Stadium- and team-app builder Hopscotch adds $5 M in Series B funding

Screen shot of new Notre Dame app built by Hopscotch.

Hopscotch, one of the newer entrants in the team- and stadium-app development space, announced a $5 million Series B round of funding earlier this month, which the company said would be used to help support the rapid growth Hopscotch has seen over the past year.

Founded in 2014 after a project with Madison Square Garden led CEO Laurence Sotsky to build a business around team and stadium apps, Hopscotch had previously raised $12.5 million in Series A funding, according to the company. According to Sotsky, a beta customer relationship with the University of Mississippi in 2016 gave Hopscotch an entree to the large-college market, and since then the company has signed app deals with a who’s-who list of top universities with prominent athletic programs, including Notre Dame, Oregon, Ohio State, Auburn, UCLA, Washington, Baylor, Penn State, Michigan State and Arizona, among others. Hopscotch also signed a deal with T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

While the list of customers is impressive, there is a bit of a caveat to Hopscotch’s sudden rise. According to Sotsky, Hopscotch gained many of its new customers this summer by taking over app development deals previously held by CBS Interactive and IMG College. As the rights holder for many universities, CBS Interactive’s apps have historically been centered around media, including streaming video and other team content. According to Sotsky, Hopscotch is replacing code in those previous apps from the inside out, bringing the company’s “Fan Engagement Platform” to add services like ticket purchasing and advertising services. However, in many cases the apps are still identified by previous developers in places like the Apple App Store, a tactic Sotsky said was done deliberately so that previous users of the apps could just update to get the new app instead of having to install a new app.

Hopscotch CEO and founder Laurence Sotsky

Duplicate deals at schools?

But what Hopscotch doesn’t tell you is that some of these deals may not be exclusive, as in the case of Baylor University, which is listed under “customers” on both the Hopscotch website as well as the YinzCam website. YinzCam, which developed a game-day app for Baylor when the school built its new football stadium in 2014, remains the “official” app, according to Becky King, associate vice president for information technology services and interim CIO at the Waco, Texas, school.

However complete or incomplete they may be, Hopscotch’s college deals will at least give the company another fighting place to take on other providers in the team/stadium app marketplace like YinzCam, VenueNext, Venuetize and Built.io. With $17.5 million in total funding now, the El Segundo, Calif.-based Hopscotch may add to its current total of 40 employees, while building out its product roadmap to include more services for game days, like wait-time apps or traffic and parking services.

In a phone interview Sotsky said Hopscotch is already trying beta tests of interactive advertisements, like one last basketball season at Auburn where fans using the app would get a message good for a free breakfast sandwich at a nearby Hardee’s if the opposing team missed two consecutive free throws late in a game. Though most stadium and team apps have been challenged so far just to get fans to download and use the apps — never mind generating revenue — Sotsky is betting that Hopscotch will find a way to help venues, teams and advertisers work together to build something that benefits fans while also delivering some ROI.

“If you deliver the right kind of ads you can get great revenue traction,” said Sotsky.

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

Wi-Fi, new app features a welcome addition at historic Saratoga Race Course

Horses round the turn at Saratoga Race Course. Credit all photos: Saratoga Race Course.

Just because a sporting venue is old and historic doesn’t mean it has to stay behind the times. The welcome arrival this year at the famed Saratoga Race Course of a high-density Wi-Fi network and a new mobile app with services including live video, express food ordering and mobile betting was a winner for all fans, according to racetrack executives.

“I’m pretty proud of Saratoga — we’ve got history, tradition, and now the 21st Century,” said Bob Hughes, vice president and chief information officer for the New York Racing Association, which runs thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Saratoga as well as at Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park. The new Wi-Fi network, which was fully installed for Saratoga’s 2017 season, “was a wild success for us,” Hughes said. “The fans were engaged, and the media noticed.”

Saratoga’s summer schedule — a tradition in upstate New York since racing first happened there in 1863 — is one of the more revered happenings on the horse-racing schedule, and the Race Course grounds are widely admired as one of the best experiences in sports. But up until a few years ago, that experience didn’t have much in the way of wireless connectivity, an issue Hughes said the NYRA started working on to correct after the 2015 season.

More mobility for race fans

With an executive direction to bring more mobility, access and convenience to fans, Saratoga started down the path that ended with a network using 220 Ruckus access points, Kezar scanners and a new app designed by VenueNext, and 1,000 bluetooth beacons from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to support wayfinding and other services. With more than 48,000 client user sessions on one of the summer’s busiest days — the Aug. 26 Travers Day — and an average of more than 1 terabyte of traffic each day, the new network at Saratoga was an instant hit, and something likely to keep the old venue even more relevant to a new generation of racing fans.

“The New York Racing Association was pleased this year to introduce cutting edge technology to Saratoga Race Course, the oldest active sporting venue in America,” said NYRA CEO and president Chris Kay in a prepared statement. “Given our ever growing reliance on mobile devices, these improvements are critical to the long-term success and sustainability of Saratoga.”

The unique schedule of Saratoga — 40 days of racing in the summer — also means some long days of races, with fans at the track from before noon until 7 p.m. some days, Hughes said. With the new network and app in place, those fans can not only stay connected to their outside lives, but they can also watch live and archived racing videos, pre-order concessions for express pickup, and even place bets from their mobile device.

“With 25 or 30 minutes between races, you now see a lot of people watching replays of former races” to gain betting insights, Hughes said. And that connectivity even extends from the racetrack seating areas out to the track’s famed picnic grounds, where Hughes said Saratoga deployed “mushroom” looking AP enclosures that put antennas at waist level, to bring connectivity close to the seating areas.

From the more than 1 million fans who attended races this season, Hughes said the Wi-Fi network saw pretty consistent take rates of 25 percent of fans present on the network at any given time. Having that wireless connectivity to outside lives as well as to tap into venue amenities, Hughes said, “takes any stress away.”

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.

Niners: No more in-seat merchandise sales or express pickup at Levi’s Stadium

We finally have an official statement from the San Francisco 49ers talking about the team’s decision this season to eliminate in-seat food delivery for the entire stadium and instead offer the service only to those holding club-level seats, news reported first by Mobile Sports Report.

A statement provided to us from Al Guido, president of the Niners, says:

Levi’s Stadium was the first stadium of its size to offer in-seat food and beverage delivery throughout the building, a service no other venue has attempted to date. After conducting a comprehensive offseason review, including analysis of the sections where people took the greatest advantage of the offering and surveys on what matters most to fans sitting in different areas of the venue, we are focusing our in-seat food and beverage ordering service exclusively to non-inclusive Club seating sections for the current season. This change is being done to improve the overall concession service in the venue while allowing us to continue to enhance how this feature can best benefit our fans.

According to the Niners, “non-inclusive” means all club seats where fans don’t have access to the everything-paid-for clubs like the BNY Mellon Clubs on either side of the lower 50-yard-line seats. So to have access to the app-based ordering and delivery, you need to be in a club seat somewhere in the 100 or 200 levels of the stadiums, without a paid-for food and drink plan. The Niners did not provide any numbers about how many or what percentage of Levi’s Stadium fans would continue to have the ability to order concession deliveries.

Also discontinued is the Levi’s Stadium express pickup option, a service the team said was actually stopped last season. The express pickup option allowed fans to order and pay for food and drink ahead of time, and then pick it up at a nearby stand. The Niners also said they are discontinuing the ability for fans to order merchandise and have it delivered to their seats, an option that debuted back in 2014.

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.