Technology / 03.18.19
Tropicana Field Talks Being the First Sports Venue to Go Cashless
We’re at an interesting turning point in history. News sources are running headlines like “Cashless UK may come too soon, experts warn” and “‘Sorry, I've only got my card’: can the homeless adapt to cashless society?” It seems we’re on the brink of a cashless society. But until we get there, we have to make it through the transitional period — which is now.
Tropicana Field will be the first sports venue ever to go 100 percent cashless, and Access connected with Bill Walsh, Vice President of Strategy and Development for the Tampa Bay Rays, to get his thoughts on this big change. Walsh has been with the Rays for about 12 years in a strategy role mainly focused on ballpark operations and guest experience, and shared that he is incredibly excited about this innovative opportunity. In order to feel prepared for 2019’s Opening Day, the Rays used the 2018 season as a prep year.
“We really used last season to test everything from technology to operations to make sure we get to a place at which we’re comfortable enough to make the leap [to fully cashless],” Walsh said. “We put a new point-of-sales system into the building, which was the biggest thing. That gave us state-of-art contactless payments and a faster, higher performing system. That gave us the backbone to work from.”
One of the most innovative things the Rays introduced in the 2018 season were self-service touchscreen kiosks. “We deployed about 25 kiosks around the facility last year. We experimented quite a bit with them in terms of finding the right placements for them and the right way to operationalize them.”
In addition, the Rays created a cash-free zone in the field. All these changes seemed to achieve the desired outcome.
“What’s interesting is that at the start of the season, roughly 55 percent of our transactions were cash, but by the end of the season, we were down to less than 25 percent,” Walsh said.
Working with the Fans
Walsh stressed the importance of recognizing that not everyone has a credit or debit card. “There are folks who don’t have the resources, and then there are people who just strongly prefer to use cash.”
So, the Rays implemented a program that allows people to exchange their cash for a gift card, if they would like to do so. There are hawkers walking around with cash belts holding pre-loaded gift cards with $10 or $20, which allows people who may have missed the cashless memo to participate in the full game experience with food, beverage and retail. However, it seems like the majority of people did get the cashless memo, which is a good sign for the future.
“What we found, truthfully, was that a very low percentage of people used that [gift card] program,” Walsh said. “We’re still going to continue to do it, because it’s important, but only about 3 percent of our transactions in the building were conducted through that gift card exchange program [in 2018]. We’re solving for a very small percentage of the fan base, but we still need to meet their needs. Treating the guest right is what we’re going to be focused on.”
Advice for Other Venues Going Fully Cashless
Walsh offers some words of advice for those looking
“You have to take it market by market — see how your customers respond — but really at the end of the day, it’s all about the basics. Certainly, you need good technology that works well [to go cashless], but really, it’s about good communication, good operations fundamentals and just putting your fans first. Treating them the way they want to be treated. If you can do those things, fans will be willing to step out of their comfort zone. It’s when you start surprising them, taking them for granted, making them jump through hoops that the friction starts to arise.”
One way to ensure you don’t create any friction when going cashless is to spend a little extra on transitional help.
“We found it goes a long way to have some additional staff walk fans through touch-screen kiosks, rather than just sending someone over to a kiosk saying, ‘Good luck!’ Once fans have tried this new technology once, it’s very intuitive, but they just need a little help at first. A little human touch to help them get through something they may not be totally comfortable with makes a big difference.”
Of course, one of the biggest benefits of going cashless is decreasing wait times, which benefits both the organization and the fans.
“[With cashless] people aren’t making change or fumbling through their wallets, so the transaction times are definitely faster across the board,” Walsh said. “Where things got really interesting was with the kiosks. Rather than having eight cashiers at a stand, we had zero cashiers and six kiosks. We took all the folks who used to be cashiers and made them order fulfillment staff. We didn’t reduce staff; we redeployed staff to focus on getting fans their order a lot quicker, and our wait times at that stand went down from eight minutes to about three minutes. That was a huge improvement we saw.”
Jumping in to Opening Day
When asked about 2019 Opening Day [March 28], Walsh shared his excitement.
“[Last season] we saw that folks were willing to jump in with us,” Walsh said. “We just needed to give them the resources and a little bit of assistance. The biggest lesson we learned last season was that we could do it. We had our first cash-free event on Feb. 9 this year. It was a relatively small event, but nonetheless things went very well.”
Is he at all nervous? No: The Rays are prepared.
“You always need to have a backup plan,” Walsh said. “With cashless, we can’t switch over to cash-only if there’s a network issue like we used to. But we have really good technology partners, so we can cross over into offline transactions if there’s an issue with the network.”
When asked if he was excited about this change, Walsh shared his gratitude for being a part of an organization so willing to make progress.
“One of the things I most enjoy of being a part of the Rays organization is our willingness to take risks,” Walsh said. “In some ways, it’s a drawback to not have the history of the Red Sox or the Cubs or the Yankees, but in a lot of ways, it’s kind of freeing. We can do things differently. We’re not leaning on 110 years-plus of history and tradition. Our ownership group really encourages us to be innovative and to push boundaries. This is certainly an instance of that, and I’m personally and professionally proud to be a part of it.”
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: Sports , Paperless , Concessions , Stadium , Digital Marketing , Consumer Preferences