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Rays test new tech at the Trop

Mark Parker

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Wendy Kirkwood, director of new media communications for the Tampa Bay Rays, and Matt Fitzpatrick (right), director of ticket services and technology, discuss how the team's front office continues to innovate. Photos by Mark Parker.

Wednesday’s Tech Night with the Rays provided a mutual benefit – for attendees, and for an innovative front office that used the event to test a new “loaded value” ticket feature.

Hosted by Tampa Bay Tech, Tech Night with the Rays provided networking opportunities for regional technology professionals and entrepreneurs. Attendees also heard Tampa Bay Rays directors discuss how they incorporated new technology into the gameday experience before the team faced the St. Louis Cardinals.

Matt Fitzpatrick, director of ticket services and technology, told the crowd they were using loaded tickets “whether you know it or not.” The new feature allows customers to store cash or credits for food, beverages and merchandise on the same barcode they scan to enter the stadium.

“It’s not out to the general public yet,” Fitzpatrick said. “You are actually part of our QA (quality analysis) process right now. So, feel free to leave some feedback with us, tell us it stinks – it’s OK.”

Team officials added $5 in “Burst Bucks” to ticket purchasers’ digital Rays Pay Wallet to try Tropicana Field’s new checkout-free beverage kiosk, another programming highlight. The Rays were among the first professional teams to stop accepting cash throughout their stadium.

Fitzpatrick explained that digital ticketing allows the team to incorporate features once impossible with the paper versions. However, a cashless stadium means business managers cannot bring staff to a game and give them money for concessions.

He also noted that buying dozens of gift cards is “a pain in the butt.” The team worked with its point-of-sale vendor to implement a solution; the result was tickets loaded with Burst Bucks.

“We’ve just been testing it internally for the last couple of months,” Fitzpatrick said. “So, please, feel honored.”

The event provided area tech professionals the chance to network with team staff.

Attendance

Digital ticketing also allowed the team to implement its Ballpark Pass this year. The subscription service provides entry to every home game for $49 monthly, and fans receive a discount with an annual pass.

A 29% increase in attendance at the much-maligned stadium has coincided with stadium upgrades, new ticketing models and a historically hot start to the season. Fitzpatrick stressed that the average announced crowd of 18,255 does not include subscribers who do not attend a game.

“We’re not artificially inflating our attendance – we don’t do that here,” he stated emphatically. “You tell us what games you want to go to; you can reserve those tickets. And then we would deliver those tickets on the day of the game to you.”

After the presentations, Fitzpatrick confirmed that applies to new individual $10 standing-room-only tickets. Those are also only available in advance through the MLB Ballpark app.

He told attendees that the team waited until technology ensured customers would properly use both promotions. Fitzpatrick said scalpers would sell a $10 paper ticket outside for $50.

Team officials implemented print and forwarding restrictions on those digital tickets. He also noted that the team does not deliver the barcodes until about three hours before a game.

“It’s something that we’ll continue to push, innovate and try different things,” Fitzpatrick added. “And really, the mobile experience allows us to do that on a regular basis.”

Checkout-free technology has increased sales by about 50% during busier games.

The Shortstop

Before Opening Day, the Rays announced a new checkout-free beverage area behind the centerfield wall. Sandy Sternberg, director of concessions and retail, shared statistics highlighting its success.

The Shortstop replaces a full-service bar on the Budweiser Porch. Fans insert their credit card at a kiosk, grab what they like and return to their seats.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, highspeed cameras and shelf weight sensors handle the rest. Sternberg noted that the feature significantly decreased bottlenecks during shortened games.

That led to a 50% sales increase during busier games. In addition, Sternberg said 88% of users believe the Shortstop is better than a traditional concession experience.

Zippin, the company behind the new tech, received the Sports Business Journal’s Best Innovation Award in December 2022. Sternberg said the Rays invested about $250,000 into the Shortstop and expect a return in two and a half years.

However, he said the team isn’t focusing on turning a profit at this point.

“Hopefully, there’s a new stadium on the horizon,” Sternberg said. “We want to take these little experiments and see what is actually providing our fans with a good experience – and obviously, making us a little bit more money. At the end of the day, it should be a win-win for both involved.

Sternberg said the six new machines addressed “an acute bottleneck,” and team officials are exploring adding the feature to additional areas.

 

 

 

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