Cashless sports venues are viewed by many in the industry as an inevitable progression.
However, whilst music event and festival organisers have readily adopted a frictionless approach for some time, the reluctance of sport to follow suit, despite an undeniable public appeal, remains a challenging issue.
Competition is fierce between providers, offering a variety of state-of-the-art technological solutions that only a few years ago would have been dismissed as fantasies, but the disparate outlook has made it difficult for a single solution to emerge as a favourite for clubs in an industry in which imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Now, despite numerous perceived issues from some quarters – including reliability, cost, security, integration and implementation speed – there are signs that a tipping point is on the horizon.
The testing ground for the cashless concept would appear to be at smaller stadiums, where operators can be nimbler with their decision-making processes than larger organisations.
As an example, Event Genius, which offers RFID/NFC wristbands or cards, has teamed up with clubs in lower-league football, ice hockey and speedway, as well as the Wales Rally, over the past two years.
“There is an appetite from various sports teams to go down that cashless route,” said Dom Smyth, who left Event Genius to join Tappit as business development manager in August. “It is part of a natural evolution.”
“With smaller clubs, there may be more walk-ups and it could be easier to sell to them as they can see the benefits straight away. It is easier for them to make decisions quicker than the big operators.”
Smyth added that cashless “took years to gain acceptance” in live music and a wariness to delve into the technology is understandable.
“There will be a point when the stadiums will take on the technology and everyone else in the space will see that it works, but people don’t want to be the first to try it in case it doesn’t work,” Smyth added at TheStadiumBusiness Summit earlier this year.
“I think a lot of the bigger teams will be doing it within five years, but there are obviously cost implications. I think all customers are up for the switch as it means you can get served quicker and not queue for as long.”
One of the key issues for cashless payment providers is to educate the masses – and one concern that is often raised in the context of the technology is security.
However, Sthaler’s FingoPay technology features an infrared scanner that picks up a customer’s unique vein pattern in his or her finger. It takes half a second for the payment to be processed, including the 0.3 seconds it takes to find the payment gateway.
The scanner is manufactured by Hitachi, with Sthaler having an exclusive 10-year agreement to market the product’s payment identify opportunities through to 2025, with the option of a 10-year extension.
The technology was tested out on festivals, and with 96% positive feedback, implementations at Brunel University in London and Copenhagen Business School have proved to be similarly popular, according to Carla McMillan, who specialises in biometric payment solutions at Sthaler.
“Because the technology is internal – within the finger – it is as secure as it can get,” McMillan told TheStadiumBusiness.com. “We’re still very much start-up mode, but interest from stadiums is huge at the moment so it’s a case of being strategic.”
It can take as little as two weeks to integrate the technology with the software provider and the payment gateway, while the cost options include a bolt-on leasing fee or a fee per transaction.
“It’s just a case of becoming familiar with it, but biometrics is getting more and more popular,” McMillan added.
“Cashless will ultimately come in as you want to switch over to an effortless experience. Through our technology, we can also recognise the behaviours of certain demographics. There are so many different areas that can tie into payments, identity and loyalty, but no-one’s really doing it yet.
“The data is already being taken away and stored separately. If it can all be brought into the same platform, then that will provide lots of opportunities, but there isn’t efficient use of the data at the moment.”
Tappit claims that its cashless solution allows clients to gain valuable customer insights whilst generating an average 22% increase in like-for-like takings, with transactions processed 80% faster.
“We came over to sport from entertainment, but the uptake from a sports perspective promises to be massive,” said Paul Land, the company’s global head of account management, who expects early sign-ups in the English Football League to “bleed into cricket and rugby”.
“It’s disruptive technology and some people are uneducated about it. It’s like using a virtual wallet.”
Like other companies in the sector, interest in cashless technology has not only be reserved for top-tier sporting outfits.
“It really isn’t dependent on the league,” he said. “You will increase spectator spend on food and drink and also save money in terms of managing cash, while there will be also less fraud and theft.”
Cashless sports venues may be the exception rather than the rule currently, but Land is convinced it is merely a matter of time before the technological revolution is introduced – and accepted – broadly at stadiums across the UK and beyond.
“There are infrastructure costs to consider, but I think stadium operators are opening their eyes now to what they are missing out on, certainly in terms of food and drink,” Land says.
“Paper tickets are going to disappear and cashless will come in hand-in-hand. It’s only a matter of time.”