LevelUp: first mobile payment system to power an entire sports arena

Mobile payment startup LevelUp, which has been lining up restaurants and businesses around the country, is now taking on a major sporting and events venue: the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., home of the University of Louisville basketball team. Though other sporting venues have tested mobile payments or enabled order-at-your-seat options, LevelUp said this is the first mobile payment deployment at a major sporting venue that works at all of its concession stands.

When visitors to the center arrive for a basketball game on Thursday, they will be able to whip out their LevelUp app and pay at 200 food and beverage concession stands. LevelUp was able to integrate quickly at the arena because it struck a deal last month with point-of-sale maker Micros, which supplies the venue’s point of sale hardware. Users can just flash their LevelUp app’s QR code, which is tied to a stored credit or debit card, and employees will scan the app using their existing hardware or with LevelUp’s scanners.

“This is not a pilot. This is: leave your wallet at the door or at home and wherever you want to buy something, you can buy it with your phone,” said LevelUp’s Chief Ninja Seth Priebatsch.

This is LevelUp’s biggest deployment to date and will be a prime test for the system. Centerplate, the hospitality company that manages the KFC Yum! Center, also oversees dozens of other big venues all around the country. If all goes well, LevelUp could be deployed in many more big event locations. Centerplate is taking advantage of LevelUp’s free interchange fees, which means they don’t pay the traditional transaction fees on purchases through LevelUp. They instead will run paid user acquisition and loyalty campaigns through LevelUp. So a new user will be able to get a $2 credit toward their first purchase while existing users can get discounts for purchasing larger amounts of food and beverage.

LevelUp, mobile paymentsPriebatsch told me the arena deal is significant because it demonstrates the work LevelUp has done to build out its mobile payment system. The company last month announced it had integrated with three of the top point-of-sale systems: Micros, Positouch and Dinerware POS Systems, which cover 30 percent of all POS systems. LevelUp is also working to integrate with nine of the top 10 POS systems.

The significance of that is that it allows merchants to easily offer LevelUp as another payment type, alongside cash and credit cards. KFC Yum!, for example, was able to integrate LevelUp within one day, said Priebatsch. Merchants can also see their LevelUp transactions recorded with all of their other transactions and they can access LevelUp’s loyalty analytics data inside their POS system.

LevelUp, which is currently deployed with 4,000 merchants at more than 7,000 locations, is also looking to try out new services at the KFC Yum! Center. For instance, it could use its transaction data to sense when sales activity is low and then send users an offer through their app to get them to come back to the concession stand. Or it could direct people to certain stands that are less crowded at peak times.

Priebatsch said a mobile payment deployment inside of a big venue also opens up different use cases. Instead of users stopping by for a quick visit at a quick-serve restaurant, LevelUp can now contemplate how it can engage someone over a visit that lasts a few hours. The beauty of a mobile payment system is that it can help merchants understand what their customers are doing. And if they’re still on the premises, business owners have a chance to engage them more than once with an offer or a message.

That’s why I think it makes sense for big venues like stadiums and amusement parks to give mobile payments a shot. It’s not so much about making the actual payment experience easier. But they have a potential communication channel to their customers while they’re on site.