Vikings testing in-seat beverage delivery via app at U.S. Bank Stadium

A runner delivers drinks to fans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Minnesota Vikings (click on any photo for a larger image)

The Minnesota Vikings are currently offering in-seat delivery of beverages ordered through the stadium mobile app, a beta test of sorts that may lead to expanded app-delivery options at U.S. Bank Stadium in the near future.

While it’s just a small pilot operation now, available to approximately 8,000 seats in the venue’s east end zone area, any such service takes on greater importance due to the fact that U.S. Bank Stadium is set to host Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4, 2018. And whether or not the delivery service is available during the Super Bowl, Vikings representatives see it as an important opportunity to see if such services are helpful, profitable and scalable for different areas of the 66,200-seat facility.

“We want to ensure that the user experience [with the deliveries] is good,” said Scott Kegley, the Vikings’ executive director of digital media and innovation, about the go-slow approach. “We want to know all the data pieces, to see if the [current] test can be replicated.”

The Vikings’ small sample size is almost completely opposite of the path taken by the San Francisco 49ers when they opened Levi’s Stadium in 2014. The Niners and their app partner, VenueNext, offered full food and beverage delivery to any seat in the stadium, a service that was recently discontinued. Kegley, who had worked with the Niners during the Levi’s opening, said the Vikings (who also use VenueNext for the stadium app) learned a lot from the Niners’ delivery experiences, such as why just beverages may be a better delivery option than a full menu.

A runner gets ready to deliver drinks. Credit: Minnesota Vikings

Just drinks a lot easier to deliver

Rich Wang, director of analytics and fan engagement for the Vikings, said the Niners’ data showed that approximately 70 percent of all their delivery orders were beverage-only. With space at a premium inside U.S. Bank Stadium, the ability to have runner areas or delivery operations inside the current concession stands was not an option, Wang said. However, by moving some beverage coolers behind a temporary screen, the Vikings were able to create a mini-beverage delivery operations area that could serve a targeted seating area — in this case the 100- and 200-level seats surrounding the east end zone.

After some spot tests of the system last season, this year the Vikings rolled out the east end zone service as an ongoing feature, with delivery of a limited menu of beer, soda and water options. The promotion of the service has been purposely low-key, since as Wang said, the Vikings really don’t want everyone else in the stadium to know the service is available but not to them. Mainly, fans find out about the service through hard-copy promotional material placed in the cupholders, as well as via the app, which makes the delivery service available when fans log in with seat numbers in the service area.

An overhead look at the coolers and runner pickup area in U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Mobile Sports Report was able to view the delivery operation live at the Nov. 19 home game against the Los Angeles Rams, and early in the first quarter it was a busy place, with runners filling orders every time they came back to the small space (a cordoned-off area next to a concession stand and a building entrance). Runners each had insulated bags to carry drinks, and each drink came with a Vikings “Skol” koozie to help keep beverages cold.

According to Wang, the Vikings saw 185 deliveries through the service on Sunday, with half of those orders being for Coors Light, another 25 percent for other alcoholic beverages (Blue Moon and Redd’s ales) and the rest for sodas and water. Unlike Levi’s Stadium, which charged a flat $5 fee for all deliveries, the Vikings instead just add a 15 percent surcharge per product over what fans would pay at a concession stand.

Express pickup and more spaces for delivery

The Vikings also have two concession-stand areas for express pickup orders, one on the main concourse and one on the upper deck. Like the in-seat delivery service, the express pickup areas are another test, to gain data on how fans use the service before attempting expanded offerings. The Niners, which had offered full-stadium express pickup when Levi’s Stadium opened, no longer support the service.

A look at part of the promotional material placed in cupholders in the service area

Should the east end zone test show promise, Kegley and Wang have their eyes on the opposite end zone, where a small unused space exists directly under the lower-level west stands. Backing up to a large concession stand, it looks like a prime area to set up another delivery operation, with the added bonus of having runners walking up to fans instead of from behind, which Wang said would make for easier identification by fans of incoming deliveries. Wang said one of the stats the Vikings are paying attention to is delivery time and steps taken by runners, using a step-tracking app “to make sure the runners aren’t doing half-marathons” during a game, Wang said.

