Cathy O'Sullivan
Editor-in-Chief APAC

AFL launches Just Walk Out technology to tackle queues at Marvel Stadium

May 16, 20236 mins
Artificial IntelligenceDigital TransformationEmerging Technology
Rob Pickering, AFL
Credit: AFL

The pain of long lines for food and drinks is about to be eased at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium with the introduction of Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, a first for the southern hemisphere.

Rob Pickering, general manager for technology at The Australian Football League (AFL), which owns and operates the stadium, says the initiative is set to go live in the next fortnight in time for the early rounds of the AFL Premiership Season.

 “It provides a frictionless shopping experience where a person walks up to the gates, taps their credit card, Apple Pay, Google Pay, walks in, retrieves the things they want, and just walks out. So that means there’s no queuing. There’s no lines. There’s no worries. You go from your seat to your seat as quickly as possible.”

 More than two million people attend events at the stadium each year, according to the AFL. While best known for Aussie rules games, Marvel Stadium has also hosted some of the biggest international sporting events such as UFC, FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and international rugby union tests. It has also staged concerts for some of the world’s biggest stars including U2, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.

 The technology will initially be available at two of the stadium’s 20-plus food and beverage stands. It forms part of Pickering’s vision for Marvel to be “the most technologically advanced stadium in the southern hemisphere.”

 While Amazon is doing the heavy lifting on the cameras and AI to enable Just Walk Out, the AFL’s technology team has been looking after the foundations.

 “We’re doing all the building work, all the fit-out, all the things that underpin that, and also the technology that sits around it. Our point-of-sale, our network, all of our infrastructure underpins this technology as well. Amazon is working on the cameras, on the AI, on the work that actually does the processing of transactions and we along with our partners Delaware North and Telstra look after everything outside of that.”

 The most taxing part of the project, according to Pickering, has been the physical building of the new concession stands, which have replaced two existing food and beverage outlets.

“The most challenging thing is the physical store builds, getting these things built to a specification that allows for that seamless transition of people through and out again requires quite a bit of pre-planning… The technology component has been actually really reasonably straightforward. We’ve got really strong foundations of network and infrastructure at Marvel Stadium so when we want to add these layers of guest experience it’s actually pretty straight forward which hasn’t always been the case,” he says.

The past two years building up the robustness of their platforms has enabled much of the work for this project, he adds. “This is one of the first use cases we’ll have that really leverages the full stack of investments we made around the underlying infrastructure of the stadium.”

Speeding up the customer journey

The technology is currently in use at sports venues across the US, including TD Garden, home of the Boston Celtics, and Climate Pledge Arena, home of NHL team the Seattle Kraken.

 As part of his research into the technology, Pickering went to visit some of the stadiums to see it in action in a live environment.

“I was in the US at the back end of last year and saw it in operation in Seattle at Climate Pledge Arena. It’s incredible technology. Simply walk up, tap your card, walk through, grab what you want and walk out. A lot of the friction when it comes to buying things anywhere is the line to pay, whether you’re at the supermarket or a cafe. So, by removing that lining-up-to-pay process we streamline the customer experience.”

Pickering says stadiums using the technology are seeing ‘seat-to-seat’ times cut in half, depending on how many people decide to use the concession stands at the same time and their proximity to them.

 “[Just Walk Out] removes the bit that is most difficult in those transactions which is fishing your credit card out, waiting in line for the cashier to swipe the items, and then pay for it at the end. By removing that process, significant optimisations in time spent away from the game are possible.”

While Marvel has been cashless for several years, Pickering is also mindful that there will be people who won’t want to use the Just Walk Out technology.

“There are well over 20 other concession stands that they can use. Over time our goal is to grow the number of concessions that we have this technology in but there will always be room for people who want to use other methods. We want guests to experience the concessions at Marvel in the way they want, not the way we force them to.”

Ultimately, Pickering, who featured in the 2022 CIO50, wants guest experience at the heart of what his team focuses on.

“My goal in my role as a technologist is not to be the best sports stadium in the world. It’s the best experience from a guest perspective in the world, whether that’s a hotel or restaurant, a sports stadium, an airline…. I want to have the best guest experience underpinned by technology. Not just the best stadium experience.”

 The team will be monitoring the use of the technology by patrons at the stadium over the months ahead to see how often it’s used but they have no set metrics or KPIs.

 “The real metric will be if people vote with their feet and if we see people going in there more often as they can see they are queuing up for less time and we get positive feedback on social media or otherwise then I expect we’ll look to roll it out further.” 

Pickering adds that if patrons don’t like it, they’ll soon find out.

“The AFL as a business gets feedback all the time and if we are not meeting expectations, we’ll find out very quickly. But I’m also very confident. This technology is rolled out in a number of other stadiums. It operates exceptionally… We’re very confident about its capability and how much fans at Marvel will love this technology.”

Cathy O'Sullivan
Editor-in-Chief APAC

Cathy O’Sullivan is Editor-in-Chief APAC for CIO and CSO. Based in Auckland, Cathy has worked in digital, print and broadcast media for almost two decades in newsrooms in New Zealand and Europe. She has a keen interest in emerging and disruptive technologies.

More from this author