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.

StadiumPark touts ‘EZ Pass for stadiums’ parking app idea

Screen shot of a potential StadiumPark app. Credit: StadiumPark.

Screen shot of a potential StadiumPark app. Credit: StadiumPark.

At first blush, it’s an idea so simple you wonder why it hasn’t been thought of before: Why not build a system that mimics highway EZ Pass functionality to make parking at sports events easier?

That’s the simple but powerful idea behind StadiumPark, a Rochester, N.Y. startup that has developed an app that will let fans pay for parking with their phones, in the hopes of curing one of the main pain points of live game interactions with a faster, easier experience that can benefit teams and stadium owners as well. Though StadiumPark doesn’t yet have any announced customers, it’s a good bet that before long some stadium owners and operators will take a chance on the idea, which is designed to also automatically open parking-lot gates, further reducing human overhead.

In a recent phone conversation with StadiumPark’s 26-year-old founder, Jeremy Crane, we learned the skill sets behind StadiumPark’s insights: According to Crane, part of his work background includes time spent with a large parking-lot company in Rochester that handled concerns like apartment buildings and some stadium lots. An interest in learning more about mobile parking payment systems opened Crane’s eyes to the idea of parking-payment methods other than people in vests taking cash payments through a car window.

A request from Syracuse University, Crane said, to develop an “EZ Pass type app” for parking at the school’s Carrier Dome spurred him into entrepreneurial action, and StadiumPark was born. The combination of an app (which requires users to pre-register with a credit card) and the wireless technology smarts to open parking-lot gates is the main selling point for StadiumPark, which Crane said is in discussions with several potential clients.

If the system works as advertised, it could potentially cut down on the amount of time fans spend in parking-lot lines, one of the banes of live-game attendance. For stadium owners and operators, there is an extra possible incentive of having greater control over parking payments, as well as potentially having more data on fan attendance beyond ticket sales.

“For the venue, the idea is to enable a better experience,” said Crane. “We see a clear advantage to both the stadium and the fans.”

StadiumPark’s business plan is to charge users a small convenience fee, while not charging stadiums or venues. For the system to work well it must clearly have buy-in and promotion from the arena owners and operators, to steer traffic to the StadiumPark-enabled lots. But if the quick rise in mobile parking payments for other places — like airports or shopping areas — is any indicator, a simple app that lets you park quickly and conveniently is one of the uses of technology that could probably gain rapid adoption from fans who just want to get to their seats.