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Fan Experience

‘People are here to watch the game, not stand in queues’ – Why stadiums are embracing self-checkout tech

Featured image credit: MCC

Whether it’s at the supermarket or the local fast-food restaurant, self-checkout technology is something we have become accustomed to using in recent years.

The technology is becoming increasingly prevalent at sports stadiums, too, as teams and venue operators seek to cut down on queues to drive event-day income and ensure fans can maximise their time spent watching the game.

Amazon’s Just Walk Out has proven to be a popular supplier of choice for teams in North America, including Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC, Orlando City SC and Austin FC. Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium last year became the first southern-hemisphere venue to implement the technology, while SSE Arena in Belfast recently became the first indoor arena in Europe to debut the frictionless, checkout-free shopping experience.

Seattle leads the way

The team leading the way when it comes to this tech is the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. The team’s Lumen Field stadium, which it shares with MLS franchise Seattle Sounders, currently has the most Just Walk Out locations of any venue in the world, with nine stores.

“Our goal is to get fans their snacks, drinks, and gear, and get them back to their seats as quickly as possible,” Zach Hensley, the Seahawks’ vice-president of business operations and general manager of Lumen Field, tells TheStadiumBusiness.com.

“Fans love the convenient and simple nature of it”

Zach Hensley, Seattle Seahawks

“This technology provided a great option for us to do just that. We started in 2022 with one Just Walk Out location on our upper concourse, called District Market, that opened for the start of the 2022 Seahawks season. That location sells both beverages as well as hot food and snacks.

“We saw such success with that location that we added three more Just Walk Out stores on our main concourse later that season. In 2023, we added four more concession locations. We also became the first NFL venue to add Amazon’s new Just Walk Out solution at retail, which leverages RFID technology. We are proud to now be the sports venue with the most Amazon Just Walk Out locations in the world.”

Checkout-free, not self-checkout

When fans visit one of Lumen Field’s Just Walk Out locations, they are prompted to either insert their credit card at the entry gates or hover their palm over an Amazon One device to enter. Once inside, shoppers can take what they want and leave after they are done.

As fans shop, the technology determines what they take from or return to the shelves, and the card is then charged for items they took after they leave the store. The experience is more checkout-free than self-checkout.

During the 2022 NFL season, the Seahawks’ District Market store saw a 60% increase in customer throughput, and the total transactions per game doubled in comparison with the traditional concession stand that was previously in the same location.

By the end of that season, in early 2023, the Seahawks saw transactions per game in the District Market location increase by 85%, with total sales per game increasing by 112%. The stadium’s retail outlet store generated a 28% increase in transactions and an 11% rise in units per transaction during the first five home games of the 2023 season.

And supporter feedback has been positive, too. “Fans love the convenient and simple nature of it,” says Hensley. “Since implementing, our fan survey ratings for food and beverage satisfaction have risen by 11%.”

‘The industry moves quickly’

Self-checkout technology is also becoming more commonplace in the UK, and a brand-new experience is set to debut at Lord’s Cricket Ground this summer.

In February, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), owners of Lord’s, announced that Freemans Event Partners would be introducing a new food and drink retail concept at Lord’s that will include self-checkout kiosks to significantly increase service speed and cut queueing.

The two-floor structure will bring a range of food and drink options together under one roof at the London venue, and MCC hopes the concept will streamline the purchasing process. Freemans has a long-term partnership with MCC to deliver a range of event solutions at the historic ground and the introduction of this new space is the product of extensive research.

“We look at other operations, and share ideas with the other cricket grounds, and the ECB,” explains James De Groot, MCC’s chief food and beverage officer.

“The industry moves quickly and there are a number of venues in the UK now doing QSR-style service, but most lead with apps or kiosks; we are the first to innovate to this level. 

“Freemans, our partners in the Food Village, took trips out to USA to look at flow, volume and offers that worked. The stats were impressive, and that was considered in the final decision by MCC’s Board and Committee.”

Lord’s attracted some 557,000 visitors last year, and De Groot is keen to make the experience as stress-free as possible for guests. “People are here to watch the cricket, not stand in queues,” he says.

Customers control their journey

The Food Village is two years in the making, and the experience is set to be similar to self-checkout tills at supermarkets. The first counter at the new Fan Village will see the customer faced with freshly-made hot dishes, followed by a series of multi-deck fridges stocked with hot and cold grab-and-go food items and a range of soft and alcoholic beverages.

