We’re in an age when nearly everyone takes plastic for just about everything, yet when the Chiefs and Royals closed out their 2011 seasons, fans still needed cash to pay for parking.
Surely that’s about to change as the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority replaces 40-year-old parking toll booths with new ones equipped with conduit for wiring that could easily could allow credit cards to be read.
Well, think again.
While the $600,000 project to replace the old cinder block booths with metal ones will be done in time for the Royals home opener next month, the question of whether to install 21st Century technology remains uncertain.
“We’ve talked about it,” said Bob Rice, Royals’ vice president of stadium operations.
But that’s all they’ve done so far. Adding credit card readers at the parking gates is not exactly a high priority at 1 Royal Way right now, Rice said. The team is about to spend up to $8 million to improve cellphone reception inside the stadium so people at the game can share pictures, texts and videos with their pals. That should happen by the All Star game.
As for parking, fans had better have $10 cash in their wallets or they’ll be turned back at the gate.
Across the parking lot at 1 Arrowhead Drive, it’s a somewhat different story. They’re giving serious consideration to the idea of providing Chiefs fans with more convenience by the time tailgaters arrive for that first pre-season game.
But no promises.
“We have not decided if we’re going to go with the magnetic card takers,” Chiefs spokesman Ted Crews said.
Still, an industry official outside the organization told The Star that the team is, indeed, mulling bids from contractors who supply hand-held devices that could accept credit cards or validate pre-paid parking passes.
That’s no assurance the team will drop the cash-only policy. For now, football fans without a parking hangtag can expect to shell out $27 in green money to park at Arrowhead later this year.
The status quo might seem a bit schizophrenic to anyone who’s been to the sports complex since the $625 million renovation of the twin stadiums. Inside both Arrowhead and The K, a swipe of a debit or credit card will buy you ball caps, brats, beer, curly fries and virtually everything else for sale.
Only the stand-alone carts and beer men working the stands deal strictly in cash.
You can use plastic to buy tickets on game day. And to buy tickets online, there’s little choice.
But at the parking toll booths, it’s as if nothing has changed since the sports complex opened in 1972. Game-day parking remains a cash-only transaction, which LA-based parking industry analyst John Van Horn finds inexplicable.
“One would think that if they would go to the trouble and expense of replacing the parking collection booths, they would look at upgrading the collection system,” said Van Horn, editor and publisher of the trade publication Parking Today.
But, he said, Kansas City’s teams are not out of step with their major league peers.
“The industry norm is sort of what they do,” VanHorn said. “They don’t accept credit cards. They insist on cash.”
Recognizing that many of us no longer carry cash and rely on debit and credit cards for purchases as small as a quart of milk, major league sports franchises like the Royals, Atlanta Braves and many others across the nation have taken to spelling out the cash-only parking policies on their websites.
A few teams do crow, however, about the convenience of paying for parking with plastic at the park, or ahead of time online.
“It speeds things up and people appreciate the convenience of not having to handle cash,” said Tom Wigfall, operations manager at Citi Field, the Mets ballpark in Queens.
Another benefit cited for the teams is a better accounting of the team’s take at the parking gate.
Cash transactions, VanHorn says, “also leave thousands of dollars open for manipulation,” as in when parking toll booth operators forget to hand over all the money given to them.
Two other New York-area teams — football’s Jets and Giants — take cards for parking at the stadium they share in East Rutherford, N.J., as do baseball’s Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Same goes for some of the independent parking lots that handle game-day traffic, as Cardinals and Rams fans in St. Louis can attest.
All use battery-powered, hand-held devices similar to the ones used to scan the bar codes on tickets at the gates of most big-time sporting events.
“The Chiefs are looking at it,” said Jeff Becker, vice president of Amano McGann, which first packaged that software with hardware from Motorola seven or eight years ago. His company and a couple of others are waiting to hear whether the front office will select one of them to outfit Arrowhead’s parking operation with the system, Becker said.
The Chiefs declined to say whether they will or will not pull the trigger in time for the 2012 season.
If they do, it won’t be cheap. On average, the devices can run about $8,000 apiece, and that really adds up when one considers that Truman Sports complex has 30 parking toll booths.
That number won’t change when the original ones are replaced.
Well, most of them are original anyway. Over the years, the sports authority has had to rebuild several after they were plowed into by careless motorists.
Chiefs fans, primarily, said executive director Jim Rowland.
“And typically on the way out.”
On that, he had no further comment.
“You can draw your own conclusions,” he said.