At Dodger Stadium, cardboard crowds buy time for digital payments

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Dodger Stadium looks odd now — filled with fake crowd noise and cardboard cutout spectators — but in this downtime it's putting in an almost entirely invisible 5G wireless connection and new point of sale system.

The expectation is that when the stadium is fully open, it will be replete with post-pandemic workarounds that rely on the cloud, QR codes and contactless options. Making these different technologies work requires what amounts to a payment command layer that supports disparate ordering and checkout systems.

“It’s the big theme now; people want to work through a hub for commerce, with a lot of stuff integrated through the same place,” said Kevin Anderson, co-founder of Appetize, the Los Angeles-based company that develops some of the stadium's contactless technology.

The Dodgers are in the midst of a $100 million stadium overhaul. The redesign includes a centerfield plaza with food and entertainment and a mobile cashless concession system. The team will deploy vendors with handheld devices that will take orders and accept contactless payments. Mobile ordering and pickup will also be available at concession stands and other sales points in the stadium.

Appetize’s role is to provide the cloud software that connects payments and third-party integrations, such as the Dodgers' partnership with Postmates that allows pre-ordering of concessions. There’s also the potential for extended e-commerce, such as in-game sports wagering and ties between fantasy sports and live sports, which would require a digital payment rail.

Many of these innovations were deployed in limited pilot tests. The Dodgers and Yankees started pilots with Postmates late in 2019. Sports and entertainment facilities often test new technology, with Visa using the Olympics to showcase new technology and the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Rays testing cashless payments before the pandemic shut down live events. Fiserv deployed its Clover point of sale technology (acquired in its purchase of First Data) at the Fiserv-branded Milwaukee Bucks arena in Milwaukee; and the Sacramento Kings and Boston Red Sox have tested autonomous checkout.

Given a full season without spectators in 2020, the dramatic consumer shift to digital and the public health regulations that will likely accompany the return of spectators to live events, Anderson anticipates a further move away from cash and face-to-face vending. A Dodgers spokesperson confirmed the payment project would be moved out of pilot when the stadium reopens for spectators.

The cloud and expanded QR codes can simplify the different payment streams by creating a consistent experience for different types of purchases, Anderson said.

“There was already a process of consolidation, to enable connections to disparate systems,” Anderson said, adding the work to connect activities such as ticketing, concessions, in-venue e-commerce and checkout-free payments will require complicated migrations to connect to a centralized hub.

“There really is no silver bullet,” Anderson said. “There’s no saying, ‘Hey, turn on NFC and all of our problems are solved.' ”

The accelerated embrace of contactless payments goes beyond sports and entertainment facilities, covering most businesses. This has resulted in organizations feeling pressure to handle high volumes of transactions, optimize acquirers based on geography or cost and manage different payment types.

Unifying these components in a single control layer is what Kristian Gjerding, CEO of London-based CellPoint Digital, calls payment orchestration. It’s a centralized environment that can manage an entire payment ecosystem, with a role-based “control layer” that assigns capabilities and roles via a cloud system. Payment orchestration manages compliance, uptime assurance, contract negotiation and acquiring.

“A semi-regional merchant may have three or four payment providers, and the merchant may have to do a lot of that work on their own,” Gjerding said, adding the payment orchestration layer sits between the merchant and third parties such as payment facilitators or processors.

For example, in the travel industry — which has changed its incentives as air travel declined during coronavirus shutdowns — is also struggling with personnel changes during tech upgrades, creating a need for streamlined payment management, according to Gjerding.

“The challenge for airlines, apart from the immediate cash crunch and restrained supply, is retooling their digital and payment systems, especially with reduced staff,” Gjerding said. “The answer is creating a payment ecosystem that is more centralized and gives airlines the power to be responsive and scale as their operations recover. That includes being able to quickly turn refunds into future travel opportunities, which they can’t currently do."

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