Technology is transforming every aspect of the sports industry, and one sector that has undergone particularly sweeping changes as a result is hospitality.
Advancements in connectivity infrastructure at stadiums and arenas have opened up new opportunities for venue operators to work in smarter, more sophisticated ways, which in turn has revolutionised the game-day experience for both regular spectators and VIP guests alike.
For companies like Oracle Corporation, the American multinational computer tech giant, hospitality is one area of the sports business that can benefit markedly through innovative applications of technology. Oracle Hospitality, its hospitality division, provides a range of software, hardware and related services to the industry, working with clients across sectors such as food and beverage, hotels and resorts, casinos and gaming, cruise ships, and sports and entertainment.
Based in Columbia, Maryland, Oracle Hospitality has developed a variety of solutions that span everything from backend cloud services and venue management software to point-of-sale (POS) tablets and other hardware specially designed for the stadium environment. In sport, its client portfolio comprises teams, venues and concessionaires on both sides of the Atlantic, including the likes of the Miami Marlins baseball team, the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, and food service management companies like Delaware North, Aramark and Centreplate.
Though it is now well established in the sector, Oracle Hospitality dramatically enhanced its capabilities in the sports and entertainment space when it acquired MICROS Systems Inc, a provider of integrated software and hardware solutions to the hospitality and retail industries, in 2014. The acquisition brought more than 35 years of sports and entertainment experience into the Oracle fold, and the company has been investing heavily in the space ever since.
Much of that investment has been directed towards developing new forms of software and hardware that are designed to ensure a seamless food and beverage operation - an important aspect of the overall fan experience that, according to Dan Bell, the vice president of sports and entertainment at Oracle Hospitality, has at times been overlooked in favour of more eye-catching, sexier elements.
“One of the biggest things is speed of service, that we get fans through quickly and they’re not missing any of the event,” says Bell. “That could mean either at a traditional concessions line or in-seat service with a tablet-type device. It could be working with a partner for doing in-seat ordering and delivery to the seat. Kiosks seem to be coming more and more into play for self-ordering at the stadiums as well.”
45 per cent of event attendees around the world have abandoned lines because the wait was too long - Oracle’s 2016 Fan Experience Report
Bell’s comments are evidenced by the findings of Oracle’s 2016 Fan Experience Report, which found that 45 per cent of event attendees around the world had abandoned lines because the wait was too long. The same research found that nearly two-third of fans would ‘probably use’ or ‘definitely use’ in-seat ordering if available at their stadium, while more than half indicated that they would consider using a mobile app to order and pay for food and beverages to be collected from an express line.
Those results should pique the interest of teams and venue operators who are seeking to improve their spectator experience, says Bell. Oracle’s report notes how reducing wait times can lead to direct ROI, and how using mobile technology to improve ordering and payment can bolster sales, not least since fans in all countries surveyed said they would spend as much as 30 per cent more, on average, if wait times were cut in half.
Oracle Hospitality works with teams, venues and concessionaires on both sides of the Atlantic.
But satiating the hunger and thirst of an increasingly impatient customer base is just one part of the story. For venue operators, Bell says, the beauty of software like Oracle’s Simphony Venue Management system is that its backend capabilities can be customised and integrated into third-party mobile devices or digital menu boards, further streamlining the food and beverage operation. What’s more, it can also be aligned with supporting Oracle tech products to drive customers to other offerings such as ticket promotions and loyalty programmes.
“It provides a super infrastructure and we’ve opened up our APIs to our partners,” says Bell. “If another venue has a particular idea of how to improve or increase speed of service, we work with that venue or partner to try to make it become a reality.”
A further benefit is that Oracle’s software is rooted in the cloud, thereby improving operational efficiency whilst lowering the investment for venue operators and opening up new opportunities for smaller organisations. “We can get to venues that we haven't traditionally been able to get to,” says Bell (left). “It’s opened up things like Minor League Baseball, or it could be colleges and universities.”
He adds: “That’s really opened things up from a market perspective in that the IT demands of a stadium operator become less if they’re willing to go to the cloud because we manage all of the IT backend for them. They don’t have to worry about things like PCI security and refreshing servers and things like that.”
By combining those cloud capabilities with the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), Bell says Oracle Hospitality has positioned itself at the “leading edge” of the hospitality industry’s push to convert data into profit. The strategy, he explains, has been to apply Oracle’s cutting-edge data analytics capabilities to the food and beverage sector, bringing data scientists, database engineers and experienced hospitality consultants to an industry in which margins are constantly being squeezed.
One way in which the company does this is through its new Data Science Cloud Services product, which analyses a wealth of information in real-time, monitoring sales, guest, marketing and staff performance data to generate insights that can be used to optimise efficiency and drive up revenues.
By analysing customer behaviour and preferences, the technology enables food and beverage managers to evaluate menus and identify enhancements, highlighting the best possible up-sell or cross-sell options by location or time of day. Meanwhile an integrated Adaptive Forecasts service enables operators to predict stock and labour needs at every location, drawing on variables such as weather, event type, time of day and day of the week to identify appropriate levels of inventory and staffing.
“This is really cool to me because it goes beyond the ringing up of an order - you know, a hot dog, a beer and french fries,” says Bell. “It really does more backend analysis on getting to know the fans, ticket holders, loyalty members much, much better in terms of what their patterns have been when ordering food in the venue.
“We can subsequently tie that into ticketing solutions that we’ve got. We may put an offer on a ticket for them - if you, say, get into the park by a certain time, you get a special promotion. So it provides that artificial intelligence capability to the solutions and I think that’s really somewhat of a leading-edge offer that we have right now and we’re really excited about.”