Since opening in August 2017, Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium has taken an atypical approach to concessions, and today MBS officials announced that the stadium will become the first to go completely cashless.
By going cashless in time for Atlanta United's March 10 home opener against FC Cincinnati, Mercedes-Benz Stadium will beat Tropicana Field to "first cashless stadium" bragging rights. The Tampa Bay Rays announced in January their intention to make The Trop the first to go cashless. Not that MBS officials are bragging. They see it as necessary to meet the expectations of today's fans.
"First-mover doesn't really matter," Mercedes-Benz Stadium CEO Steve Cannon told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. "The only thing that matters is the fan-experience. We feel like we've been really thoughtful about this. We've made this decision not based on anybody else, we made it based on our own research and our fans' experience inside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so that we are confident. We're not chasing any other team doing this."
To assist in the cashless learning curve, AMB Sports + Entertainment — the parent company the Arthur Blank Family of Businesses, which includes the stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United — is also placing 10 "reverse ATM machines" around the stadium.
Attendees can feed the machines up to $1,000 in cash for a "universal debit card” from Visa that can be used both in or outside the stadium. They’ll be positioned beside ATM’s, on each level of MBS, according to the Chronicle.
The cashless model has already been tested at MBS, which switched 30 of 70 concessions stands to cashless and saw cash-use drop from 42 percent overall to 30 percent. Cannon also told the Chronicle that transactions didn’t drop at those locations, meaning fans didn’t leave the line if cash wasn’t an option. Over time, MBS saw an increase in transactions, thanks to the increased speed of payments.
In addition, concessions pricing at MBS will drop for the second straight year. Despite a 50 percent drop in food prices in 2017, average spending per fan during Atlanta Falcons games increased by 16 percent over 2016. Last year, stadium guests spent on average the same amount as they did in 2017, but thanks to "operational tweaks," which included eliminating slow-selling products and waste, the organization saw 5 percentage points of margin lift year-over-year.
Cannon said there are multiple reasons for the new changes, including cost and accountability issues related to cash handling. But of most importance is speed, as card transactions can be up to 50 percent faster than cash, the Chronicle reports. This will make satisfying high demand before kickoff, at quarter breaks and during halftime easier and more lucrative. "In those moments, we either are able to satisfy that demand or it’s like an airline seat. If it takes off with an empty seat, it’s gone," Cannon said. "So really, through-put efficiency and the ability to satisfy demand was at the top of our list.”
More stadiums are expected to follow the MBS lead.
"For all of us, there is a premium on the fan experience," Cannon said. "We're all going to have to get smarter, better and provide more compelling reasons for [fans] to show up."