Whenever a new stadium opens, there are certain kinks to be worked out, and Orlando City has had its share. From long lines for the bathroom and concessions to entrance issues, the club has been working this season to find ways to improve the fan experience.
The club says that it is aware of the entrance problems and, while some are unavoidable, it has been working on solutions for others. It still wanted to give season ticket holders a card to use, at least for now. The club has also collected and examined data on how many people enter, when they enter, where they enter, and how they enter. This data has allowed the club to become aware of any problems and work to find solutions. It has also allowed the club to completely eliminate ticket fraud.
The Introduction of Paperless Ticketing
When the club joined MLS in 2015, playing at the 65,000-seat Camping World Stadium, Ticketmaster advised the club to use its new Presence system of mobile entry. The company has been looking to expand this new software, which is only being used in a handful of venues, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Orlando City was the first sports team — and at the time, the largest venue — to use Presence.
“We’re at a time where Ticketmaster is trying to move stadiums toward mobile entry,” a source at the club said. “But we’re probably a good two or three years from everybody being ready to use it.”
This isn’t Ticketmaster’s first attempt at getting rid of ticket stubs or print-at-home options. The company previously introduced a system of credit card entry, where fans would swipe a credit card at the gate, and an employee would print out a paper ticket with seating information.
“I feel like it’s getting better, but there’s still about 25 percent of the population that isn’t ready for it,” the source estimates.
Orlando City’s Problems with Mobile Entry
As expected, Orlando City has had its problems with mobile entry this season at its new stadium. One of the issues that has caused delays for fans is that more people are using mobile entry than expected, people are waiting to pull up their tickets at the gate, and people are arriving at the gate with unapproved items.
All 18,000 season ticket holders for Orlando City are issued cards that they can use to enter. When most of these season ticket holders wouldn’t attend games at Camping World Stadium, they would pass their cards off to friends and family members to use. However, that’s begun to change.
With the introduction of the Lion Nation app, entering using your mobile device has been made easier by the club. So rather than using a card to get in, many season ticket holders are selling their tickets, and more fans are using their mobile devices to enter the stadium.
“We thought there would be one-third to a quarter of fans using mobile entry because of how many used it before,” the source says. “But it’s 65%. We only have 4,000 to 5,000 using season ticket cards and the rest are using mobile entry.”
The club has touted its new mobile entry system since the beginning of the season as being an easier way to enter games for non-season ticket holders. This was based on data acquired over the past two seasons, but that hasn’t been the case. One of the club’s concerns is how long it takes people to pull up their tickets, as too few are doing it in advance.
“It should take each person between seven and nine seconds to get through the gate,” the source explains, estimating that it has been taking somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds. “That’s having a big impact on entrance delays.”
Fans arriving at the gate have often run out of data and have not saved their tickets to a digital wallet, something the club has tried to promote this season. When they arrive at the gate, they attempt to connect to the Wi-Fi. The problem has been one access point at each gate being used by fans, security, and entrance, so fans attempting to pull up tickets are having problems doing so.
For security purposes, Orlando City also introduced a new clear bag policy for the stadium, something that has been done at most stadiums around the country to keep fans safe. Unaware of this policy, many fans show up with bags that are too big or non-permitted items such as umbrellas. Attempting to figure out where to store these items has held up the lines at gates and become one of the largest issues with entry times.
Unavoidable Problems Still Exist
The club is searching for answers to some problems, but others will still exist. Any fans that attend a game will notice that certain doors are not being used for entry. “We wanted to open up more doors at the entrances,” the source says. “But the fire marshall informed us that we had to use a certain amount of our doors as emergency exits.”
That’s not the only impact the fire marshall has had. “If you go through Gate B,” the source continued, “you’ll notice the line wraps around the building. We wanted it to go straight out for more defined lines but the fire marshall told us that needed to be clear. The only gate where I like the way it enters is Gate D. But others are beyond our control.”
Despite these issues, the club is still looking for ways to alleviate the problem. They’re looking at taking out wire welded fences around the stadium in areas where more emergency exits can be used. “We still have to keep x amount of doors open for emergency exits. But we’re going to be working on changes this off-season to make things easier. This includes canopies over the entrances.”
When Orlando City Stadium hosted the U.S. National Team’s World Cup qualifier against Panama recently, lines were longer than normal. Despite the stadium being run by U.S. Soccer that night, rather than Orlando City, the club took notice. That night, the club took back control near kickoff, to help things run smoother. However, the club noticed problems which it knew needed addressing.
New software for the Presence program is installed prior to each game, but that hasn’t solved the connection problems. So, last Friday Spectrum installed new access points at each gate, meaning that there are now multiple access points instead of one. Those access points were first used for the NWSL Championship Game and Orlando City’s final home game this season against the Columbus Crew this past weekend. While previously the only access point was on one wall, there will be access points on each wall and overhead.
According to a club source, they currently have 20 employees that are staffed with helping attendees with paperless ticketing. These employees are given special training on how to help fans with an aspect of stadium entrance. At games, these staff members hold purple mustache signs, asking if they can help.
Local businesses have offered up lockers as a revenue stream and to help the stadium alleviate some of the bag issues. Fans can use lockers at these businesses for a small fee. The first company to join in this partnership was the Yard Bar. Seeing the advantages, they were shortly followed by Flamingo’s Coffee Shop and Sy’s Supermarket, all located next to the stadium.
Looking Toward the Future
A club source says that mobile entry is moving toward a “tap-and-go” system using radio-frequency identification rather than scanning barcodes, which is something Ticketmaster is currently working on. Without having to individually scan everyone’s ticket, which can be a problem in direct sunlight, this new technology would allow much quicker ingress to the venue.
For some, entering Orlando City Stadium has been a frustrating experience at times. This is in large part due to an evolving system and user error, but also due to the newness of mobile ticketing. As the club continues to identify problems, it is confident it will be able to make entering the stadium easier for fans in order to improve the overall experience of attending an Orlando City game. For now, despite its issues, Orlando has the country’s premier soccer stadium, which will only get better in the coming years.