Super Bowl 2021 is first with no cash, no paper tickets

Super Bowl 55 on Sunday in Tampa will be the first Super Bowl hosted at the home stadium of one of the teams in the game (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). It will also be the first Super Bowl starring the two most-recent Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady).

So it’s fitting that this Super Bowl will also bring two more firsts in the fan experience realm: Super Bowl 55 will be fully mobile-ticketed for the 22,000 fans in attendance, and fully cashless inside the stadium for all concessions. All attendees will need their smartphones for entry and for concession payments.

It’s not merely the first paperless Super Bowl, but the first paperless NFL game.

What might sound like a change caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has actually been in the works for years. When Visa (V) re-upped its sponsorship as the “official payment services partner” of the NFL in 2019, its stated goal was for a cashless Super Bowl by 2025. But the pandemic hastened the timeline.

The use of cashless payments and mobile ticketing has grown steadily at the last few Super Bowls, and the pandemic “accelerated the shift to digitizing these operations,” according to a spokesperson for Extreme Networks (EXTR), the NFL’s official wi-fi services provider.

No cash whatsoever will be accepted at vendors inside Raymond James Stadium, and Visa will have kiosks outside the stadium to convert cash into gift cards for use at concession and souvenir stands.

And for anyone concerned that the mobile ticketing era means no more physical ticket as souvenir, in March the NFL will mail out each hard-copy ticket to the person who made the initial purchase.

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 30: National Football League fans convene in downtown Tampa ahead of Super Bowl LV during the COVID-19 pandemic on January 30, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Kansas City Chiefs in Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl LV on February 7. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

The pandemic effect on pro sports in 2020 accelerated a number of preexisting business trends. Live sports TV ratings dipped dramatically in summer and fall, potentially heralding a permanent shift in viewing behaviors. Mobile sports betting took off, as companies like DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Penn catered to young bettors by launching apps in states that have legalized.

The 22,000 fans the NFL is allowing into the game in Tampa comes to just one-third of the stadium’s normal 65,000-seat capacity, and includes 7,500 vaccinated frontline health-care workers going to the game for free.

The scarcity of tickets, along with what is seen as a dream matchup, led ticket prices on resale sites to soar on Jan. 25, the day after the final matchup was set, to the second-highest levels seen since 2010. Prices have dipped since then.

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and specializes in sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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