Right now, nobody at the Vikings is saying anything about Super Bowl operations, which are primarily decided upon by the NFL itself. For Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium, the NFL nixed full-menu deliveries, only allowing beverages to be delivered inside the stadium. Fans did respond positively, however, with a record number of deliveries, so the NFL may look on such a service at U.S. Bank with favorable eyes.

On the Vikings’ end, the service is already producing interesting data, including the fact that 60 percent of people using the service had never before used the team app; and the other 40 percent are now using the app more, according to Wang.

“We’re driving people to download the app, or use it more,” said Wang of the delivery service. Whether or not it will catch on depends on whether or not fans see it as a worthy alternative to just going to a concession stand. But, as Wang said, “nobody wants to wait in lines!”

A runner delivers drinks to fans in the east end zone. Credit: Minnesota Vikings

A look at the lower-level concourse express pickup area. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Commentary: Time to rethink in-seat delivery?

A beer vendor at Wrigley Field this summer. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka,, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

I have a major scoop: Even though Wrigley Field doesn’t have its new Wi-Fi network installed yet, I can confirm that the Friendly Confines has food and drink delivery to fans in all seats.

And you don’t need an app to order a frosty malt beverage. You simply say, “Hey! Beer man! One over here!” And he walks over and pours you a cold one. Apparently this is not new, but has worked for many, many years.

Though I do jest a bit I hope my point is clear: Sometimes there is a bit too much fascination with technology, especially on the stadium app front, which has not yet been warranted. The main question of this essay is whether or not it’s time to rethink the in-seat ordering and delivery phenomenon, to find what really matters to fans and where technology can deliver better options.

Who really wants in-seat delivery?

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Notre Dame Stadium, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

I will be the first to admit to being guilty as charged in being over-excited about stadium apps and the idea of things like instant replays on your phone and being able to have food and drink delivered to any seat in the stadium. When the San Francisco 49ers opened Levi’s Stadium four years ago, those two services were fairly unique in the sporting world, and it was cool to see how both worked.

The Niners did a lot of human-engineering study on the food delivery problem, knowing that it was more an issue of getting enough runners to deliver the goods than it was to get the app working right. Even a big glitch at the first-year outdoor ice hockey game at Levi’s Stadium was sort of a confirmation of the idea: That so many people tried to order food deliveries it screwed up the system wasn’t good, but it did mean that it was something people wanted, right?

Turns out, no so much. Recently the Niners officially announced that they are taking a step back on in-seat concessions ordering and deliveries at Levi’s Stadium, limiting it to club areas only. Whatever reasons the Niners give for scaling down the idea, my guess is that it mainly had to do with the fact that it turns out that the majority of people at a football game (or basketball too) may not want to just sit in their seats the whole game, but in fact get up and move around a bit.

The end zone view from the beer garden at Colorado State Stadium.

That may be why most of the new stadiums that have opened in the past couple years have purposely built more “porch” areas or other public sections where fans can just hang out, usually with somewhat of a view of the field. The Sacramento Kings’ nice beer garden on the top level of Golden 1 Center and the Atlanta Falcons’ AT&T Perch come to mind here. For the one or two times these fans need to get something to eat, they are OK with getting up and getting it themselves.

Plus, there’s the fact that at the three or four or more hours you’re going to be at a football game, if you’re drinking beer you’re going to eventually need to get up anyway due to human plumbing. We’ve been fairly out front in saying stadiums should spend more time bringing concession-stand technology into the 21st century, instead of worrying too much about in-seat delivery. It’s good to see there are some strides in this direction, with better customer-facing interfaces for payment systems and things like vending machines and express-ordering lines for simple orders.

While there may be disagreement about whether or not in-seat delivery is a good idea, there is certainly universal disgust for concession lines that are long for no good reason. It’s beyond time for stadiums to mimic systems already in place at fast-food restaurants or coffee shops and bring some of that technology spending to bear in the place that everyone agrees still needs work. Even at the uber-techno Levi’s, regular concession stand lines have been abysmal in their slowness. Maybe the Niners and others guilty of the same crimes will pay more attention to less flashy fixes in this department.

Is drink-only delivery the right move?

