To win with baseball fans, FIS takes loyalty and prepaid to the Minor Leagues

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Within sports venues, providers want to handle payments and integrate loyalty and other services through every facet of the ballpark and teams operating those facilities.

Most implementations today are focused on ticket-taking and parking payments, with fans switching to cash and other conventional means once they're inside the park or arena. But such venues hold significant appeal to fintech companies that seek to handle payments throughout any given event.

Financial services and payments technology provider FIS finds itself in a perfect spot to perform those tasks, extending its commitment as the technology provider for Minor League Baseball through 2022.

"As we dug into this, we found it is not really a one- or two-product play," said David Johnson, senior vice president at FIS. "It is like a total payments ecosystem play."

For Jacksonville, Fla.-based FIS, that means having the opportunity to work with 160 Class A, AA or AAA baseball teams throughout the country. So far, more than 20 teams are operating with FIS technology for payment processing, concession stand POS equipment, mobile POS for kiosks or in-aisle sales, payroll and expense systems and loyalty programs.

FIS expects to continue adding teams through the agreement, which makes it an option to every team but does not provide any exclusivity for the tech provider.

"It's a multi-prong program we can take to each club, though we know some are very small operations that might operate on a cash-only basis right now," Johnson said.

A key part of any conversation with a team centers around the POS terminal and the need for mobile versions.

"On an opening weekend, the gift shop can be overrun as everyone is buying their new team gear for the season," Johnson said. "A great use case for mobile is to take your top five best-selling items and have them set up at kiosks outside of the gift shop and eliminate a lot of waiting in lines."

As for office operations, FIS is helping its baseball teams better manage the payroll for what can be up to 200 temporary workers during the season.

"An usher or ticket-taker is maybe making $8 to $10 an hour three days a week; the teams are cutting checks for these workers and they have to come back to the park to get their checks if they need money," Johnson said.

Instead, FIS is providing prepaid payroll cards that are linked to the team's account so team management can push payments to the cards as soon as work shifts end.

The prepaid card option could also replace cash in the clubhouse, where minor league coaches traditionally hand over cash to players for an expense stipend when the club is about to go on the road for games.

"There's a guy who basically walks around the locker room with cash in a bag and paying these guys expense money for each stop on the trip," Johnson said. "Why not put that on a prepaid card with a simple interface, and you could pay out $50 or $100 as needed, right from the coach's computer?"

Minor league players tend to shuffle from lower to higher classes during the season, and a prepaid card issued by the Major League affiliate of the team could stay with the player throughout each stop in the minors, Johnson added.

The general manager of a team could do the same with groundskeepers or other workers in the ballpark in need of supplies. Currently, if the groundskeeper needs fertilizer or the concession stand manager needs ice, they would go to the team GM and ask for the team account credit card to make the purchases.

"Or the GM might say to just go ahead and use a personal card and get reimbursed," Johnson said. "Either way, it's a massive reconciliation mess."

Instead, FIS proposes the system be changed to allow a GM to make push or pull payments from a mobile app linked to the team account.

"If the GM pushes a $200 payment on his phone with a notification, and the employee spends only $180, he could then pull back $20 to the team account," Johnson said. "He could then turn off the card when it is not in use."

Because Minor League Baseball concentrates heavily on the family experience, a loyalty program represents an important component of the payment network.

FIS hopes to roll out such a program for teams by next year, establishing a mobile app that would keep track of a fan's purchases and points, Johnson added. "Then those points could be used for experiences at the game, such as your kid gets to run the bases after the game for a certain number of points, or gets to sit in the dugout, or gets an autographed baseball."

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