A bank of self-checkout tills will then allow fans to scan the barcodes on all of their items.

“The two-tier structure going into the Food Village will transform the fan experience”

James De Groot, MCC

“Some of the hot dishes may not be barcoded but will be easy to add to the ‘basket’ via buttons on the touchscreens,” says De Groot.

“Unlike an app-based or kiosk system, this puts the customer face to face with all the items before they purchase so they truly have control along their journey. We will also have tills positioned at lower heights and ramps into the unit so the offer and technology are accessible to any visitor at Lord’s.”

Management and staff will be on hand to support fans with the transactions or any potential payment issues. De Groot says the concept will ensure staff are less burdened with operational work, allowing them to focus on customer service and engagement.

MCC is hopeful the Food Village will be completed by the end of May, ready for Vitality Blast matches and the England v West Indies Test match in July.

“We have lots of ideas bubbling away,” De Groot adds. “I head up a very talented team, who constantly challenge themselves, the offer, and look at the opportunities. The two-tier structure going into the Food Village will transform the fan experience and add another level, and a brand-new bar that we are finalising plans for in 2024, and other exciting ideas to look at for 2025 and beyond.”

Frictionless Foxes

English football club Leicester City, which celebrated promotion back to the Premier League at the weekend, has also been setting the standard off the field with a Tap + Go frictionless experience at King Power Stadium.

The experience, which was supplied by sports hospitality company Levy UK + Ireland, Leicester’s food and beverage supplier, debuted back in August 2022. At the time, Levy said the technology marked a first for a European stadium.

Levy partnered with autonomous retail expert AiFi on the innovation, which allows fans to purchase food and drinks without having to pay at a till. Fans are able to tap a payment card upon entry, pick up their items and walk out of the gates onto the concourse, where their card will be automatically charged.

Again, research at US venues was carried out before Leicester introduced the technology, a club spokesperson tells TheStadiumBusiness.com.

“Frictionless technology captures the transaction through AiFi technology. Around 50 cameras work harmoniously with AI Camera Vision to track matchday purchases and charge the card tapped on entry into the North Bar,” the spokesperson says.

“Other clubs have now engaged in delivering their own frictionless experiences”

“This is all done with no facial recognition or biometrics to ensure privacy, ensuring anonymity for customers and creating a unique ‘avatar’ for each individual, adding all items into a ‘virtual cart’ and charging on exit.”

Fans are “very proud” of the kiosk, with wait times having reduced by 70% and the average transaction now taking approximately 18 seconds. Basket spend has also increased by 20%.

Although the club experienced some teething problems when the technology was introduced, these were quickly addressed and the kiosk now runs smoothly every match day. Trained staff are on hand at entry to talk fans through how the kiosk works.

“What has been great to see is that other clubs have now engaged in delivering their own frictionless experiences on the back of the success of the first ‘Tap + Go’ experience launched at Leicester City,” the spokesperson adds. “I am sure that there will be further developments within stadia technology focused on fan experience as this is vital in always improving how we deliver to our customers.”

Autocanteen eyes expansion

As the self-checkout market continues to grow, more companies are looking to expand their offering to incorporate sports venues.

One such company is Autocanteen, which provides an artificial intelligence-based self-checkout solution. The company currently works mainly in the business and industry sectors, and has over 100 terminals across the UK, Ireland, Czech Republic and Estonia.

Autocanteen co-founder Sergii Khomenko tells TheStadiumBusiness.com that the company, whose technology is explained in the video below, is planning a “couple of trials” at sports venues.

“Operators love the fact the self-service section doesn’t have to involve the whole team of people to process transactions and only one person needs to oversee the flow,” says Khomenko. “At the same time customers enjoy no queues and an innovative touchless experience.”

Autocanteen has helped one particular client process over £1m (€1.2m/$1.3m), while saving 443 hours of queueing and 1,320 days of labour. The client also gained 20% in additional revenue, which Khomenko attributes to customers no longer feeling the need to head elsewhere for meals.

The stadium market is the next step.

“We’re very confident AI-powered self-service is a perfect transactional tool to assist stadia at peak times and we’re ready to help these venues.”

Self-service tech will be a major focus at this year’s TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2024, with Autocanteen, Freemans Event Partners and AiFi all showcasing their capabilities. Click here for more info about the event, which will be held in Manchester from June 17-19…