The Niners’ revolutionary attempt to bring mobile ordering and in-seat delivery to all fans in a big stadium was part of the app suite from VenueNext, the company the Niners helped start as part of their Levi’s Stadium plans. While VenueNext is regularly adding new pro teams to its stable of customers (in September at Mobile World Congress Americas, the Utah Jazz announced they would switch to VenueNext for the upcoming season), not a single one has tried to copy the Niners’ ambitious deliver-anywhere feature.

The end-zone AT&T Perch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

And for Super Bowl 50, the signature event that Levi’s Stadium was in part built for, remember it was the NFL shutting down the idea of in-seat delivery of food and drink, limiting the service instead to just beverage ordering and delivery. It probably makes sense for Mobile Sports Report to put together a list sometime soon about the various attempts at in-seat ordering and delivery around the pro leagues, to see what’s working and what hasn’t. To be clear we are talking here about widespread delivery to all seating areas, and not the wait-staff type delivery systems that have been widely deployed in premium seating areas for years.

Our guess, just from tracking this phenomenon the past several years, is that while such services make sense in premium and club areas, simple logistics and stadium real estate (like narrow aisles or packed, sellout crowds) make in-seat ordering and delivery a human-factor nightmare in most venues.

One experiment worth watching is the system being deployed by the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as part of the team/stadium app developed by IBM. Instead of working online, the app will let fans pick food items and enter payment information, and then take their phone to the appropriate stand to scan and fulfill the order. Nobody knows yet if this will speed up lines or make the concession process faster, but it is at the very least an attempt to try something new, using technology doing what it does best to eliminate a pain point of going to a game — waiting in line.

And while I will be excited to see the new networks being planned for Wrigley (Wi-Fi and a new DAS are supposed to be online for next season), I’m just as sure that whenever I visit there again, I won’t need an app to have a beer and hot dog brought to my seat. Maybe having more choice in items or having that instant gratification of delivery when you want it is where the world is going today, but on a brilliant summer afternoon at Wrigley Field somebody walking down the aisle every now and then works just fine. With the Cubs winning, the organ playing and the manual scoreboard doing its magic in center field, it’s a welcome reminder that sometimes, technology isn’t always the best or neccessary answer.

Delivery of food and beverage to all seats off the menu at Levi’s Stadium

Screen shot from Levi’s Stadium app from 2015 showing active in-seat delivery option.

The ability for every fan in the house to order food delivery to their seat — one of the signature services of Levi’s Stadium since its opening — is now off the menu.

At Thursday night’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams, in-seat delivery of mobile-app orders of food and drink was only available to club seat sections at the Niners’ home stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., according to several sources close to the team and the stadium.

Though there is no official statement yet from the team, it’s believed that the in-seat ordering and delivery service — which worked well except for one major early glitch — was mostly popular in premium seating areas at Levi’s, but not widely used otherwise.

While the Niners provided delivery-order statistics for the first year of operation of Levi’s Stadium, since then they’ve only reported orders in vague terms, last claiming average order totals of between 2,000 and 2,500 per game during the 2015 season. It’s also not clear if those numbers included both delivery orders as well as mobile-device orders for express pickup, where fans use the app to place and pay for an order, and then go pick it up at an express window.

The most likely reason for cutting off the service to the full stadium is that fans simply didn’t use it, and at some point it made no sense to keep staffing a service that wasn’t producing any income. What’s still unclear is whether the move is permanent, or whether it could be replaced in time, given that since Levi’s Stadium has opened, the Niners have routinely made changes to how the stadium app works and what services it offers. What was also unclear was how many club seats are still able to order deliveries, and whether or not the express pickup option is also still available.

For Super Bowl 50, the NFL nixed the food part of the delivery service at Levi’s, limiting it to just drinks. However, Super Bowl fans did give the drink delivery and the ability to order food and beverages for express pickup a good workout, with 3,284 total orders, 67 percent higher than the top order mark for a Niners’ regular-season game.

An ambitious experiment

Early on, there was much enthusiasm from the Niners for the in-seat delivery service, and their ambitious goal to make it work for every potential fan in the 68,500-seat venue. While almost every major professional and large collegiate sports venue has some kind of delivery service for premium seats or expanded sections, there is no other football-size venue that has attempted what the Niners have offered at Levi’s Stadium the past three seasons.

