The Nationals will send details of their new “Ultimate Ballpark Access” card to season ticket holders Friday, laying out what team chief operating officer Andy Feffer calls “a monumental change” in the plan holder-franchise relationship.
The new cards — which employ the same radio frequency identification (RFID) technology used in Metro’s SmarTrip cards — will eliminate around 10 seconds from each person-to-person interaction with a ticket-taker, according to the team. The same card will, within a few months, serve as an “e-Cash” debit card at Nationals Park retail and concession stands.
It could also give the team access to the ballpark habits of its supporters: Just how many hot dogs did that family in Row S of Section 138 eat last month, anyhow?
The team ran a pilot program last season before instituting the switch for all 20-game, 41- and 81-game plan holders this season. And other sports executives believe the Nats could be leading the way for American sports franchises.
“We think the Nationals are one of the forerunners in this space, which is why we’ve paid a lot of attention to what they’re doing,” said Tim Zue, the vice president of business development for the Boston Red Sox, who are launching a similar pilot program for approximately 700 season ticket account holders this spring and hope to expand the program in 2014. “At some point in the near future, I think many more sports teams will launch programs like this, and we will look back and realize that the Nationals paved the way.”
Elements of the Nationals’ blueprint already have been used at other U.S. sports venues. The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning put radio chips in team jerseys given to plan holders, which can be used to receive discounts at retail and concession locations. Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays introduced ID debit cards that can be reloaded, bringing automatic cash bonuses.
Field access to the Super Bowl this year was controlled with similar RFID cards. And many teams have replaced paper ticketing with plastic cards, including both the Capitals and Wizards this season. Those franchises use a magnetic-strip card that must be manually swiped, with fans then receiving a print-out listing their seat locations.
But the Nationals have gone further by combining every system in a single card, linking ticketing with concessions with retail with loyalty rewards that can be used for seat upgrades as well as such real-time offers as discounted popcorn and jersey specials.