In the News

“I will know when you come in and what you buy and when.”

Daniel Kaplan at the Athletic has a piece looking at the push at sporting events towards cashless transactions. Stadiums and arenas, especially newer ones opening with the technology already baked in, are foregoing cash at point-of-sale locations. Fans must either use credit cards or NFC-enabled devices (watch or phone) to buy concessions, merchandise, and anything else while they’re in the stadium.

The appeal of cashless transactions is convenience and speed. Using cash isn’t exactly as slow as writing a check in the grocery store line, but you still have to count out money and wait for change to be made. A tap or a swipe should be quicker, provided everyone in line knows how the system works – not always a sure thing.

Kaplan points out an issue with cashless payments that shouldn’t be overlooked: not all fans have smartphones, and certain groups and income levels are less likely to have credit or debit cards. Some facilities are addressing this issue with “reverse ATMs” where fans can load cash onto prepaid debit cards, but even that requires someone to plan out how much to load on the card. That will often be more than they intend to spend if they don’t want to get caught at the register with less on their prepaid card than they need.

It’s not just about the fans of course. Going cashless isn’t without benefits to the stadiums and teams, and this is probably the most interesting part of Kaplan’s piece. Electronic transactions provide countless opportunities for data-mining and tracking. Sure, no one has to buy anything at the ballpark, but even the ticket to get in the place is now often tied to a phone.

Steve Cannon, CEO of the group that owns Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium and the sports teams that play there, points out how the data might be used to improve the customer experience. Teams can learn what fans do and don’t like and even offer coupons and discounts. It doesn’t take long for things to get a little creepy though. “We will have a much more nuanced understanding of what your likes are,” Cannon explained. As more elements of the gameday experience from ticketing to parking to concessions to merchandise are routed through team-controlled apps, Cannon is very clear about what it all means: “‘I will know when you come in,’ he concluded, ‘and what you buy and when.'”

Will Leitch recently wrote about the trend of sports teams and arenas chasing fans willing to spend top-dollar for “exclusive” seating, access, and benefits. Leitch cites studies that estimate “70 to 80 percent of ticket revenue comes from the first 15 to 20 rows.” Modern stadiums don’t tout capacity anymore; it’s now about the courtside bar.

Whether someone buys a hotdog or a jersey is useful information (hey, here’s a coupon for our online team store!) but still fairly small potatoes. Businesses requiring cashless payments is nothing new, and neither is data-mining a customer’s purchase history. As the stadium experience is tailored more and more for the higher-end customer Leitch describes, those are the fans about which teams will want to know as much as possible. Knowing the purchasing habits and preferences of someone willing to pay thousands of dollars for a premium experience is valuable. Many companies would go to great lengths to be able to focus their marketing efforts at that audience, and teams will be able to monitor (and even customize) that fan’s entire event experience by funneling as many actions as possible through their app.

Sanford Stadium’s concession stand fundraising-group-of-the-week is almost refreshing in its low-tech anonymity.

Claxton drafted, Howard signed

Nic Claxton Thursday night became the first Georgia basketball player to be drafted by the NBA since 2013 when he went early in the second round to the Brooklyn Nets. That draft position might be a little disappointing – Claxton had generated quite a bit of first-round chatter and was considered to be one of the prospects on the rise since he announced his intention to enter the draft. It’s still a fairly solid position and evidence of tremendous growth during his time at Georgia, but you wonder if a second-round projection might have affected Claxton’s decision to leave.

Claxton’s early departure left an opening on the Georgia frontcourt, and Tom Crean addressed that opening with the signing of 6’11” Rodney Howard late in May. Howard is a former Ole Miss commitment and Georgia native who chose the Bulldogs over Georgia Tech.

While Howard replaces Claxton numbers-wise, he’s not likely to be a replacement for Claxton’s production or style of play. I think of Howard more as a replacement for Derek Ogbeide. With the incoming talent at guard and wing, there’s less of an urgent need for a stretch 4/5 like Claxton to score away from the basket. Georgia needs interior depth – rebounding, defending the rim, and scoring around the basket. If Howard can help in those areas, he’ll be an asset, and I won’t care if he never attempts a three-pointer.

The backcourt was set earlier in May with the addition of Sahvir Wheeler and Donnell Gresham Jr. Now the frontcourt picture is clearer, though Crean has room to add another grad transfer. Rayshaun Hammonds becomes the returning scoring and rebounding leader. Amanze Ngumezi didn’t see a ton of time as a freshman, but he’ll probably be in line for a much bigger role while Howard comes along. If Georgia wants to go small, there’s a trio of incoming 6’6″ wings whose toughness inside the paint might be tested. It’s clear though that the ability of Hammonds to stay healthy and out of foul trouble will be one of Georgia’s keys to success.

Claxton’s departure and the arrival of Howard means that over half the roster will turn over entering next season. Crean is quick to caution that this is the very definition of rebuilding, and it could temper expectations even with a top 10 class and an elite guard coming in. The nonconference schedule isn’t completely set yet, but we know that Georgia Tech and the Maui Invitational are in November, and the Dawgs will also face Memphis’s top-rated signing class. It could be a fun process watching this talented incoming class grow, but we also have never seen this amount of turnover with so many newcomers counted on. That could lead to frustration as we see glimpses of what’s possible before those individual moments of excellence come together as team success. Expectations for this group will be tricky which is why Crean is already out in front of managing them. He wants to show progress after last season’s step back and must keep the fans engaged as well as he did a year ago, but just as important is keeping the recruiting pipeline full so that any growth this season becomes a foundational building block for bigger things.

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