space allows the operator to program in add-on options (like adding a drink or fries to a sandwich order) via a side-of-screen advertisement that makes it easy to add to the order with a click.

In addition to the new customer-facing technology, Appetize is also gaining entree to venues for its cloud-based back-end systems, which Anderson said cuts out the need for teams to have localized infrastructure to buy and manage. Though he won’t name them all yet, in addition to the Eagles win Anderson said Appetize has claimed three other NFL contracts that were out for bid this summer, perhaps proof that the company’s mantra of having “enterprise and modern” facets in their systems is finding receptive ears.

Making sure the infrastructure is set up for kiosks

While MSR clearly needs to schedule a stadium visit sometime to check out kiosk wait times compared to older concessions systems, Anderson did note that teams can’t just plug the kiosks in and expect them to work with an existing infrastructure. “There is a shift in operations” that is necessary, he said, since kiosks can double or triple the number of orders in a given time to an existing kitchen location. However, having kiosks also means that self-service stands can be staffed with workers who simply put orders together, instead of having to train those workers on payment systems and devices.

New tablet-based POS terminals can entice fans into add-on purchases

One area where Appetize doesn’t see a lot of explosive growth is on the in-seat delivery end, a trend that seems to slowing down and finding its way mostly into premium seating areas at most venues. While Appetize can support mobile-device ordering and delivery (it even started its corporate life with an end-user focus on a mobile/delivery app) Anderson said the infrastructure and human engineering necessary to support a full-stadium delivery scheme is usually found to be unworkable. The San Francisco 49ers, who opened Levi’s Stadium in 2014 with mobile-app delivery of concessions to every seat, scrapped that service last season.

“We’re definitely not seeing [customers] asking us to do full-stadium” in-seat delivery, Anderson said. However, having the ability to place an order via a mobile device does have value in premium seating areas, where stadiums may already have systems like the Appetize-based one currently used at Lincoln Financial Field, where servers with wireless devices roam the seating areas offering in-seat ordering as a white-glove service.

“It’s a nice line-item for the season ticket sales sheet” to offer in-seat delivery services in places where it makes sense, Anderson said. “Venues are being smart [now] about where they are putting it.”

D.C. United picks VenueNext for Audi Field app

Screenshot of new D.C. United app. Credit: VenueNext

As D.C. United gets set to move into Audi Field, the team announced it has chosen VenueNext to supply a new stadium and team app, which will include support for a wide range of services including digital ticketing, video highlights and replays, and a virtual currency that will let fans purchase goods and services at the stadium via their mobile device.

The new deal is VenueNext’s first customer in Major League Soccer, following earlier wins with pro teams in the NFL and Major League Baseball, as well as the NHL and NBA. One of the MLS’ founding clubs, D.C. United will move into the new 20,000-seat Audi Field in the middle of July.

According to a press release from VenueNext, in addition to video and static content about the team, players and league, the app will also support mobile ticketing for stadium entry, the ability to order concessions via the app for express pick-up, in-stadium and public transit wayfinding, and directions to parking.

Intel True View coming to Niners, Vikings apps; but will anyone watch?

Screen shot of an Intel-powered 3D view of an NFL game.

From a sports viewing standpoint, there may not be a more compelling new technology lately than Intel’s True View platform, which can provide 360-degree 5K-resolution looks at a sporting event that are equally stunning and informative, a true leap in performance for TV-watching fans. Last week, a move by Intel to provide venture funding for app development firm VenueNext seemed like a great deal for fans of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings, whose stadium apps are slated to get the Intel technology to support 3D replay views, perhaps as early as next season.

While both the funding and the replay plans are positive moves for sports fans, our question is, will anyone really watch? While VenueNext’s app platform seems to be gaining momentum with pro teams from all the major U.S. sports leagues, the instant replay function — which was part of VenueNext’s first platform, the app for the Niners’ Levi’s Stadium — has never really caught on, peaking at the start and slowly dwindling thereafter. Replays on other mobile platforms, however — like Twitter — are enormously popular, with one Vikings video alone earning more than 4 million views.

VenueNext CEO John Paul at last week’s Intel event.

