Back when they were open and operating at full capacity, stadiums were an excellent way to get a glimpse at the future of food tech. The high-volume, high-speed nature of eating at sporting events and monster truck rallies lent itself to things like robots, AI for line management and mobile ordering.
While the pandemic shut stadiums, arenas and civic centers down for most of the year, some, like Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado have re-opened, albeit cautiously. Only 5,000 fans can spread out across Mile High’s 76,125 seats for Broncos games. And though the crowd size may be diminished, that isn’t stopping Mile High from going high-tech with its approach to concessions.
Earlier this, foodservice operator Aramark tapped Zippin to transform the Mile High’s Drink MKT store into a cashierless checkout experience. Zippin’s technology, which includes cameras and shelf sensors as well as computer vision and AI, allow shoppers to tap their credit card as they walk into the store, grab what they want and leave. Upon exit, customers get charged automatically and receive an itemized receipt. The new Drink MKT opened at the end of September this year.
Not only is the Zippin-powered store contactless, Zippin CEO, Krishna Motukuri told me by phone this week that the entire transaction process is faster. Between grabbing what you want, standing in line and checking out with a cashier, the traditional retail transaction can takes minutes. With Zippin cashierless checkout, Motokuri said “We were able to show that most of the customers checked in, picked their stuff walked out in 45 seconds.”
Mile High Stadium is the second sports venue to house a Zippin convenience store. In September of last year the startup opened one in the Golden 1 Center arena in Sacramento.
For its part, Mile High Stadium is no stranger to high-tech concessions. Last year the stadium used a robot to pour out Bud Lights to thirsty fans.
Motukuri told me that his company has seen an influx of interest from stadiums and office buildings as they look to create more contactless retail experiences when they re-open. For example, office buildings want to replace cafeterias with contactless grab-and-go food options. It will face competition there from Amazon, which has also openly explored the idea of putting small Go stores in offices.
How many more stadiums Zippin builds in is dependent upon how soon those buildings open up. The pandemic is still going strong, but there is a potential light at the end of the tunnel with the forthcoming arrival of vaccines. That said, even when the virus recedes, fans will probably still be a little gun shy about congregating in stores for a long time just to grab a Gatorade, so cashierless checkout could be the big winner at the big games.