Why the full-stadium delivery option never caught on at Levi’s Stadium is most likely due to many reasons, beginning with the fact that it’s still not something most fans expect, unless they are in premium seating areas. There is also the question of how many fans actually download and use the stadium app while at the game, another statistic not regularly reported by teams.

While the service has always been available at Niners’ home games, other events at Levi’s Stadium, like Wrestlemania 31, have declined to have the service available while others, like the Grateful Dead, chose to keep the service in place. According to the Niners, the choice of having delivery available was always made by the event and not by the team.

It’s interesting to note that VenueNext, the app development company started in part by the 49ers, does not have another customer among its growing list of pro team clients that offers full-stadium delivery of app-ordered concessions. Mobile Sports Report has learned that one VenueNext team may start offering drink delivery to fans, but it’s not clear if that will be a full-stadium option.

Another stadium app startup with food-delivery services, TapIn2, has systems to deliver concessions ordered via app to the lower bowl at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena, and for club-seat sections at the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium.

Tap.in2 seeks more orders in expanding market for stadium in-seat food delivery apps

Screen shot of Tap.in2's Cavs Eats app. (Click on any photo for larger image)

Screen shot of Tap.in2’s Cavs Eats app. (Click on any photo for larger image)

After a successful beta-type trial with the Cleveland Cavaliers this past season, startup Tap.in2 is seeking new customers for its in-seat food and beverage delivery app, which lets sports fans order and receive concessions without having to stand in lines.

Unlike the well-publicized debut of stadium-wide in-seat delivery services offered last year at the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium, the Tap.in2 program at the Cavs’ Quicken Loans Arena flew a bit under the radar and was only offered during the last 22 home games, including the Cavaliers’ home appearances in the NBA Finals. But according to Mike Jacobs, president and co-founder of the Cleveland-based Tap.in2, there are plenty of professional sports franchises interested in adding in-seat concessions delivery to their arenas, and Jacobs is confident Tap.in2 will soon announce some new customers beyond the Cavaliers and beyond the NBA.

Though he didn’t have any names to officially announce, Jacobs held a recent phone interview with MSR while at an airport en route to meeting with a potential (unnamed) new customer. With somewhere north of $575,000 in reported funding, the six full-time employees and six part-timers at Tap.in2 will be competing mainly with Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext and its recent $9 million funding round in the new but rapidly expanding market for stadium in-seat food delivery apps. VenueNext, which said it will soon announce as many as 30 new customers, is rumored to be bringing its food-delivery expertise to other NFL stadiums this fall, but so far MSR has been unable to confirm any official deals.

Avoiding the lines

If there’s any app whose potential value needs no explaining to sports fans it’s in-seat delivery, which targets one of the biggest pain points of attending live events: Having to wait in line for concessions. In the recent past many arenas have added delivery services for suites and premium seating areas, usually facilitated by ushers with handheld wireless devices for ordering. But in most venues, the balance of fans still have to queue up for food and beverages, usually missing some game action while doing so. But now, with most big arenas having high-capacity Wi-Fi and DAS networks, the idea is to let fans use their smartphones to order concessions, allowing them to enjoy more of what they came to the stadium for in the first place.

VenueNext screen shot of food ordering feature on app.

VenueNext screen shot of food ordering feature on app.

Tap.in2’s Jacobs said one such story from his game-attending past — a New York Yankees game back in 1993 — planted one seed for the idea that eventually became Tap.in2’s app. At that long ago game Jacobs remembers his father missing three innings of some crucial late-season action merely to obtain a soft pretzel and some hot chocolate. A couple years ago while at college in Berkeley, Jacobs and his roommate Jordan Syms took the idea of eliminating concession line time and ran with it, building the startup that would become Tap.in2, a career path that led them to Cleveland.

As a portfolio company at the startup accelerator called Bizdom started by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, Syms and Jacob led their team to deliver an app that would let food and beverages be delivered to Cavs fans — starting very very slowly but then building over time.

