Q&A With Zippin's SVP of Business Development: The Future of the Gameday Experience
By Alice Chan - February 17, 2021
Gary Jacobus recently joined Zippin as its new Senior Vice President, Business Development, bringing his extensive experience in food and beverage concessions for sports, entertainment, and transportation venues. His prior roles include former SVP for SSP America, the leading operator of food & beverage concessions for travel locations, and former SVP for Aramark’s Sports & Entertainment Division. Gary also held senior positions with the NFL, NBA, IMG, and the US Tennis Association.
We talked with Gary about what he sees as the opportunities for checkout-free technology to improve the gameday experience for sports fans, and why he’s excited to be part of the Zippin team.
Q. With your previous experience in the world of concessions for sports and entertainment venues, what are some pain points that are creating opportunity for checkout-free technology for stadiums?
Gary: Speed of service is the #1 priority for sports fans. No one loves to stand in lines, especially not to buy food and drinks at a game. You’re at the game to watch the live action and be part of the crowd and be part of that gameday experience. You don’t want to miss a minute of the live experience that you paid money to see, just because you’re stuck standing in line for concessions. As a sports fan, the four words you never want to hear at a sporting event are: ‘You just missed it!’
“When I lived in New York City and I’d go to NFL games, I would joke that from the moment I left my apartment to the moment I sat down in my seat at the stadium, nothing good happened to me. I had to deal with traffic, crowds, parking, lines at every point along the journey. Just getting to your seat, as a sports fan, often feels like a struggle. So anything that Zippin can do to make the game day experience more frictionless and more fun for the fans will ultimately be a win-win for venue operators and for the audience.
Q. What kind of interest and enthusiasm are you hearing from venue operators about checkout-free technology for stadiums, and how are those conversations going?
Leaders who I’m talking with at pro teams and venues have embraced checkout-free technology, and now it’s a matter of working on plans for where to incorporate the Zippin-powered stores across the food and beverage ecosystem. They are all seeking out new technology and ways to implement that technology to enhance the gameday experience.
The questions we spend time answering today are more around the ideal footprint of a Zippin store. Also, they ask very detailed questions on store design and layout including: What products should we sell? How many coolers do we need? What types of hot food should we serve? How many Zippin powered stands do we need on each concourse? How quick are we able to build out each store?
In general, the venue operators that I’m speaking with are intrigued by the possibilities, they see the tremendous value of checkout-free technology, and they’re ready to move forward in building out Zippin stores. It’s a great time to be having these conversations.
Q. How does checkout-free technology fit into the overall gameday experience for sports stadiums?
Food and beverage is a big part of the fan experience, but people don’t want to interrupt why they’re at the stadium, which is to watch the game. So that’s why speed of service matters so much for stadiums; people tend to be in line for food and drinks at the same times throughout a game. If you spend hundreds of dollars on a ticket, you don’t want to miss 10 or 15 minutes of the game to get something to eat.
Beyond that immediate priority of speed of service and reducing lines, checkout-free technology can be part of thinking more broadly about the fan experience hierarchy of food and beverage service. Think about your typical NFL stadium on gameday: you have people in luxury suites who are enjoying food from 5-star restaurants, you have people in general admission who want food and drink that’s quick and basic, you might have other people who are happy to stand around eating and socializing, watching the game on monitors in the concourse areas. Checkout-free technology fits nicely throughout the food and beverage experience hierarchy.
Q. What role does checkout-free technology play in helping to get fans back into stadiums and arenas this year?
Zippin-powered stores allow fans to have a contact-free experience which has become one important way venues are able to welcome more fans back into the venues. Our platform monitors traffic flow and manages the number of fans in a store at any given time, helping operators adhere to social distancing requirements. Additionally, operators have real-time inventory data so they are able to enter the stores at non-peak times to restock. All of this contributes to a safer environment for all fans and helps teams prepare the venues to open to more fans per game.
Q. After the pandemic ends, what are some ways that you think the gameday sports fan experience will be different going forward?
In a few years, every single sports stadium and major events venue will be powered by Zippin or some form of checkout-free technology. It’s inevitable! It’s here and it’s happening. If you ask a typical sports fan or venue operator: Would you like to eliminate standing in line? They would all say: Yes! Where do I sign up?
I firmly believe, as do most in the sports and entertainment world, that after the pandemic ends, there’s going to be a massive surge of pent-up demand for sporting events, concerts and in-person live entertainment. People want to go to games. Live sporting events are not just competing against the in-home TV experience, they’re also competing against the unpleasant challenges of getting to the game. This is why venues keep investing in the game day experience.
Teams work hard to create a fantastic day-of-game experience, one that a fan just cannot miss. It has to truly blow away the ‘couch’ experience. I submit that there will never be anything quite as magical as seeing a sporting event live. Nothing compares. Zippin’s checkout-free technology is going to be part of making that experience even better, and I can’t wait to see the future of game day.