New York Red Bulls Take a Card From England

The New York Red Bulls’ new Red Bull Arena has been lauded as an arena of dreams, and, accordingly, season-ticket holders are enjoying some fantasy-like amenities. Taking a page out of the English Premier League’s book, the Red Bulls are supplying season-ticket holders RFID membership cards that digitize tickets, provide a debit system for concession purchases, and allow the team to gather usage information about its fans.

“As far as we know, we’re the only team in the U.S. to use it,” says Andrew McGowan, VP of communications for the Red Bulls. “A number of English Premiership teams use it. As we got ready to build and open the stadium, we’ve looked for new ways to improve what we do and improve the fan experience. It’s going to be really neat as this program continues to build.”

Every season-ticket holder receives one membership card for each seat in the season-ticket plan, and non–season-ticket holders can purchase a card for $25. Instead of using a paper ticket, fans swipe that card at the gate to unlock the turnstile and enter the building. The card can also be pre-loaded with funds, so that fans can use it as a debit system for concessions and merchandise purchases within the building.

“When you want to buy a hot dog, you just tap the card on the reader, and it automatically debits the cost,” McGowan says. “We set up speed lines so that you can go into those lines and get faster service with your card.”

Kiosks are placed around the stadium to enable cardholders to add funds to their account during the game, and funds can also be added online.

“It also gives us the ability to gather a great deal of information on our fans, in terms of what they buy and when they come into the building,” McGowan points out. “It also does membership rewards, so you build points with everything that you buy in the shop and in concessions. Over the course of the season, we will offer membership rewards for our cardholders.”

Developed by Fortress, based in England, the system is currently in use at Wembley Stadium and Arsenal’s Emirates stadium. In addition to paperless entry and cashless concessions, cardholders become “team members” and get first-purchase opportunities for certain ticket and stadium-event offers.

“Arsenal is sold out on season tickets, but they have a mailing list of 250,000 addresses of people that have cards,” McGowan says. “If a season-ticket holder can’t use their tickets for a game, the system deactivates your card for that night and puts out a blast e-mail to all the team members that says we have X amount of tickets available, and those tickets will not go on sale to the general public. That’s the goal as we move forward.”

The member-card system is also tied into AudienceView Ticketing, the system that the Red Bulls use for physical ticketing. When fans buy and sell tickets, the team can activate and deactivate the appropriate membership cards accordingly, so there is no need to exchange paper tickets or e-mail printable copies hours before the game.

Membership cards also cut down on the number of ticket-takers required at stadium entrances.

“You can now put a steward at the gate instead of multiple ticket-takers,” McGowan says. “If you have a problem, the steward is there, but this reduces the number of people that have to be there manning all the ticket booths. It also increases load [speed] into the stadium by 33%.”

The Red Bulls will overstaff the building for the first few games, as fans figure out how the card system works, but the team expects to net some cost savings from the cards as early as this season.

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