Mercedes-Benz Stadium will convert to cashless operation

Atlanta Falcons fans were excited to enter the doors of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as the team played the Arizona Cardinals in a preseason game. (Video by Ryon Horne)

You’ll no longer be able to use cash to buy a hot dog or a beer at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The downtown Atlanta venue will become a cashless operation, one of the first two major U.S. stadiums to do so.

It will stop accepting cash inside the gates beginning with Atlanta United’s home opener Sunday, requiring payment for food, beverages and merchandise with credit cards, debit cards or mobile payment services such as Apple Pay. The policy also will be in effect at Falcons games and, at least for food and beverages, all other stadium events.

The move to cashless is intended to speed transactions and shorten waits at concession stands and merchandise shops, said Steve Cannon, CEO of Falcons and Atlanta United parent company AMB Group, which operates the stadium.

Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays became the first major U.S. sports franchise to announce its stadium would be cash-free, saying in January that Tropicana Field no longer would accept cash and debuting the concept at a fan festival last month. But because the soccer season opens before the baseball season, Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be first to implement a cash-free operation at games.

For fans without credit or debit cards, 10 kiosks will be installed, some on each level of the stadium, where cash can be loaded onto prepaid debit cards with no transaction fee. Those cards then can be used for purchases inside the stadium. Balances remaining on the cards also can be spent anywhere debit cards are accepted.

With the move away from cash, stadium officials said they are dropping their previous policy of whole-dollar pricing at concession stands. They announced that prices will be reduced on five concession items by 50 cents apiece, most notably on hot dogs from $2 to $1.50.

New food prices at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

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The hot dog price has drawn much attention since the stadium opened, most recently at Super Bowl LIII. Further lowering the price of “our No. 1-selling item that already is below market price” reaffirms a commitment to fan-friendly concession pricing, said Greg Beadles, chief operating officer of AMB Sports and Entertainment.

However, under the stadium’s previous whole-dollar policy, which was instituted to speed transaction times, sales tax was included in the posted price of each item. Now, sales tax of 8.9 percent will be added to each purchase. That will gobble up some of the savings from the new price cuts and will effectively mean an 8.9-percent increase in the total cost of items that keep the same posted price as before.

“We’re going to revert to what everybody else does in the world and the price on the board is pre-tax,” Beadles said. “And then the tax will be added to your transaction.”

The switch to cashless transactions applies inside the stadium; for events that sell tickets at the box office outside the gates, cash can still be used there.

Inside the stadium, the only exception to the cashless model could be souvenir sales for some events other than Falcons and Atlanta United games. The organizers of “third-party” events, such as concerts or college football games, will be able to sell their merchandise for cash if they choose. But the stadium’s food and beverage sales will be cashless at all events, whether the purchase is made from concession stands, bars, restaurants or hawkers.

The change follows extensive testing last year, Cannon said. By the end of the Falcons season, about 30 of the stadium’s 70 concession stands and bars did not accept cash, he said.

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Stadium-wide, the percentage of customers using cash dropped from 42 percent at the start of the Falcons season to 30 percent at the end, Beadles said. Cash usage has been lower at Atlanta United games than Falcons games, he said.

“Everything we saw in 2018 gave us the confidence to make the decision … to become a cash-free stadium,” Cannon said. “For us, this is all about speed of service. ... This move to cashless will allow us to transact at a higher level and satisfy demand when demand is there.”

Beadles said that on average cashless transactions “can be up to 50 percent faster than cash transactions.”

As for how attendees, particularly those who still prefer cash, will react to the change, Cannon said: “We don’t expect a whole lot of pushback.”

In addition to speeding up service, Cannon said going cash-free will eliminate some costs and complexities, such as counting the cash in each drawer and having a guard accompany the movement of cash into a secure room. “Cash handling is a substantial cost item that we’ll now completely remove from the enterprise,” Cannon said.

He predicted Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be at the start of a trend toward cashless stadiums.  Several European soccer stadiums are cash-free.

“Our concessionaire, Levy, says this is where it’s going,” Cannon said.

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