The following article about Bath Rugby’s frictionless stadium first appeared in Sports Business International.
The Bath Recreation Ground – affectionately referred to as the ‘Rec’ – is perhaps the most iconic rugby stadium in the UK. Hemmed in on one side by the River Avon and on another by the Palladian architecture of the World Heritage city, the home of Bath Rugby makes for one of the more intimate and atmospheric experiences in the English Premiership.
However, while local and visiting fans might get misty-eyed about making the journey from the Georgian city centre into the cosy venue, Alex Cohen, head of operations for the club, can be forgiven for not feeling quite so enthusiastic about the constricted setting.
Although the team has been playing at the venue since 1896, he explains that the club does not own the land it sits on, and that he endures a constant struggle to create a ‘slick’ experience for fans in a space that is barely big enough to meet league regulations.
“The stadium is a pretty temporary, cobbled-together affair,” he warns, the day before we visit to watch a league match between Bath Rugby and Worcester Warriors. “You are squashed in every direction in terms of providing bar provision, for providing queuing space, for making it a quality fan experience away from watching the actual rugby itself.”
To deal with a situation in which fans were having to queue for 20 to 30 minutes to buy a beer or a pint of the local cider at one of the small bars dotted around the arena, the club recently invested in a piece of white label software from mobile and online ordering firm Preoday.
The software allows us to pre-order our half-time drinks and snacks on the Bath-Rugby-branded app the night before the game and then collect them from a dedicated bar at half-time during the match the following day.
Once the user has entered their payment card details, the app has been designed to allow for the pre-ordering of snacks and drinks in just four clicks. The removal of the need for cash in the transaction, and the fact that the app allows bar staff to pre-prepare drinks orders in advance, takes some of the friction out of the process.
“It’s quick and easy,” says Bath fan Duncan Ball who joins us in a queue of just three people at the pre-ordering collection point. “Why wouldn’t you use it?” Looking towards the much larger queue that snakes towards the regular bar next door, Duncan has shrewdly decided not to let other fans in on the secret. “The queues are quite long but if you tell the people about the pre-ordering service, the queues in here are going to be quite long, so I don’t tell anybody,” he says.
Cohen admits that there is a balance to be struck between encouraging more fans to use the app and ensuring that it remains as pain-free as possible. For this reason, he says the club has deliberately decided not to overmarket the service while he gets to grips with the practicalities.
“We’ve just got to be cautious that we don’t overstep our capability,” he says. “The worst thing we could do is oversell it, overmarket it, and then get swamped on matchday and it actually be no better. The supporters are all very vocal with each other, so if it loses its credibility, we lose it for good.”
He says that he chose the Preoday software over its competitors because of the product’s ‘minimal data requirement’ and the fact that it would be simple for bar staff to use.
“One of the things that was really important to me was the simplicity with which it can be operated by the staff because we have a turnover of staff,” he says.
“There are two elements to the back-of-house software used: one is my use and my catering events manager, which is all the detail and the analytics and inputting codes and menus and – although there’s a lot to it and it’s very detailed – it’s also very simplistic to use. But the experience for the member of staff who’s stood on the bar and providing the customers with their beer is outstanding because it really is as simple as looking for their name on a list and clicking the checkbox to say you’ve handed over their drinks.”
Cohen says that the only weak spot in the system is the quality of the connectivity in the stadium which can make it difficult for fans to order drinks while they’re at the ground rather than the evening before. Owing to the planned stadium redevelopment in roughly two years’ time, he says that the club is reluctant to invest in better Wi-Fi infrastructure in the short term.
“That is the one drawback: the connectivity for the customer,” he says. “We’ve got a private network for the staff to use, to make sure we’re resilient in that respect. “The app has been designed in such a way that the data requirement of it is absolutely miniscule, so you’ve got much more chance of being successful with a very poor 3G/4G signal than you would do with something a bit more data hungry. But it does still have its challenges. When the stadium is full, it’s a hell of a challenge to get a signal on anything.”
In an ideal world, however, he says fans would order drinks before they get to the ground.
“That’s the great thing about the app. That’s the thrust of it actually,” he says. “You can order it days in advance or you can order it as you’re walking down to the ground half an hour before as well, so that’s where the drive is; to capture that market and get as much of that tucked away as possible.”
Preoday argues that the hospitality sector is 10 years behind the retail sector in using pre-ordering software to better serve customers, but thinks that the technology is slowly beginning to take off. The Aviva Stadium in Dublin, the Epsom Derby and Bath Racecourse are some of the other venues to have invested in the software recently.
“This is the direction the marketing is going,” says Cohen. “I’m not sure it will exclusively be this, but it will be a very significant part of the market over the next five, 10, 15 years and I want to be ahead of the game.”
To find out more about Preoday’s work with sport stadiums and the benefits the platform can deliver, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.