Though the Intel/VenueNext announcement garnered a lot of headlines last week, none of the other stories mentioned how little-used the instant replay function is. In fact, almost every team or stadium that has instant-replay functionality in its app declines to provide any statistics for the feature, a shyness we can only attribute to the fact that the numbers are embarrassingly low. The only one VenueNext was able to tell us about was the Niners’ app, which according to VenueNext generated approximately 1,000 views per game last season.

During 2014, the first season Levi’s Stadium was open, the app peaked early with 7,800 replays during that year’s home opener; by the end of the season that number was down to fewer than 4,000 replays per game, which prompted Niners CEO Jed York to label the service’s low uptake a surprising disappointment. Now it’s even used far less often. (VenueNext competitor YinzCam also has instant replay available for many of its team apps, but also does not provide team-by-team viewing stats.)

One reason York cited for the low replay use was the quality and frequency of replays shown on the Levi’s Stadium large video boards; while in the past many pro teams kept replays to a minimum (especially if they were unflattering to the home team) the acceptance of replay review in many leagues and a general change of behavior now sees almost constant replay showing, as well as live action on in-stadium video boards. And while the process to produce in-app video replays is stunningly quick, even the fastest replay functionality combined with the need to navigate a device screen is usually well behind live play.

Screen shot of instant replay service inside Levi’s Stadium app.

Since the amount of funding Intel is providing VenueNext was not announced, it’s hard to tell whether or not either company will consider the transaction worthwhile if the replay viewing numbers remain low. Another problem with the app replays is that many are confined to in-stadium views only due to broadcast rights restrictions; compare that handcuff to the openness of Twitter, where a video of the “Minnesota Miracle” walkoff TD shot by a quick-thinking Minnesota Vikings employee (Scott Kegley, the team’s executive director of digital media & innovation) during last year’s playoffs garnered more than 4 million views and recently won a Webby award.

If there’s a dirty not-so-secret about stadium wireless connectivity, it’s that almost every report we’ve ever seen about app and service usage inside venues puts use of open social media platforms like Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook far, far above team and stadium app usage. Though stadium and team apps are gaining more traction recently due to their embrace of service functionality for things like parking, concession transactions and digital ticketing, we still haven’t seen any reports or evidence that in-stadium instant replays are gaining in use.

Will Intel’s revolutionary technology change the game for in-app replays? We’ll track the developments and keep asking for stats, so stay tuned.

San Antonio Spurs refresh mobile app with new features from YinzCam

Screen shot of new app design for the San Antonio Spurs. Credit: YinzCam

The San Antonio Spurs announced a new version of the team’s mobile app, which includes new features both for fans attending Spurs home games at AT&T Center as well as for fans following the team remotely. The new features were added to the app by developer YinzCam, which also designed previous versions of the team’s app.

According to YinzCam and the Spurs, a new interface designed for clarity and faster navigation will help fans find new features like blue-dot wayfinding (available only for Apple iOS devices) as well as new interactive maps available for both iOS and Android devices. Another update is the inclusion of on-demand replays for fans at AT&T Center, with four different camera angles to choose from, according to YinzCam.

In a nod toward a trend of team and stadium apps adding more attendance-specific services, the new version of the Spurs app will inlcude a “Season Ticket Member Club,” which the Spurs and YinzCam said will provide special offers and discounts, as well as the ability for season ticket holders to have single sign-on access to Ticketmaster’s account manager, which they can then use to digitally manage their tickets.

What’s not clear is if this update is an addition to an update YinzCam was scheduled to provide to the Spurs in the wake of a 2015 deal with the NBA under which YinzCam was to redesign 22 NBA team apps, including the Spurs’. Since that deal several teams have replaced YinzCam with a competitor — the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Utah Jazz and the Charlotte Hornets are all currently working with VenueNext to deliver their team apps. The Orlando Magic are also a VenueNext client, the first NBA team to pick that developer.

YinzCam, however, still claims to have developed 21 of the NBA team apps in use this season, including apps for the following teams: Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards. The Sacramento Kings and the Miami Heat use apps designed by Built.io, another newcomer in the stadium and team-app market. This year the Detroit Pistons turned to Venuetize for their team app in their new home, Little Caesars Arena. According to this release Venuetize also helped design the new app for the Portland Trailblazers. The Dallas Mavericks’ team app is supplied by Tixsee.