When will mobile concessions catch on?

When will mobile concessions catch on?

By Don Muret, Staff Writer


Over the past five to eight years, mobile technology for sports concessions has largely been one continuous trial run as teams and food providers determine the best model for generating revenue without ruining the fan experience.

In general, the biggest concern is being able to accommodate a large number of orders placed simultaneously on mobile devices during key breaks in the game. The fear is the system will crash during peak use in crowded facilities that have inadequate bandwidth to support mobile technology. Food service firms worry their workers will fall behind in the scramble to fill hundreds of mobile orders.

Some sports facilities have tried the mobile technology with minimal use, such as RBC Center, home of the Carolina Hurricanes and North Carolina State men’s basketball. The arena will not renew its two-year deal with Bypass Lane next season, said Davin Olsen, vice president and general manager. Bypass Lane maintains deals with 23 major league, college and minor league facilities.

TD Garden in Boston is testing a system from BuyFi that allows fans to order and pay for food and drink. Other venues have tried similar systems that never caught on with consumers.
The process for introducing mobile ordering programs runs parallel with arenas and stadiums working with wireless carriers to upgrade their buildings with Wi-Fi networks and distributed antenna systems to provide better connectivity with mobile devices.

With those issues in mind, teams and facilities continue to take baby steps toward implementing mobile ordering systems, testing the technology on a limited basis for season-ticket holders and premium-seat patrons as a new amenity for their best customers.

TD Garden in Boston, home of the Bruins and Celtics, started a mobile test in January. Delaware North Cos., owner of the arena, the Bruins and Sportservice, the facility’s concessionaire, signed a short-term deal with BuyFi to run the pilot program.

Delaware North tests new products in Boston before rolling them out among the two dozen other big league markets where Sportservice runs concessions. BuyFi, a two-year-old Northern California firm, produces an iPhone and Android app to order and pay for food and drink.

TD Garden officials restricted the BuyFi test to 100 season-ticket accounts spread over 250 to 300 seats in Section 5 of TD Garden’s lower bowl. After downloading the BuyFi application, the patron enters a credit card number and receives a PIN to complete his order.

BuyFi touts its system as unique because credit card information is stored within the BuyFi application on the user’s device and not transferred to BuyFi’s servers, said Murgesh Navar, the company’s CEO.

The data separation, controlled by an on/off button within the app, protects the user to a greater degree than traditional payment methods that require users to input a credit card number for every individual purchase, he said.

To order food and drink, fans select TD Garden from a list of locations and another page pops up with menu options for Links Grill, the concession stand behind Section 5. Fans get a text message when orders are ready for pickup at the grill, and the stand has a speed line dedicated to BuyFi orders.

Sportservice is not charging fans to use BuyFi during the test. It is currently offering $5 off a sausage sandwich combo as incentive to use BuyFi. In other markets, depending on tech vendor and business model, user fees can run 99 cents to $1.99 for pickup and delivery.

BuyFi officials see mobile concessions technology as largely an impulse buy among the younger generation of sports fans using smartphones as part of their everyday lives, Navar said. As the technology develops, concessions discounts could be tied to key points in the game. After scoring a goal, for example, the Bruins could send a message to mobile users that jerseys are 30 percent off at the team store.

Six weeks into the mobile test, the volume of BuyFi transactions was not to the point where officials could say it has increased concessions revenue, said Lorraine Spadaro, Delaware North’s vice president of technology and e-commerce.
With no public Wi-Fi system in place at TD Garden, arena officials installed three antennas near the section to ensure the test works, Spadaro said. AT&T, one of the arena’s primary sponsors, is set to upgrade the arena’s Wi-Fi program this summer, she said.

Delaware North and BuyFi plan to expand the pilot to two more seating sections at TD Garden in the coming weeks and will survey fans for feedback on how it worked and can be improved, Spadaro said. Down the line, Delaware North and BuyFi could sign a long-term deal depending on the success of the trial, she said.