America is quickly becoming a more cashless society, and sports venues are leading the charge. As of 2022, nearly all Major League Baseball ballparks had gone cashless, along with most NFL stadiums and NBA/NHL arenas like the United Center in Chicago. Some venues now offer “reverse ATMs” where you can put cash onto a prepaid card that can be used within the stadium, while others are offering mobile orders for concessions — turning the gameday experience into something more like Grubhub.
There are pros and cons to the greater evolution of cashlessness. If cashless stadiums can help shorten the lines at concession stands and make the fan experience more seamless, digital, and easy to manage, then it could be a good thing. But there are also some potential downsides and complications. If the U.S. economy goes the way of sports stadiums and events venues, and becomes completely cashless, there could be big implications for your personal finances.
Let’s look at a few big trends with the growth of cashless stadiums, and how they affect your (digital) wallet.
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1. Cash is no longer king?
Pew Research found that as of 2022, 41% of Americans said that they never use cash for purchases in a typical week. This share of cashless Americans has grown significantly since 2015, when only 24% of Americans went without cash. Cash is likely to continue to decline as a form of payment, as more Americans use debit cards, credit cards, digital wallets, or P2P payment apps to pay bills and send money.
However, some people prefer using cash and will likely find it harder to navigate everyday life in a more cashless world. If you like the feeling of controlling your money (by literally holding it in your hand), knowing how much you spend, or using cash stuffing/envelope method to save money, this could be bad news for your savings goals.
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2. Watch your spending
Stadiums are reporting higher sales per order on concessions because of cashless technology. A study from the United Kingdom found that cashless payments led to a 15%-30% increase in spending by fans. That’s good news for stadiums and sports teams, but what if cashless venues cause people to overspend?
In the “old days” of cash, you could go to the game with a few bills of cash in hand, and know that you weren’t going to spend any more than that amount. But In a cashless world, it’s important to adopt new mindsets to help control your spending. Sometimes when companies make it a little too convenient for you to spend money, this can lead to bad results for your personal finances.
3. More mobile banking and digital wallets
A big reason for the rise of cashless stadiums was the pandemic. When sports leagues were trying to re-open in 2021, they wanted to reduce the points of contact between crowds of fans and concession stand staff. Every line of people waiting for beer and hot dogs and every moment spent fumbling for cash became an occasion for possible COVID-19 spread.
One benefit that came out of these experiments with cashless stadiums is that the concession lines really are shorter as a result. Cashless payment options can reduce transaction time by 50%. As a sports fan or concertgoer, that means less time waiting in line for food and drinks, and more time in your seat enjoying the event.
Beyond stadiums, the entire future of payments, banking, and personal finance is likely going to be more contactless, mobile first, and digital. If you love digital banking apps and have a good comfort level with them, then that’s good news. But some people might struggle to adapt, and might miss the days of cash. Even though cash is slower, messier, and riskier in some ways, it also offers convenience and privacy.
4. Bigger digital divide for the unbanked
Some people don’t have a bank account, a debit card, or a credit card. What does the cashless future mean for the unbanked? Will this trend toward cashless payments become a bigger driver of the “digital divide” between people who can easily afford and access online services and mobile apps, and those who cannot?
What if it becomes harder for people to spend their cash, if more venues don’t accept it? Colorado State requires businesses to offer cash-to-prepaid card kiosks, so people can bring their cash to the stadium. The Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies’ stadiums both offer this feature. Even if cashless payments are the future, we’re likely to see more state and local laws that could require public venues to offer cash as an option.
Bottom line: The future of digital payments is here. Contactless payments (via card, app, or digital wallet) have become so popular and prevalent, that many public venues are no longer accepting cash. This is another vivid example of how digital wallets and mobile payment technology can affect your personal finances. If you’re a longtime envelope stuffer who prefers to pay with cash, you might need to find new strategies for how to budget and save.
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