A TOAST TO TECH: The Nina app connects to digital devices on liquor bottles to regulate pours. (Courtesy Golden 1 Center)

With Nina system, suite patrons use app that measures pours to make drinks

The Sacramento Kings have adopted another layer of self-serve technology at Golden 1 Center. The NBA team is expanding the use of a mobile system for ordering mixed drinks in premium spaces after testing it in five suites and one loft at the 5-year-old facility.

It follows Zippin, the big leagues’ first checkout-free convenience store, which debuted in October.

The new hard liquor system, developed by Nina, an 18-month-old Israeli firm, allows suite patrons to make cocktails using a mobile application that measures pours. It connects to a digital device on top of the liquor bottle that controls the amount of alcohol being poured.

The Kings are acting as a beta test and at this point are not paying for the system, said John Rinehart, the team’s president of business operations. Nina, whose CEO and co-founder is Yair Marom, is still in the process of developing its business model, Rinehart said.  

Nina teamed with the Kings and concessionaire Legends over the past year to test the technology at some events before rolling it out on a permanent basis in January. Over the next few months, Nina will be in place across the arena’s 34 suites and 48 eight-seat lofts, Rinehart, said.

“For us, it’s about customizing the fan experience, and removing friction out of that has always been top of mind and one of (owner Vivek Ranadive’s) big visions for our building and organization,” he said.

Golden 1 Center suite customers who wanted to buy a mixed drink previously had to buy a bottle of liquor, which carry big markups in catering packages at sports and entertainment facilities. In Sacramento, there’s also the option of walking to a bar elsewhere on the suite level or heading to a portable liquor stand on the main concourse.

“This system gives them the choice of various types of alcohol to buy individual drinks and customize them,” Rinehart said. “They just pay for what they’re pouring out of the bottle. They don’t have to buy the whole bottle, and it allows them to remain in the suite with the other guests.” 

The technology involves pushing a few buttons to activate the system, start a tab, order a drink and swipe a credit card for payment. Suite attendants trained on the system are there to assist in transactions, Kings officials said.

“From a customer service standpoint, it allows us to monitor what our customers are drinking, and we can tell if they’re running low on something because it’s all automated and we know what’s being poured out of the bottle every second,” Rinehart said. “We can always replenish the suite before the customer has to call the attendant. We can make it all a seamless experience.”

It’s a flexibility issue as well. Food consultant Chris Bigelow said it makes greater sense in a suite to charge by the drink rather than charging the suite owner for the entire bottle, which they may not really need.

“It’s a huge complaint from suite holders, particularly if they are just renting the suite for one event,” Bigelow said.

To date, the Kings have seen an increase in the purchase of cocktails in the suites where the technology is in place, Rinehart said. Mixed drinks are priced at $9 to $11, which is about the same as at bars elsewhere in the arena.

“By giving them what they want and when they want it, it is going to ultimately lead to increased revenue,” he said.

Nina is the newest self-serve model in sports and entertainment. Elsewhere, tech vendor DraftServ has tested self-serve beer and soda systems at MLB and NFL stadiums, horse racing venues and motorsports facilities. 

Some have been hit-and-miss depending on the market, according to teams and vendors using those systems.

At Golden 1 Center, Nina technology falls in line with Zippin, the big leagues’ first checkout-free convenience store. It’s connected to the arena’s mobile application scanned by camera sensors as customers enter and exit the store. The Zippin mobile app can also be used at the store and those customers get a receipt on their cell phone.

The Zippin store that opened in the fall allows fans to zip in and zip out. (Courtesy Golden 1 Center)

Since its launch, hot foods such as hot dogs and pizza have been added to refrigerated drinks, snacks and cold sandwiches under a grab-and-go model that bypasses traditional checkout lines and registers, Rinehart said.

Over the past four months, the Kings’ research shows that Zippin customers buy more products and spend more money while spending less time in the store. Repeat visits surpass 55 percent and the average time for repeat customers is down to 45 seconds to buy two items. 

The checkout-free concept could potentially expand to the Kings’ team store, Rinehart said.

“We’re working on it,” he said. “The technology on merchandise is a little different because you have to identify sizes of T-shirts, for example. The next generation of that technology hopefully allows for that.”