Last season, the Phoenix Suns’ struggles extended well beyond the court. While the team had the NBA’s second-worst record, it also had limited mobile ticketing or digital payment capabilities for fans who attended games at the Talking Stick Resort Arena.
This offseason, the team set to change that. While the on-court product has been improved early in the season, off the court the team has implemented new measures for fans that aim to make their experiences as frictionless as possible.
Weeks before the Suns’ season opener on Oct. 23, the team announced the launch of their new Phoenix Suns + Talking Stick Resort Arena Mobile App. Sponsored by Verizon, the app is designed to improve the fan experience by eliminating physical tickets and giving full access to mobile tickets for events at Talking Stick Resort Arena, which include Suns, Phoenix Mercury, and Arizona Rattlers games, as well as specific concerts and events. The app is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play.
“At the end of the day, the digital direction is something that you’re seeing across the industry,” said Suns President and CEO Jason Rowley. “Candidly, it’s not something that we invented here, but we view ourselves as being a very innovative and forward-thinking organization. When I see a few other organizations adopting something like this, we decided that it was important for us to be more of a leader in it than a follower in the space.”
Talking Stick Resort Arena began rolling out its mobile app during summer at Mercury games, said Rowley. The Mercury, which is owned by the Suns, averages anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 fans per game, allowing the arena to work out the challenges in a smaller environment. Heading into the Suns season, more staff was hired to handle the implementation process of the mobile app and to make sure that it conveyed those changes to season ticket holders.
With mobile ticketing now a reality, Rowley said that it will help the organization achieve some of its goals, the first being security. Now being able to transfer tickets digitally, people can no longer print them out in a PDF format. Fans now have a roving barcode that essentially eliminates ticket fraud.
The Talking Stick Resort Arena Mobile App has also helped make ingress around the venue more efficient, said Rowley. He estimated that by eliminating the hassle often associated with paper and physical tickets, entry times will be reduced by as much as 10 minutes. For those who do experience technical difficulties, a team of “App Advisors” will be onsite to assist them.
A third problem that has been solved is the issue of ticket exchanges. According to Rowley, the average ticket to a concert or sporting event changes hands anywhere from three to five times.
Instead of the issues with leaving tickets at will call or dropping them off in the mail, tickets can now be exchanged online at the click of a button between people with Ticketmaster accounts, said Rowley.
While some might see few, if any, drawbacks with mobile ticketing at entertainment events, there is one that Rowley has seen thus far. For generations, people have longed viewed their physical tickets as a souvenir and a real memento to whatever they witnessed.
But with mobile ticketing, there are other ways for people to remember their experience at Talking Stick Resort Arena. They can purchase items like commemorative cups and programs – and reaffirm the idea that the benefits of mobile tickets outweigh the nostalgia factor associated with paper tickets, said Rowley.
“At the end of the day, the world changes, and I think most people – when they see the benefit of [mobile ticketing] – they are happy to live in the new reality of ticketing here,” Rowley said.
Alongside digital ticketing, the Suns’ mobile app also features Wallet functionality, which allows fans to purchase concessions and merchandise using PayPal, the team’s jersey patch sponsor, Venmo or any major credit cards directly from their smartphone via the app.
To help reduce wait times even more, the Suns Team Shop and concessions stands now has “Fast Lanes” that allows fans to utilize the wallet to skip lines.
“For today’s fan, it’s all about experiences,” Rowley said. “It’s about being close to the action. It’s about convenience and not being inconvenienced. You think about all the different offerings across the world here now that have changed how people live, work, play, and technology has such a key role in that, that I think people just kind of expect it now.”
When assessing mobile-friendly arenas, one has to look beyond sporting events and at society as a whole, said Jay Satenspiel, the senior vice president of food and hospitality at Spectra, an arena management company.
Whether it’s Apple Pay, Google Pay or any other cash-or-credit-card-free transaction, society is becoming more cashless by the day, said Satenspiel. Fewer people are carrying cash with them, and fewer are seeking out ATMs to pay for items. Almost everything can be done on their cellphones – and what began as a fad is quickly becoming the norm.
“I think you’ve got to look at society as a whole and where society is moving, and it’s moving in [a cash-free, mobile-friendly] direction and it’s moving very rapidly,” Satenspiel said. “When you look at it and translate it into a sporting environment, there’s a lot of benefits to it. Not only is it a benefit where you create a seamless transaction, but there’s also a lot of efficiencies that you pick up from a speed of service and guest experience as well.”