TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium is joining the wave of sports venues trying to improve the fan experience by offering a new way to enjoy food and beverages during games.
On Friday, it was announced that the University of Alabama entered into a partnership with the food-delivery app Waitr. By downloading Waitr’s app, accessing their mobile website or scanning QR codes at the stadium’s concourse, fans will be able to order food from concession stands in their seats. When their order is ready, the fan will receive a notification to proceed to the appropriate pick-up window located within each quadrant of the stadium. The new concession option is meant to decrease long lines and shorten the time fans spend waiting for concessions instead of watching the game.
How did mobile ordering get started?
Bryant-Denny is not the first sports venue to offer a mobile ordering service. A New York Business Journal article explains that the concept has been around for a decade, but was only recognized for its full potential in the late 2010s, when companies and marketing firms sought to capitalize on what the author of the article Eric Fisher calls the “on-demand economy.”
By 2017, many established food-delivery services like GrubHub were involved in mobile ordering at large venues. In February 2017, UberEATS became the official food delivery partner of the San Diego Gulls, providing hockey fans at Pechanga Arena the same model of mobile ordering rolling out at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Maryland’s FedEx Field, home of the Washington Football Team, partners with GrubHub. This partnership was the first between an NFL team and a delivery service to offer options for ordering items other than food. Fans in suite-level seats can also order merchandise from the Team Store and other vendors, something that’s gained traction in ordering systems around the nation.
In Lubbock, Texas, Jones AT&T Stadium offers mobile ordering from their concession stands via VenueNext, a company that describes itself as a leader in point-of-sale, mobile commerce and loyalty solutions. VenueNext is just one of the companies offering hospitality “solutions” alongside big-name delivery apps. Appetize, a “point of sale, digital ordering and enterprise management platform,” has partnered with 63% of major league teams in the U.S. to run their food, beverage and retail businesses according to BusinessWire. It often collaborates with traditional food-delivery apps to provide software for mobile ordering in stadiums.
FanFood is a similar company that offers infrastructure for mobile ordering, partnering with teams such as the MLB’s Durham Bulls and the MiLB’s Rocket City Trash Pandas, who use FanFood’s systems primarily for handling catering orders.
According to a 2017 article in the New York Post, some stadiums have even tried out mobile ordering that delivers directly to a fan’s seat. Food and Wine reported that a source told their outlet GrubHub is also looking to get into the seat-side delivery game, saying the service was set to be tested at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey “soon.” Companies like Appetize and FanFood began to offer in-seat ordering options for systems and infrastructure in stadiums. At Yankee Stadium Appetize and Postmates partner to offer both pick-up and in-seat ordering options.
As the mobile ordering trend began gaining steam and more partnerships were formed, however, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, stalling the implementation of seat-side mobile ordering options. So far, most venues do not regularly offer seat-side service or only offer the service to select ticket holders. This summer, fans at LSU baseball games could have concession stand orders delivered straight to their seat by Waitr; the option rolled out the first week of their season when they played UA.
Other entertainment genres are also utilizing mobile ordering, though it seems they, too, are only offering pick-up ordering and not seat-side delivery. In 2019 the delivery service PostMates announced it would offer pick-up mobile ordering for Coachella, the well-known annual music festival in Austin, Texas. They also provide the service at smaller festivals like the Electric Forest Festival, a Michigan-based festival that focuses on electronic and jam band music.
Pros of mobile ordering options in stadiums
While in the beginning mobile ordering was typically intended to add convenience for fans and extra revenue for companies, franchises and venues, it has now been cited as a way to prevent the spread COVID-19. While seat-side service has still not been widely implemented, many venues began offering the pick-up method of mobile ordering due to COVID-19. Last year saw the addition of concession mobile-ordering to many university and professional sporting stadiums including five major sports venues: Dodger Stadium (California), AT&T Center (Texas), Children’s Mercy Park (Kansas), Toyota Field (Texas), and Holt Arena in Idaho.
Mobile ordering was also said to be one way the sports entertainment industry could bounce back from the pandemic, enticing fans to once again fill stadiums offering more convenience than ever. In surveys conducted by the National Association of Concessionaires, over half of respondents said they would spend more on concessions without lines. Fisher reports in their article that Appetize says its mobile-based orders are typically 10% to 20% higher than those made at physical concession stands. Approximately 80% of the orders include alcohol, which boasts one of the highest profit margins at any sports facility.
Cons of mobile ordering options in stadiums
Though fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium can now enjoy the convenience of mobile ordering, the service comes with some drawbacks.
Mobile ordering adds to already-astronomical stadium concession prices. FanFood has a modest “convenience fee” of 99 cents for mobile orders that will be picked up, but fees for in-seat delivery increase, with VenueNex chargeing an extra $5. Exact prices and fees for other delivery apps providing mobile ordering was unavailable.
In addition to the fees, it is typically expected that you will tip the person who brings your food if you choose the delivery option. With many venues and franchises partnering with companies like Uber or PostMates, their mobile-ordering option relies on labor from the “gig economy” in which a person performs one-off jobs for an employer without either side having further commitments to each other. Like one would tip an Uber driver or waiter, it is implied you will tip the individual who delivers your purchase.
In an article published in Forbes magazine in 2019, Charles Towers-Clark breaks down the pros and cons of the gig economy, highlighting that the structure can be beneficial for people with irregular schedules or looking for extremely flexible hours. College students, stay-at-home parents and retired individuals are all perfect candidates, Towers-Clark writes. But at the same time, these gigs offer no job stability or health insurance.
FanFood boasts that their mobile ordering software cuts labor costs and decreases the number of staff needed at games and events, putting a dent in the overall number of jobs available. Overall, though it is likely mobile ordering in stadiums and venues will continue to grow as franchises and companies seek maximum profit at minimum cost.