“For the first game the service was turned on, we had two seats live,” said Jacobs. The pair of lucky long-time Cavs season ticket holders, he said, racked up seven orders during the inaugural game, providing “good feedback.” After that the service was expanded to cover a single section, then two sections, eventually scaling up to support the entire lower bowl at the 20,562-seat Quicken Loans Arena. According to Jacobs by the end of the season the service was facilitating “hundreds” of orders per game and was already returning some interesting stats, like 80 percent of the orders being beverages and an average spend per order of $32. In addition to food and drinks, the Tap.in2 app also supports the sale of in-game “experiences,” like being able to shoot baskets on the court after the game.

Integration with existing app and services the key

Jacobs said the Tap.in2 technology is designed to be easily integrated with an existing team app, like the NeuLion-built app used by Cavs fans. He also credited food and beverage provider Aramark for having incredibly efficient operations to allow for smooth delivery of orders, a human engineering problem that can sometimes go haywire when scaled up unexpectedly.

Front screen of Cavs Eats app.

Front screen of Cavs Eats app.

If there is any sticking point to the food and beverage delivery services it’s the human engineering side of the equation, mainly guessing how many “runners” will be needed to ensure prompt delivery of orders. Our guess is that unlike Levi’s Stadium, which offers the delivery service to every fan in every seat for NFL games, many stadiums will opt to start with delivery services to smaller sections of fans, like premium seating, until operational issues are fully worked out. (Most will probably have service to more than two seats, however.)

On the technical side, delivery apps need to integrate with back-of-the-house point of sale systems, and must be easy enough for fans to understand and stable enough for fans to trust with sensitive information like credit card numbers. But from industry interviews and reporting, it’s our guess that we will soon see a slew of food-delivery announcements at big pro and college venues this fall, from both VenueNext and possibly some from Tap.in2 as well. (Bypass Mobile, which once offered in-seat delivery via a service called Bypass Lane, appears to have completely switched to providing back-of-the-house POS systems for stadiums and other large public venues.) The trick for both the bigger VenueNext and Tap.in2 will be how well and how quickly they can integrate their delivery functionality with existing apps, something that is never an exact science.

Levi’s Stadium won’t have in-seat food delivery for Wrestlemania 31

Screen shot of Levi's Stadium app with in-seat delivery option missing in action. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Screen shot of Levi’s Stadium app with in-seat delivery option missing in action. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

When WWE fans invade Levi’s Stadium on March 29 for Wrestlemania 31, they will have to wrestle their own way to the concession stands for food and drink, because the in-seat food delivery feature of the Levi’s Stadium app won’t be available for that event, according to stadium app officials.

Louise Callagy, vice president of marketing for Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext, said Monday that the choice not to have in-seat food and beverage delivery was made by the WWE, and not by Levi’s Stadium officials, or by the San Francisco 49ers, or by VenueNext.

“Levi’s Stadium plays host to many shows and producers, and as part of that, these producers get to decide how they want to use the stadium and the Levi’s Stadium app,” said Callagy in an email reply. “We provide recommendations and they make choices. For Wrestlemania, we understand WWE chose to provide fans the option to order food and drink via Express pick up only, because they did not want to distract guests from the show with in seat deliveries.”

Since we haven’t yet talked to anyone from WWE, it’s unknown if the organization’s decision to “tap out” on in-seat delivery was influenced at all by the snafu that surfaced during the recent Coors Light Stadium Series hockey game at Levi’s Stadium, when a flood of in-seat orders apparently overwhelmed either the app operations or the runner staff, resulting in numerous orders being stalled and/or cancelled without explanation. The Wrestlemania event will be the first big-time professional or college event at Levi’s without the in-seat delivery service available since the Niners’ home opener last Sept. 14. In-seat delivery was available at all Niners’ home games this past season, as well as at two college games and at the hockey game on Feb. 21.

Taking a look at the Levi’s Stadium app on our phone on Monday, with its Wrestlemania 31 cover, the in-seat delivery feature is already gone from the top menu list of app functionality. What is still appearing is the “Express Pickup” feature, where fans at the stadium can use the app to order and pay for food ahead of time and then pick it up at the closest concessions window, theoretically avoiding the long lines that regularly plague all stadiums, including Levi’s.