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

WaitTime arrives at Sydney Cricket Ground

WaitTime monitor at Sydney Cricket Ground. Credit: WaitTime

Monitors powered by WaitTime showing fans how much time they might spend getting concessions are now live at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia, another big deal for the fan-services startup.

With 59 dedicated monitors positioned around the 46,000-seat venue in Moor Park, Australia, WaitTime can let fans know in real time how long it might take them to get something from a nearby concession stand, with left-or-right pointers showing them the way.

While the deal itself is another solid customer win for the Detroit-based startup, WaitTime CEO Zachary Klima said the Sydney Cricket Ground deal was significant from another standpoint, as it was the first done in conjunction with stadium technology giant Cisco and its Cisco Vision IPTV display management system.

According to Klima, the Cisco Vision system can be used at Sydney Cricket Ground to administer the WaitTime displays, which exclusively show WaitTime content. “This is our most significant partner,” Klima said of Cisco, calling it a potential “tipping point” for the company as it attempts to bring its display application to more venues.

By using its now-patented system of cameras mounted near concession stands and artificial-intelligence software to help parse the camera information, WaitTime can provide real-time information mainly on the length of lines at stands, so fans can decide the best way to use their concourse time. Originally planned as a mobile-only application, WaitTime has found growing acceptance for its monitor-based systems, including at American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat. Klima said the WaitTime service will be added to the Sydney Cricket Ground app in the near future, but the monitors went live at the end of May.

Rendering of what the monitors at Sydney Cricket Ground might look like

Niners’ CEO gives Levi’s Stadium operations a ‘B’ grade

Jed York, Niners CEO, speaking at tech summit at Levi's Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Jed York, Niners CEO, speaking at tech summit at Levi’s Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York, who caused a stir last week by apologizing for his team’s play on Twitter, on Thursday gave the operation of his club’s new Levi’s Stadium an above-average grade of “B” for the first four months of its inaugural season.

Speaking at a technology-focused fan-experience and innovation summit held Thursday at the stadium’s “501” club, York said “I’d give us a ‘B’ on our execution [at Levi’s Stadium] this year,” citing parking issues and foot-traffic flow into the stadium as problems not yet fully solved for the 68,500-seat facility in Santa Clara, Calif.

Given the new stadium’s complicated location — in the middle of a busy corporate-headquarters area and right next to the Great America theme park — it was probably somewhat of a given that there would be parking struggles the first season, as fans, police, traffic directors and stadium workers all figured out how to make the dance work. Though some progress has been made during the season, York said that “parking and just getting people here” remain the biggest issue he sees at Levi’s Stadium.

While the Niners have tried to use technology to solve the problems of getting fans inside (with app-based parking maps and wayfinding), York said that despite plans to funnel fans through the correct gates to get more quickly to their seats, many fans still just head for the gate that’s closest to their parking or train arrival spot, which has sometimes led to big backups at the check-in lines.

On the networking side of things, York said all seemed to be going well with the stadium’s Wi-Fi and cellular networks, which have performed well in a series of ad hoc tests conducted by MSR in visits this season.

“We haven’t had any [network] glitches, but we’ve been doing a lot of tweaking,” York said. The Levi’s Stadium app has been the center of most of that tweaking, with continual upgrades to add features and fix problems like an Android bug that surfaced in a mid-November revision. York said that the Niners have been careful to make sure the human engineering behind the technology is solid before launching new things, like having enough runners to support the feature that allows food to be ordered and delivered to seats.

Levi's Stadium ready for the Pac-12 championship game

Levi’s Stadium ready for the Pac-12 championship game

And though it hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, York said the team might debut a planned feature of having team merchandise available for purchase and delivery to seats at the next home game, Dec. 20 vs. San Diego. John Paul, CEO of Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext, also spoke at the summit Thursday and said in an interview that the Dec. 20 game might also see the debut of a new feature that adds in mass transit and Uber wait times. (A good idea for fans going to the stadium is to check on game day morning for any updates to the app.)

On the app side, York said one surprise was the fairly low uptake of fans using the app’s instant replay features. After fans watched 7,800 replays during the regular-season home opener (the first game replays were available in the app), usage has gone down, with less than 4,000 replays watched during the last home game against Seattle.

“We thought that mobile replays would be absolutely a home run feature, but it hasn’t got that much traction,” said York. The culprit, he said, might be the twin HD displays above each end zone at Levi’s Stadium, which are somewhat stunning in their clarity. “We do have great video boards,” York said.

In his talk York also thought out loud about the possibility of using wearable technology to both better help prevent player injuries as well as being able to provide more rich detail for fans, like how hard a hit was on the field. But he also stressed that technology at Levi’s Stadium was not meant to be used for technology’s sake, but instead to improve the experience of being at the game. And improvement on the stadium staff’s execution, York said, will go a long way to making it all work together.

“When we get to an A, or A+, people will really be blown away,” York said.

Levi's Stadium at twilight

Levi’s Stadium at twilight