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.

Wells Fargo Center gets new LED boards for concourses

New LED screens in the atrium area of Wells Fargo Center. Credit: ANC/Wells Fargo Center

Joining what looks like a developing trend for stadiums and arenas, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia will have new LED boards in much of its atrium and concourse area this season, thanks to an ongoing partnership between signage and design provider ANC and Comcast Spectacor, the owner and operator of the venue.

According to a recent press release, ANC recently finished a “complete digital media transformation” of Wells Fargo Center, including replacing static signage with LED displays in the arena’s atriums, which are among the highest-trafficed zones in the building, according to ANC. Last year the San Jose Sharks went down a similar path, bringing LED boards to many of the internal concourse areas, replacing static signage or blank walls.

ANC, a Learfield company, said the new LED displays at the joint home of the NHL’s Flyers and the NBA’s 76ers (which include highway signage outside the stadium) can be controlled through a single management system, offering a powerful way to convey synchronized messages across all digital displays in the building. Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a similar system, where it can “take over” all digital displays to provide a powerful, full-stadium look at either highlights or a sponsor message.

Little Caesars Arena picks Venuetize for stadium, district app

The new Little Caesars Arena app from Venuetize will also support the District Detroit area surrounding the new stadium.

The newly opened Little Caesars Arena in Detroit picked Venuetize to develop its stadium app, which also includes functionality to support activities in the surrounding “District Detroit” area, according to the arena.

Mobile technology provider Venuetize, which also built an integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, has included a long list of features in the app for Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. The District Detroit is a 50-block revitalization project surrounding the new arena, with shopping, restaurants and entertainment designed to keep fans in the area for more than just sporting events.

Digital ticketing support is at the top of the new app’s features, along with express ordering, which allows fans to order and purchase concessions via the app for fast pickup.

According to the arena and Venuetize, fans will also be able to use the app to find the best directions to the arena or to other places in the district, as well as inside the arena for in-building wayfinding. Future features planned for the app include a virtual assistant that will answer live questions. The app is available now, for iPhone and Android devices.

Utah Jazz pick VenueNext for new stadium app

There’s no official announcement yet but the Utah Jazz today confirmed the scoop that was announced by CIO BJ Vander Linden last week at the Mobile World Congress Americas show, that the Jazz will use VenueNext for a new stadium app for the upcoming season.

More details will likely become available as we get closer to the tipoff of the 2017-18 NBA season, but in the meantime it’s interesting to ponder what has become of the equity deal struck between app provider YinzCam and the NBA 2 years ago.

Under the terms of that deal, YinzCam was supposed to “re-do” the stadium apps for 22 of the NBA’s teams, with things like food delivery and ticket services included. With two of those teams (the other is the Minnesota Timberwolves) now having announced plans to use VenueNext, there is a valid question about what is happening with YinzCam and some of its former clients.

Mobile Sports Report has reached out repeatedly to YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan over the past couple months, but we have not yet received a reply.

Comcast Business to power Wi-Fi at Little Caesars Arena

Comcast Business has signed up as the Internet bandwidth provider for the soon-to-open Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, as part of an $11 million capital expenditure deal that will also bring assorted voice, video and other services to both the new arena and the surrounding “District Detroit.”

According to a press release from Comcast Business, the service provider will bring two 100-gig circuits of bandwidth to the arena, the new home of the NHL Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. Set to open on Sept. 12, the new venue will have more than 1,000 Wi-Fi APs in the arena and in “surrounding buildings and event spaces,” according to the Comcast release.

Comcast has a similar arrangement with the Atlanta Braves and their new home, SunTrust Park, as well as with the surrounding live/work environment there, called The Battery Atlanta. In a report in Crain’s Detroit Business, a Comcast exec said the Detroit deal was taking such sponsorships “A whole ‘nother step further,” adding that the District Detroit area is much bigger than the Battery’s footprint.

NBA’s Charlotte Hornets partner with VenueNext for new app

The NBA’s Charlotte Hornets are partnering with app developer VenueNext to develop a new team and stadium app, which will be ready before the new NBA season begins, according to a press release from the team and the company.

The deal is VenueNext’s third NBA customer, after previously signing contracts with the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Hornets deal also represents the second NBA team to move to VenueNext’s app platform following a 2015 deal where competitor YinzCam won a contract to redevelop 22 NBA team apps, including the Hornets’.

Like other VenueNext apps, the Hornets’ new app will support extensive digital ticketing services, as well as mobile payments and the ability for fans to use their devices to order and pay for concessions for express pickup at designated stands. The release said the new app will also “continue to remain the primary source of team-related news, video and content for Hornets fans.”

Screen shots of the new app were not available yet. According to the release, the new app will also support real-time scoring and game statistics, along with video highlights and “access to the Hornets’ radio broadcast and social media channels.”

VenueNext, which got its start as the app developer for the San Francisco 49ers and their new home, Levi’s Stadium, also has the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Vikings among its pro sports team clients. VenueNext also designed the latest app for Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. The company has raised $24 million in venture capital, $15 million of which came in a Series B funding last October.