Updated: Jan 8
In today's economy, we find ourselves more impatient than ever. Waiting in line at Starbucks en route to work? Unacceptable. Braving a 3-block walk in the bitter winter snow to grab lunch? Too much effort. In today’s on-demand economy, we expect our phone to be like Doraemon’s magic pocket: if we want something, it should be ready in front of us with just a few clicks of a button.
Consumer demand and technology together drive the booming mobile ordering applications in the restaurant space. At the moment, one in five restaurants is using a pre-order option, according to a study from BRP and Windstream Enterprise. Orders placed via smartphone and mobile apps will become a $38 billion industry and make up nearly 11 percent of all quick-service restaurant sales by 2020, according to Business Insider Intelligence reports.
So it’s only normal that we expect the same standard of convenience at a stadium or arena, right? Especially when you need to constantly weigh your hunger against the risk of missing the critical play.
Well, there are certainly indicators of what’s coming. Detroit Lions incorporated order-ahead for fans in its Gridiron Club section; the Washington Nationals rolled out express pickup for mobile orders; University of North Carolina committed a 3-year deal to offer mobile ordering at its various stadiums. In fact, mobile in-seat ordering at sports events started gaining traction as early as 2010, and we’d think a decade would be enough for it to become mainstream. So why hasn’t it?
1. In-stadium WiFi connectivity has been more often than not, unstable.
It’s almost universally acknowledged that connectivity at sports or live entertainment venues is, best put, subpar. Granted, this year we’ve seen a wave of stadiums undergoing technological upgrades to improve their connectivity for a better fan experience, but not every venue can afford such luxury.
Good news is, it won’t stay a problem for long. Data plans are only getting better and cheaper, and we are seeing less reliance on WiFi in the first place. In addition, we are entering the age of 5G technology, meaning connectivity and loading speed will soon cease to be an issue of concern. Verizon is already launching its new 5G network in NFL stadiums across the nation, with 13 going live by the start of the 2019-20 football season. And it’s only getting better from here.
At FanFood, since we are keenly aware of the connectivity issues at many venues, we tap into our tech partner Samsung’s expertise to identify the best service provider in the area and equip all our Stand Manager tablets with the reliable and speedy data plan required to receive and track concession orders.
2. The execution of mobile in-seat ordering has been hit and miss.
We’ve learnt, by working with many of our venue partners, that stadium mobile ordering is so much more than just the technology that enables it. When a venue plans on implementing mobile ordering, many questions need to be answered before the service kicks off: How do you train the concessionaires? How do you staff the runners? How do you facilitate way-finding inside the stadium? How do you optimize the in-app menus?...
It takes so much more for a tech company than just developing an app. Mobile ordering requires a full suite of solutions, and that’s by no means easy. This reality partially explains why some in-stadium POS companies, such as Bypass and Appetize, shifted their focus from providing mobile ordering apps to providing the hardware POS system itself.
Since FanFood has worked with all types of stadiums and arenas in various verticals (from high schools and colleges to MiLB and theaters), we understand that each venue is built differently, and thus requires slight tweaks in the mobile ordering strategy. With larger stadiums containing 5 concession stands and above, we always do an in-person walk-through inside the venue to understand how to best put up signs and direct the traffic flow in order for the pickup experience to be optimal. In addition, we use on-boarding interactive tutorials and live chat support system to make sure that not only can concessionaires learn to use our tablet in under 3 minutes, but also have access to real-time support on gameday.
3. It’s difficult to ask fans to download additional apps.
For any app, fighting for a spot on a user’s home screen is a never-ending battle. Especially when a venue already has its own app, it only makes it harder to convince fans to download another app just for mobile ordering. That’s why POS companies like Bypass offers API integration to existing venue apps for the mobile ordering piece of the service.
That leads to another problem though — not every venue has an existing app for integration.
We believe that having a standalone mobile app is still crucial for our mission, which is to make mobile ordering available regardless of a venue’s size. That’s partly why we are so popular within the high school, minor league and collegiate space: regardless of whether you have an existing app or not, you can still offer express pickup or in-seat delivery to your fans.
However, recognizing that asking fans to download another app is going to be a perpetual struggle, we are working on developing a web app (where fans can go to a URL and place their mobile orders without having to download an app) as well as white-labeling our apps for existing team/venue apps.
One thing to point out though, is that asking fans to download the app carries many advantages for the venues. For one thing, it allows the venues to track their fan data, and even corroborate that with their ticketing data to identify a fan’s loyalty level and purchase habits. We’ve also found that fans who download the FanFood app are more likely to come back later in the future. As a result, getting fans to overcome that initial threshold and download an app also means that they stand a higher chance of turning into a more loyal fan.
4. Stadium mobile ordering frequently suffers from a lack of marketing.
If you’ve ordered at the cashier counter inside a restaurant before, you’ve probably noticed a sign that says “Deliver with UberEats (or other mobile ordering apps for that matter)”. In the context of a stadium, it would take more than just a sign to make people aware of the mobile ordering option though, since you will need a lot more marketing materials to notify fans at all sections.
Also, since most of your fans would probably watch at most one or two games throughout the season, on each gameday you’d be marketing to a new audience. As a venue, you’d need a myriad of marketing materials: banners, posters, business cards, jumbotron videos...anything you can think of to spread the word.
It could be daunting, from a venue’s perspective, just to think about the dollars one needs to spend to make sure fans are aware of the mobile ordering solution inside a venue. However, what we’ve realized is that mobile ordering is a long-term solution that generates the best returns in the long run. Data from mobile in-seat ordering frequently shows an uptick in average per caps compared with that particular facility overall. Appetize, for example, says its mobile-based orders are typically 10 percent to 20 percent higher than those made normally at concession stands. On FanFood, we see revenue per cap across our venue partners to increase by 25%, with in-seat delivery orders even 86% larger than an average pickup order.
What does this mean for a venue? The more fans use the app and continue using the app, the more concessions revenue you’ll make in the long run. If you do the math, the returns is more than worth the initial in-venue marketing activation.
Knowing that, we work with each of our venue partner to identify the best marketing strategy and provide all the marketing assets, both physical and digital, that sets the venue up for success. We also strategize the best positions to put up each asset and the best time to send out emails or notifications to the fans based on our data analytics.
By being in the industry for the past 5 years, we've learnt first-hand the successes and failures of rolling out mobile ordering at a live event venue. 2020 is going to be a big year for stadium mobile ordering, given that tech infrastructure, consumer mindset and best practices have been established in the space over the decade, we can all look forward to a more seamless concession ordering experience on gameday in the coming year.