In-suite tablets are a topic the ALSD has covered throughout the past year. There was the conference session in Kansas City; the room was brimming, standing room only. There was Emily Miller Huddell’s informative article in the Summer Issue of SEAT; I’ve gotten multiple emails on the topic. You’ve told me you want more.
Tablets remain an area of strong curiosity for sports venue operators. So what can they do? In simplest terms, they enhance fan experiences and collect big data. This means happy customers and growing revenues.
At U.S. Cellular Field, the Chicago White Sox, Levy Restaurants (premium catering partner), and Delaware North Companies Sportservice (concessions and retail partner) are all seeing these benefits through tablet technology.
“The whole reason for this project was we wanted to enhance the experience and provide better service for all of our suite holders,” says Rob Boaz, Manager of Premium Seating Sales and Service for the White Sox. “[The tablets] have certainly accomplished that.”
The hook for tablets is stronger F&B sales and efficiency, and I’m going to focus on that in this entry, but be aware there is additional value to be extracted from the product (See the Extra Points below).
“We’re not just looking at how we can increase F&B sales,” says Geoff Johnson, CEO of Parametric, the tablet solution provider for U.S. Cellular Field. “We are looking at how this technology interacts with everything else that’s going on in an arena during a game. The data we collect and future software updates will constantly allow for the technology to do more than teams originally intended.”
So future solutions won’t be limited to in-suite tablets; its next generation is in-venue tablets.
But first, let’s talk about food.
XFINITY Zone Bar & Carvery
The White Sox have two separate installations of the Parametric system. The first is in partnership with Delaware North on the general concourse level. Twenty of Parametric’s 7-inch Checkmate tablets are being used to run the XFINITY Zone, a new addition to U.S. Cellular Field this season located in right field behind section 107.
The XFINITY Zone is a combination of sit-down table service and a bar area. It serves gourmet sandwiches and is the only place on the general concourse where fans can get liquor.
The mobile Checkmate system serves as the full stand-alone point-of-sale, replacing the traditional POS system built into a table.
So now instead of servers taking an order, running them back, typing them in, waiting for the drinks to be made, returning the order, taking credit cards, etc., they are able to take the order on the tablet, input payment or open a tab via the tablet’s built-in card swipe, and then go to the next table to take the next order. Because the tablets are connected to the bar, runners are now delivering drinks, making it possible for the servers to only take orders, and more of them.
“It changed [Delaware North’s] operational model. The flow of traffic has been much smoother,” says Johnson.
On the Premium Level
On the premium level, Levy Restaurants is using 40 CheckMates and 100 10-inch SuiteMates. When guests first arrive, greeters are checking in guests with CheckMates, which send an automatic message alerting the team of their arrival.
The larger companion tablets put the technology directly into the suite holders’ hands. Each suite at U.S. Cellular Field is furnished with a SuiteMate tablet. These products are a collection of applications.
The first application is the customizable home screen. In this space, the White Sox stream the team’s social media feeds, display real-time weather, and include an attendant call button, should guests require special assistance or prefer a face-to-face order experience.
The Food & Beverage application has been an immediate success. Full food, wine, and drink menus are displayed on the SuiteMates, which are connected to each suite’s billing preference. Orders are sent direct to the kitchen, and guests can swipe their credit card for payment. The entire process can be handled by the suite holder him/herself.
Big Data Collection
The deeper power of tablet technology lies in its ability to compile data, lots of data.
“We can touch a lot of fans,” Johnson says. “We’ve been collecting and communicating data and metrics throughout the entire season. During the off-season, we’re going to be linking everything into [the White Sox] data warehouse.”
One area that the White Sox are analyzing closely is the touch data to better understand when and why people are using the tablets.
“We’re able to look at different innings, rain delays, all the times that lead people to use the tablets more,” says Boaz. “By learning when, where, why people are using the tablets, that leads to a more customized experience.”
The SuiteMates are much more than a fancy, new-age way to order food. As promised, here is a sampling of their additional capabilities, as well as some miscellaneous notes:
- The Merchandise app could not be turned on this season, as there were i’s to dot and t’s to cross with having different vendors in the ballpark (Levy and Delaware North). But those hurdles are expected to be cleared for next season.
- Other features include a full event schedule and a list of TV channels (one of the most viewed applications).
- Third-party applications can also be added. The White Sox feature the MLB At Bat app, so patrons have access to watch all MLB games in their suites.
- The pilot program for a new push notification system, implemented late this season, involved a sweepstakes where fans could enter their name and email address for the chance to win an autographed game ball.
- Adoption of tablets in sports and entertainment is coming quicker as Wi-Fi bandwidth catches up to the technology.
- Access to quality and inexpensive hardware is also driving the uptick. Parametric uses off-the-shelf tablets that run on the Android operating system, which makes purchasing tablets in bulk affordable.
- CheckMates are also being used in the United Center.
- Levy assigned one point person for the tablets. So if there are any service issues or troubleshooting needs at any time, he can connect with Parametric to resolve.
- The White Sox have a third-party contractor they are using for data analysis.
- Parametric is working with Levy and its analytics team to compare data from across multiple venues.
- The White Sox were not able to disclose the dollar-amount of their investment for this story.
View Photos from my trip to U.S. Cellular Field and other Chicago venues.
Next Stop: The New Minnesota Vikings Stadium, Minneapolis
Last Stop: Target Center, Home of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx