How Retail Tech Solutions Address Stadium Concessions Gripes


The retail technology revolution has brought forth many new innovations such as palm scanning and AI chatbots over the last few years, all of which have sought to meet the same goal: improving the customer experience. Through AI and other technologies, customers in grocery stores, clothing outlets and other convenience-style shops no longer need to wait in line to check out.

Now, as consumers grow more accustomed to this type of technology being infused within their shopping experiences, this faster, more convenient way of shopping is seeping into the places where customers need it most: stadium concessions.

Fans and Customers Face the Same Pain Points

Beyond longer lines when running weekend errands, the most prominent source of friction when shopping is often for the sports fan or concertgoer waiting in a seemingly endless line for an overpriced, concerningly soggy hotdog. An Oracle survey found that sports fans want to enjoy the excitement and atmosphere of watching the game live, but four out of five of them are unhappy with waiting in long lines for food and drinks.

Despite this, professional sports are seeing record highs in attendance. As for concertgoers at these same venues, over half of U.S. consumers ages 15-69 anticipate going to a show in 2024, a jump from the 36% who attended one in 2023 . As attendance grows, concession lines slow, but the same technology solutions in traditional retail can easily be applied to the customers waiting the longest.


Stadiums are Finally Putting Consumer Convenience First

Several venues have started integrating third-party food delivery apps into their concessions, allowing fans to get their grub without missing the main event or waiting in line. Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium and New York’s Yankee Stadium are two that are allowing fans to order on their phone and skip the line to pick up through dedicated lanes for pre-order items, in partnership with Uber Eats. In some sections at SoFi, you can even order online and have food and drinks delivered right to your seat.

Truist Park in Atlanta is another stadium recognizing the impact of fast concessions and the huge success of self-checkout in grocery and retail stores worldwide. Last year, it implemented several self-checkout stations for its market concessions.

Leaving the Friction in the Dugout

For some, that’s still too much human interaction. In the above Oracle study, 53% of attendees reported that they would prefer a self-service digital checkout experience than having to interact with another person. Frictionless checkout is an AI solution that allows for customers to shop for what they need and leave, and is now picking up steam in live event formats. By scanning your credit card upon entry or downloading the venue or store’s specific app, customers can enter a mini-store within the stadium or concession lane, grab what they need, and through computer vision, just walk out, having paid without skipping a beat.

Venues that have seen great success with this include Lincoln Financial Field, Phoenix Raceway and Hard Rock Stadium for the Miami Grand Prix, to name a few. Allegiant Stadium, host of the most recent Super Bowl, offers autonomous shopping options, as does the winning team’s home at Arrowhead Stadium, making these packed environments run much smoother, at least in the retail and concessions department. With so many venues, and sports stadiums in particular, seeing the impact, the soon to be unveiled Intuit Dome plans to deploy 45 autonomous stores throughout the arena. 

And it’s not just helping consumers. During the 2021 NFL season, an autonomous store at Ford Field cut down transaction and queuing time by 50% and increased store sales by 170%. Retailers also have seen success in protecting their bottom line and increasing sales through the rise of autonomous checkout in stores.

Insight into Supply and Demand

New technologies continue to break their way into the retail revolution and make headlines, notably generative AI, and truly, anything related to AI. One retail tech trend picking up steam is radio frequency identification (RFID), which can automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. This has so far been extremely useful for retailers to manage inventory and monitor products in cases of shoplifting.  

In busy stadium environments, RFID tags can do the exact same thing as traditional retail applications. In concessions specifically, stadium food options often feature small, selective menus, so if there are any ingredients making their way all the way up to the nosebleeds each week and aren’t selling well, stadium leaders can use RFID to track inventory supply to make decisions to put forward fan favorites.

Additionally, this method is a huge asset for merchandise stores within stadiums, which helps provide an understanding of what jerseys, clothing, hats and other logo-branded swag are being purchased over others, so teams know what styles to keep in stock.

Retail Solutions for Each Individual Customer

The consumer who waits in lines the longest is not the one at a grocery store, but the one attending a live event in need of a quick bite or a satisfying beer. The strides AI and other technologies have made in the broad retail industry have smartly addressed the customer pain points, which are universal whether in a grocery setting, convenience store or in a jam-packed live event venue. It’s clear that the bar has been raised in stadiums these days, and fans more and more don’t just want a cashierless solution but are coming to expect it.

Steve Carlin is a seasoned retail executive and investor in multiple global startups. He is the CEO of autonomous retail provider AiFi, appointed in 2022, and previously served as President and Chief Strategy Officer of SoftBank Robotics, where he oversaw all commercial activities and led the growth of the Americas team. He also has experience with Ubisoft as the former Senior Director of Marketing and Insights, where he provided short- and long-term shopper and retail marketing visions for Ubisoft’s games, developing the in-store and online programs for the world’s largest retailers.

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