You drive to the stadium and scan your card to open the parking gate. You park your car and walk to the gate closest to your seats. You scan yourself in. Before you go to your seat, you buy a couple hot dogs and a beer. To pay for the food, you scan your card again. Money is deducted from your debit account.
In the near future, this could be the fan experience for a season-ticket holder. Or, if you are a season-ticket holder of the German Bundesliga soccer team FC Schalke 04, this is your experience right now.
No parking attendants. No ticket takers. No money changing hands at the concession stands.
It isn't happening yet in entirety anywhere in the United States, mostly because teams are so accustomed to contracting out to separate organizations for stadium management, ticket sales and food preparation. But that could change soon.
A company called Venue Solutions is beginning to pitch the automated system to American sports teams. It is selling a complete, single-solution package, including all vendor contracts.
The company is headed by Hank Steinbrecher, former secretary general of U.S. Soccer, and Bob Stiles, who managed Atlanta's Olympic Stadium in 1996 and operated World Cup venues in 1994 and 1999.
They are selling convenience, security and profitability.
The convenience aspect is obvious. Season-ticket holders don't have to worry about a book of tickets, or about a parking pass that disappears from their dashboard. And there's no such thing as waiting on line. The one item fans must carry, their card, uses radio frequency identification for wireless transmission of all the information. Venue Solutions says that with these smart cards, 20 to 25 fans per minute can walk through the turnstiles. That's more than the 6-10 people per minute the company says make it through when ushers are tearing tickets, and 8-12 per minute when bar codes are scanned.
The cards also enable fans to leave their wallets at home. Concessions for season-ticket holders can be debited from the balance on the card, which can be linked to the customer's bank account.
Much of this technology was developed with security in mind, as soccer venues in Europe haven't had the greatest reputation for fan safety. That's why, at Veltins Arena, where FC Schalke plays its home games, fans can only get in through the gate closest to their seats.
As an additional security feature, the cards can be produced with the fan's name, seat location and picture to prevent theft. Cards reported stolen can be deactivated immediately.
Steinbrecher says the company can show that a team will make a profit in the first year of operation under this new system. The cards cost just 50 cents to $2 to make, while the cost of the technology varies, depending on the number of kiosks at the various gates. But the payoff, Steinbrecher says, is great. Why? Because instead of a credit card company serving as the middleman, the team serves as the bank, and no transaction fees have to be paid.
Not only that, Steinbrecher says many fans of FC Schalke leave money on the card when the season ends.
Venue Solutions proposes that teams give fans a choice, either to put the remaining value on their cards toward next year's season tickets or wait on line at the season's final game to cash out. The catch is that if the fan wants to keep the card as a collectible, he or she has to let the team keep the remaining balance on the card. A couple of bucks here and there could earn teams more than a million extra dollars each year, according to the company.
Profitability also is tied to the ability to use information that the computer spits out about the team's fans.
"Teams can capture where they park, how they spend, what they buy, and use this to market to them even before the game," Stiles says.
It isn't exactly clear whether fans want to be targeted by team marketers before they sit down for a game. But if that's the only downside to not having to wait 20 minutes for an order of nachos, the trade-off seems more than fair.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.