Innovation of Payments at the Rugby World Cup

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Woman paying with NFC technology on mobile phone

Last weekend, both semi-finals were held at Twickenham, one of the largest rugby union venues in the world, with the final also being staged there this weekend. The action has been impressive as the best players in the world bid to walk off with the biggest prize in their sport but, off the pitch, people have been working equally hard to make sure fans enjoy themselves from the minute they enter the stadium until it’s time to leave.

In anticipation of the Rugby World Cup, the RFU, which owns the stadium, has been investing heavily in improving the technology to make sure fans feel part of the live event – to give them a great multi-channel experience. To help achieve this, it has introduced contactless and mobile payments across all of Twickenham’s different retail outlets.
Sophie Goldschmidt, chief commercial officer at the RFU, said: “We have tried to upgrade the technology across the stadium, with the primary focus being improving the fan experience. We feel technology can enable us to do that.
“We have introduced quite a lot of changes over the last 18 months as we wanted to get ready for the Rugby World Cup. We have invested £76million in upgrading the stadium in various ways, and the technology aspects have been a really important part of that.”

Figures show contactless and mobile payments are making a difference. Before their introduction about 8 per cent of takings at the bars were coming through card transactions – now pre-Rugby World Cup sales using these systems are up more than 33 percent. Goldschmidt anticipates that by the end of the Rugby World Cup the number of sales using contactless and mobile payments will be close to 50 percent.
Sales through iPads have been especially high in the corporate hospitality areas. The RFU uses iPads to show people its products which they can directly buy through the device. Since their introduction in 2014, sales through iPads have risen by 34 per cent.

Contactless and mobile payments also have another advantage and are helping the Goldschmidt explains: “Before contactless payments were introduced there were significant match day variances when reporting the numbers. With cash takings, there is human error – in the craziness of match day the accuracy was not the same. Incredibly, now where we have been using contactless we have only had £130 variance across millions of pounds, so that has been significant.

“It has definitely made us more efficient. While this has not been reported as an issue, having to bring less cash means there will be less theft. Over time we will be seeing a reduction in the amount of staffing, especially around managing the cash in the tills. That will give us savings over time.”

For the RFU, improving the fan experience through technology is a continual process – it is looking at introducing further payment innovations and is presently piloting Apple Pay.The RFU is also looking to increase the spend limit on Apple Pay. As the iPhone 6 has fingerprint security, retailers have the option of being able to waive the normal £30 contactless limit. When fans come to Twickenham, Goldschmidt explains they often come early and stay afterwards. People spend a lot of money throughout the day and do not want to be restricted by a £30 contactless limit.

She also expects the use of wearable payment technology will increase. “Wearable technology will be a huge thing going forward,” says Goldschmidt. “There is more to be done in that area.” “It is making sure they have a smooth transition from one area to another, linking all of the different technologies we have in the stadium. It is really that full 360-degree immersive experience.”

Feedback the RFU has received since introducing these new technologies has been positive, and there has been an increase in customer engagement and use of digital and social channels since their implementation. “We are really proud of that, but this is only the beginning and it is changing by the month. We will continue to do whatever we can to improve the fan experience. That is the most important thing for us.”