New grab-and-go stands are designed with a look that plays off of Lambeau Field’s steel. (Rossetti)

Improvements will help move Lambeau Field toward cashless

The NFL’s Green Bay Packers are investing $9 million for concession upgrades at Lambeau Field as they move gradually toward a cashless operation for a fan base that still favors hard currency to pay for food and drink.

Five new grab-and-go markets are set to open for the 2020 season, tied to a self-checkout system using the Appetize point-of-sale platform. The concepts revolve largely around barbecue, bratwurst, pizza, beer and cheese curds, all high-volume sales items for the Packers and Delaware North Sportservice, their concessionaire.

It may be awhile before Packers fans see the changes because of the pandemic.

Team President Mark Murphy recently announced that the first two home games of the 2020 season will be played without fans in attendance and that crowds will be limited to 10,000 to 12,000 for the six remaining home games. Under those restrictions, fans will be in the stands on Nov. 1 for the Packers’ third home game against Minnesota. 

On the bright side, the concession refurb gives them something to look forward to eight weeks into the season.

The markets, all measuring 1,200 square feet, replace old  “belly up” stands. Four are situated in the corners of the end zones on the main concourse. The fifth is in the upper deck at the 50-yard-line, said Kirk Phillips, principal and design lead for Rossetti. The Detroit firm has designed similar markets at Ford Field in Detroit and CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

“We took away the front counters and you enter on one side, which is lined with dry snacks and beverages,” said Charlie Millerwise, the Packers’ director of development and hospitality. “There’s a walk-in cooler, like a convenience store, and then you go to the ‘hot (food) line’ with two pickup points. Everything has bar codes on it, including the packaging for concessions food. You swipe your card and off you go.”

“There are still a lot of flip phones in northeast Wisconsin.” — Charlie Millerwise, Green Bay Packers

The grab-and-go concept is nothing new at sports venues, but during the pandemic, there’s been an increased emphasis on touchless technology to protect against contagious disease, with many big league teams switching to grab-and-go systems in some fashion. 

In Green Bay, though, Packers fans remain largely old-school in their buying habits, resulting in the team and their food provider picking their spots for going cashless. Overall at Lambeau, the transaction split is 60-40 with cash more common, according to team data, Millerwise said.

“There are still a lot of flip phones in northeast Wisconsin,” he said. 

In one respect, though, it’s just a matter of making the technology available for Packers fans, along with convenience and speed of service. It’s been a methodical process going cashless, starting with premium spaces before extending to general concessions for 2020. 

“It’s interesting,” Millerwise said. “Last year, we made the entire club level grab-and-go and self-checkout, which pushed (transactions) to 90% credit. People aren’t afraid of the technology. They see it at the grocery store. The hope here is that it’s one more measure to keep the fans safe and feel good about being at the game.”

Two years ago, before COVID-19, the Packers hired architecture firm Rossetti to help redefine the fan experience at Lambeau. It formed a master plan for renovating food spaces for greater efficiency and speed of service with the goal of keeping the historic look and feel intact at one of football’s cathedrals, Phillips said.

Last year, Sportservice tested some temporary grab-and-go stands, which reduced transitions times by a few minutes. Rossetti designed the new markets to make them unique to Lambeau, playing off the stadium’s steel structure with touches of modern technology, Phillips said.

Together, the team, food vendor and architect were focused on selecting the right equipment options with regard to cooler systems and keeping hot foods warm in a setting fondly known as the “frozen tundra,” he said.   

“Surprising enough, it fits right into what’s happening with the coronavirus,” Phillips said. “We’re ahead of the game with contactless and prepackaged elements.”

As part of the cashless equation, the Packers plan to install some reverse ATM machines for fans to convert cash to debit cards to use at the new markets. More of those machines will be added in 2021, Millerwise said.

The Packers ultimately plan to acquire a new point-of-sale system for the entire stadium to mesh with the upgrades. As it stands now, the team has an NCR legacy system plus Appetize for self checkout and in-seat service, which requires Sportservice to run multiple systems, Millerwise said. He worked for Delaware North and operated the food at Lambeau Field for five years before the Packers hired him in 2018.

“Next year, we will have to make a wholesale change,” Millerwise said.