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Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays Tell Cash, “You’re Out!”

trends in cashless payments

As a lifelong baseball fan and former resident of Tampa, Florida, I had the pleasure of spending a summer night or three at Tropicana Field, watching my beloved New York Yankees take on the hometown Tampa Bay Rays. And as a fan of cheap tickets, air conditioning in the Florida summer and plenty of great seats, I always enjoyed the “The Trop” despite its poor reputation.

The Trop also featured sparse crowds, which meant no long lines to wait in just for the pleasure of spending $50 on chicken fingers, fries and a beer retailing for $3 at your local grocery store.

Contrast that with Yankee Stadium, another park I was lucky enough to frequent throughout my college years, where the seats were expensive, the concessions were expensive and the crowds were plentiful. Being taken for a ride at the concession stand is easier to deal with when you aren’t forced to miss two innings for the privilege.

It is with this experience in mind that the Tampa Bay Rays have announced they will become the first major North American sports team to go cashless at their home park—an ironic move, given the club’s manager is Kevin…Cash.

Starting in 2019, if you want a hot dog, Cracker Jack or adult beverage, you better be packing a credit card, club gift card or mobile wallet including Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. And what of those fans who carry no form of cashless payment? They will be able to swap cash for gift cards.

With this move, the Rays are aiming to improve the ballpark experience for fans. William Walsh, vice president of strategy and development for the Rays, says, “This change will increase speed of service and reduce lines throughout the ballpark.”

The move to cashless is obviously not without precedence. In 2017, Visa launched the Visa Cashless Challenge, a competition offering 50 businesses the chance to win $10,000 for going cashless. Dos Toros, a Mexican chain restaurant with 14 locations throughout New York, made the move to cashless to speed wait times during its lunch and dinner rushes. Fellow restaurant chain Sweetgreen has also made the move to cashless, allowing employees to perform five to 15% more transactions per hour.

And let’s not forget the purveyor of Disney Dollars. Disney has piloted a cashless resort while discontinuing its Disney Dollars program. The reason? More and more guests were using digital currency.

This follows the global trend of rising cashless payments. In fact, this globality also extends to sports where Japanese eCommerce giant Rakuten, owner of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (baseball) and J League outfit Vissel Kobe (soccer), will shift both stadiums to cashless in the upcoming year. The kicker (no pun intended) here is that Rakuten also offers the Rakuten Pay app and a pre-paid smart card, Rakuten Edy.

One interesting aspect surrounding the move by the Rays is that they perennially rank near the bottom of the league in attendance. Wait times are generally not an issue, so the cynic in me wonders if there is an ulterior motive at hand. Is the move to cashless about customer experience, security or perhaps, data?

Whatever the reason, it’ll be interesting to see how this season plays out and to see which franchises will follow suit. And if the Rays are able to cut wait times, maybe they can talk to MLB about cutting game times, as well.

 

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