Professional sports teams are always aiming to improve the home-game experience for their thousands of fans. In Denver, the Broncos are making a more concerted effort to reach their fans through technology.
In recent years, the Broncos have slowly made a move from physical to mobile-ticketing options. Back in 2014, Denver quietly activated mobile ticketing to gauge whether spectators at the Empower Field at Mile High would be receptive to it, said senior director of ticket strategy and analytics Clark Wray.
The Broncos’ route to paperless tickets gained further traction at the end of the 2015 season when they stopped mailing and printing season tickets, said Wray. However, the alternative wasn’t a mobile ticket – it was an all-online season ticket.
For those attending events at Mile High, fans could print out a PDF version of their ticket to enter. However, that didn’t come without its pitfalls, said Wray. Fraud was more frequent, and people had easier access to the venue and often sat in seats they didn’t purchase. He also noticed that of the hundreds of fraudulent PDF tickets, many originated from Craigslist.
“That got us along our journey of starting to identify more of our fans – but it also brought some problems with it,” Wray said. “I think mobile [ticketing] is the next step and the answer to eliminating some of that fraud we saw and helping us achieve our goals as well.”
In February 2018, the Broncos – like the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena – discontinued print PDF tickets at Mile High and transitioned to a digital-only entry system. Fans now either can access their tickets by downloading the Denver Broncos 365 App or through their Ticketmaster Account Manager on their mobile device.
The move from paper-to-mobile ticketing did experience some bumpy moments, said Broncos Senior Vice President of Information Technology Russ Trainor. When Denver rolled out digital ticketing at its season-opener on Sept. 9, 2018, against the Seattle Seahawks, fans endured long wait times at the stadium gates and even missed parts of the game.
Despite the initial tech snafus, the Broncos have stayed the course when it comes to their digital enhancements. Ahead of the team’s 2019 preseason home opener against the San Francisco 49ers, they announced that parking passes for home games are only available through mobile devices, and print parking passes are no longer accepted.
“There have been some bumps along the road, but we’re getting there,” Trainor said. “We’re making the changes, we’re driving our engagement with the fans, and you’ll see some significant changes next year.”
The Broncos’ pursuit of a better experience for their fans dates back to the start of the 2010s. Beginning in 2010 and 2011, the Broncos did a major overhaul of Mile High’s cellular and technological capabilities, said Trainor.
Heading into 2011, the organization had already installed a distributed-antenna system that paved the way for an updated WiFi system powered by Verizon Wireless. Each one lasted for roughly seven years when the organization revamped them in 2018.
With an increased emphasis on cellular networking, the Broncos have seen improvements in this category that extend beyond football.
When Taylor Swift performed at Mile High in May 2018, there were 8.1 terabytes of wireless data transfer, said Trainor. In front of a record 84,500 visitors, Garth Brooks played at Mile High on June 9 – which used between 12.6 and 12.7 TBs.
Compared to Super Bowl 50, where the Broncos took on the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., roughly 10 TBs were used. Despite whatever problems Denver endured during its ticketing changes, Trainor is quick to highlight that the willingness to do that began when they started prioritizing cellular coverage at Mile High.
“From the connectivity piece, [a new DAS] was first and foremost,” Trainor said. “You have to lay the highway before you put the cars on the road, so once we had good connectivity, then that kind of opened up the doors for engaging the fans.”
As the Broncos continue to use technology to improve the ticketing and WiFi options, they’re starting to do the same with their concessions offerings.
Until recently, Aramark’s partnership with Denver never touched concessions. Before 2019, the food and beverage corporation only worked with the Broncos on facility services and retail merchandise operations, said Jay Morrison, Aramark’s district manager for Empower Field.
Seeing how much fans pay attention to a stadium’s concessions, Aramark helped the Broncos update their point of sale system. By February, the two extended their partnership to include collaborating on food and beverage opportunities.
“We wanted to improve the fan experience through better quality food and more variety as well as introducing new technology to increase the speed of service,” Morrison said. “We wanted to be part of the experience and not a roadblock for people to get back to their seats to watch the game.”
In conjunction with artificial intelligence-based self-checkout system Mashgin, fans can now place their items on the Mashgin unit where they are scanned for quick payment. There are 17 Mashgin units inside of Mile High, said Morrison.
Self-ordering kiosks have also been installed at certain locations across Mile High, where visitors can customize and pay for their order using touch screen technology.
One area which has particularly resonated with fans is Mile High’s Drink MKT market, said Trainor. Created to reduce wait times and increase diversity in product offerings, the market offers beverages ranging from sparkling water and Vitamin Water to Bud Platinum and Bon & Viv spiked seltzer. Once fans are ready to leave, Mashgin scanners will be used to help them streamline the checkout process.
Already, Aramark’s help with the Broncos is driving business. Compared to a traditional kiosk stand, the self-order ones are processing 34% more transactions – which equates to roughly 250 more orders – every game, said Morrison. When people use the Mashgin checkout service, it’s 96% faster than the average beer location with a traditional POS system – and a transaction is made every 40 seconds.
“When you go to some of these locations, like our Drink MKT or our food stands that have the Mashgin self-checkout, you see guests videotaping each other, walking through the process,” Morrison said. “You see them with their phone checking out, and they’re so excited, they’re high five-ing, and they think it’s the coolest thing ever. We can truly say we are part of that fan experience here – because the feedback that we’re seeing is so positive.”
When the 2019 season ends on Dec. 29 at home versus the Oakland Raiders, Trainor is already thinking of how to better the fan experience in 2020.
Alongside Aramark, Trainor and his staff will be making data-driven decisions that directly address fan suggestions. Improvements will be made not only on the physical side with the Broncos’ concessions, but also on the digital side with their mobile app.
Trainor is aware that connecting with fans doesn’t happen overnight – but he’s confident both the Broncos and Aramark can play a part in making this happen.
“We’re continuing to strive to improve,” Trainor said. “The collaboration with Aramark has been great. But the collaboration overall across the different business departments – that has been, from my perspective, kind of enlightening. It’s always fun when you can deliver something and if it makes an impact. It’s not so much fun when you struggle, and the impact isn’t quite there.”