SBJ/December 1 - 7, 2003/Facilities

‘Smart card’ start pleases Rams

The St. Louis Rams sold $10,000 worth of Fast Break concession "smart cards" during the introduction of the product at the team's Nov. 9 game against Baltimore at Edward Jones Dome, a number the team said it was satisfied with.

The Rams signed a contract with Facility Acceptance Network, an affiliate of sports consultant Marc Ganis' Sportscorp Ltd., to begin using the cards. Fans who buy the cards can slide them through card readers to pay for items without having to fumble through their pockets for cash.

Team officials view the concept as a fan amenity and aren't concerned with increasing their food, beverage and retail revenue. There was no cost to the Rams. FAN invested $300,000 on the rollout and assumes all financial risk.

Kiosks and vendors sold the cards.
"We never thought it would be a revenue driver," said Rams Executive Vice President Bob Wallace. "That's not why we did it. We're doing it for the convenience of the fans."

The card also will provide buying patterns that the Rams and concessionaire Sportservice can use to manage inventory.

Card holders have use of an exclusive "express lane" at concession stands. The cards were sold by 40 vendors and at two kiosks.

The cards cost $25 and $50, corresponding with the value stored in the self-contained computer chip.

Sportservice GM Tom Schlaker said, "The jury is still out on whether it will drive sales."

The concept is not new to the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars used smart cards for four seasons, 1995-1998, at Alltel Stadium, and the cards accounted for 13 percent of overall concession sales, said Bruce Swindell, the team's director of information technology.

"In Europe, smart cards have been adopted with open arms, but it's still slow to catch on in the U.S.," he said.

The team discontinued them because technology was foreign to the card holders and they were unable to use them outside the facility.

"We want to drive fans to our sponsors," Swindell said.

In St. Louis, Sportservice executives privately expressed concern that the introduction of smart cards midway through the season would disrupt their operation. The firm worked with previous smart card campaigns in 1997 that eventually folded at Savvis Center in St. Louis and U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

"We couldn't make a business case for it," said Ken Lapponese, VP of sales with Venue 1, which acquired his old firm, Tangent Associates, the point-of-sales supplier that worked with the St. Louis Blues and Chicago White Sox on those programs. Venue 1 accounts include Edward Jones Dome.

"Personally, I hope he succeeds," Lapponese said. "We've worked with Marc to accept his readers at our registers."

Ganis signed a contract for exclusive North American rights with Dutch vendor Smart Point. "One of the keys is that you don't have to provide a hard connection between the register and a phone line processing the connection," Ganis said. "You don't know how much that changes the economic model. The readers can be packed up and moved down the street to Busch Stadium."

Sportservice also has the account for the St. Louis Cardinals, who play at Busch.

Schlaker said it might be time for concessionaires to finally accept the latest technology. "We've seen this time and time again," he said. "But from my perspective, this is a new beginning."

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