Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

A cashless Super Bowl: Why the NFL and Visa want stadiums to pivot to digital payments

The first-COVID era Super Bowl will be completely cash-free.

The NFL and Visa have designed a cashless Super Bowl

As live sports have groped for handholds during the pandemic, Visa and the NFL have been busily collaborating on no contact fan experiences in preparation for the eventual return of spectators. Recently, Visa and the NFL announced they are -- in their own words -- putting "a stake in the ground for the future of live events by announcing completely cash-free for all Super Bowls moving forward," according to a spokesperson. These efforts will take effect starting in Tampa this year.

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"Visa is one of our key partners in helping us imagine how our fans will experience the NFL in years to come," says Renie Anderson, Executive Vice President of Partnerships & Chief Revenue Officer for the NFL. "We're excited to announce that for our biggest event the future is here and we thank Visa for the innovative approach to enable a more secure way to pay at Super Bowl LV. This move will not only make the game more enjoyable and efficient for our fans, but most importantly, safer for all involved."

COVID has upended the sports ecosystem and challenged commissioners, owners, and stakeholders to find new paths forward for a business relies heavily on ticket sales. This February marks the first-COVID era Super Bowl and Visa hopes it will set the stage for 100% digital acceptance at every touchpoint, including parking, concessions, retail, mobile ordering, and more. In other words, even after the pandemic, cash at stadiums may be a thing of the past.

For fans carrying cash at the Lowes-presented Super Bowl Experience, ATMs will be available to exchange cash for Visa prepaid cards up to $500, available with no fees. The cards will also work outside the stadium.

The shift to digital payments is clearly here to stay, which is a bright spot for credit card companies coming off the pandemic. A recent Visa study found that 78% of consumers have changed how they pay in order to reduce contact.  Visa is clearly paying attention. With third-party collaborators, Visa recently launched Touchless Payments: A Key to the Return of Live Events, a guide to help venues around the globe prepare for reopening by prioritizing digital-first operations to accommodate the growing expectation for touchless commerce experiences. The guide provides best practices on how venues can adopt payment innovations and implement new processes. 

"While working on re-opening plans, one area Visa urges venue operators to no longer discount is their digital commerce infrastructure. Improving efficiencies, maximizing return and ultimately providing a more touchless environment for fans are just a few benefits of digital payments Visa has uncovered and best of all, digital payment execution does not have to be a daunting task," says Mary Ann Reilly, Senior Vice President, Head of North America Marketing, Visa.. "Our new step by step guide is designed to provide even the digital novice the right tools to start their digital journey and prepare their venues to be ready to welcome fans back. "

Visa's guide focuses on four primary benefits to cashless exchange, which seem credible, even if clearly self-serving. The company maintains digital transactions are safe and secure, drive revenues (fans spend 25% more per transaction at venues when they don't deal with cash, according to Visa), offer increased efficiency (an estimated $150,000 to $350,000 savings just from cash fraud activities), and promote loyalty while offering data insights for venues.

So if you're used to paying for your huge pretzel or Dodger Dog with crumpled bills, you might be in for yet another surprise when you return to the stadium sometime in (hopefully) 2021. Please insert the chip.