DINING DELIVERED

Houston startup making stadium food a whole new ballgame

A new app, sEATz, is the UberEats of stadium food. You order right from your phone in your seat. Photo by Getty Images.

This article originally appeared on InnovationMap.

Marshall Law's wife, Melissa, surprised him and his two sons with tickets to see the Astros play at home in the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but a rush to get to the game and a packed stadium lead to him waiting in a long concessions line in the second inning.

Law watched on a TV screen next to the food counter as the fourth pitch from Yu Darvish to Yuli Gurriel hit two rows past the Laws' seats, bouncing back toward where they were supposed to be sitting. Law couldn't shake the feeling of missing out on the homer. Why couldn't someone have brought them the food, he thought. He'd have paid $50 — maybe more — to not miss that moment.

"Everything gets delivered these days. Any kind of food to your groceries, all right to you. Why isn't someone doing this?" Law says he was thought as he walked out of the game.

From the parking lot, he called his friend, Aaron Knape, and an idea was born.

"I never want a dad to miss a moment as I did ever again," Law said.

Play in motion
Law and Knape set out on finding, designing, and implementing an app and process, now known as sEATz, that would keep fans from ever having to miss a moment of a game again.

Knape got his master's degree from Rice University and stayed in touch with his fellow alumni over the years. It was actually at Rice where Knape realized Houston might just be the perfect place for something like sEATz to get off the ground. Houston, he says, is in the midst of an entrepreneur revolution.

At the forefront of that revolution is Lawson Gow, founder, and CEO of The Cannon, a startup and tech hub for companies to grow and get support. Gow — son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company Gow Media — says the Cannon houses almost 85 companies in a 20,000 square foot space where they attempt to meet all their companies needs. Cannon Ventures, one of those support systems, is an investment network which focuses on assisting startups.

"We ran into to Lawson at an event, and he loved the idea," Knape said.

Sports technology is a focus of one of The Cannon, and Gow says he feels like sEATz is "off to the races" as a startup, with hosting early events at Rice football and the Sugar Land Skeeters games.

Getting on base
Having met Tanner Gardner of Rice's athletics department, Knape approached him with the idea. When Gardner saw the opportunity to add concession stand deliveries to the Owls fan's experience with sEATz, he took it, though he said he was "cautiously optimistic."

"I told them I thought they had a solution to a problem that exists and the challenge for you is convincing the concessionaires that this is something worth their while."

He mentioned to sEATz he believed stadium concessions wasn't a type of business to easily to take innovation and change their style especially if they believed their model worked. Law said there were reservations from concessions at first but the vendors eventually saw the benefit. sEATz orders regularly exceeded the typical total of purchase by a customer.

Rice Stadium is the first of what Knape and Law hope will be many venues to offer sEATz compatibility. The two sEATz leaders aren't reinventing the wheel, but their wheel is finally ready for the road. For years, stadiums lagged behind the digital demands of fans. Many lacked the capability for in-venue phone usage just a couple of years ago. Most venues now support and even encourage the use of apps and phones to improve the fan experience.

"I think it's worked very well," Gardner added. "Often the best sign a new product or a new service is working at our events is the lack of complaints about it. People are always quick to provide you with constructive criticism on things that are not going well."

But Gardner hasn't heard much other than praise so far.

"I didn't hear one negative thing about sEATz during the season and I also heard positive things."

Gametime decisions
The positive feedback comes in part from the user-friendly interface of the app. From your seat, you open the app and select the venue you are in and then type in your section, row, and seat number. The next screen is the stadium's finest fare at your fingertips. While perusing the stadium's offerings — with pictures — you make your selections and head to your cart. There you check out with whatever credit or debit card you've added to your profile. Then, sit back and enjoy the game.

On the sEATz's end of things, their work has just started. One team member assigns the order to a runner. The runner can see the entire order on their phone through a web portal. They head to each vendor who has a particular item, sometimes involving stops at multiple locations. The runners have their own line. The vendors, depending on preference, either keep track of what sEATz picks up and settles at the end of the day or checks them out right there with a sEATz credit card. After all the items in the order are picked up the sEATz runner presses "picked up" in their web portal. Then they head off to the patron's seat to deliver the order. Then, after delivery, the runner presses "delivered" on their end and is ready to be assigned another order.

The sEATz runners currently carry their own trays which are repurposed drink crates. Law says that runners will eventually carry specially designed and branded sEATz trays. Runners have the option to call or text the person who has ordered through the sEATz app to clarify their location or if they aren't in their seat. Runners are assigned to different regions of the stadium, so they aren't running all around.

There's an educational component to the delivery process too.

"We get to teach the runners about the game while doing this too," Law said.

He says that when they are in Constellation Field for Sugar Land Skeeters games, runners try not to deliver in the middle of an at-bat or while the ball is in play. Law wants other fans to notice runners and be jealous by their speedy delivery — not angry for interrupting.

The sEATz runners are currently all Westbury High School football players. Law reached out to a friend to see if his athletes would be interested in making a few extra dollars on the weekends.

"You get into the game and you get to make a few bucks doing it, these kids have been great for us," Law said.

He mentioned initially there was concern over who would be the workforce for sEATz, but now both sides of the equation are happy. Users can tip the runner like most delivery services, and some runners have made over $100 in tips in one day. Eventually, sEATz wants to institute a runner grading system to assist in rewarding runners who consistently perform well.

The game plan
The immediate future is making sure all parties associated with sEATz are successful, according to Knape. He said they have to service the fan but also make sure the concession stand is successful as well. They never want to hinder the operating procedure of a vendor. They also want to continue to tweak the app's design to make it even easier to use for fans. Right now food and non-alcoholic beverages are available on the app. In the future, sEATz plans to deliver alcohol and even apparel from the team stores.

Then, of course, there is the process of scaling up for larger events...

Continue reading on InnovationMap.

NERDS AROUND TOWN

Friday plans, Deer Park and WWE HOF

ART BY JESUS RODRIGUEZ

Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio, Sports and Wrestling. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio show at www.nerdthugradio.com!

Hey Nerds!

Well we made it, it's Friday and to quote renowned American philosopher Homer J Simpson, "Woo Hoo!"

GOOD DEED OF THE DAY

Right now according to the Houston Food Bank, one in five children in Southeast Texas doesn't have enough to eat. Not in Africa, not one of those commercials with a person who used to be famous, shows you some pictures of people with flies flying around living in little mud huts but here in Texas. So look, it's payday, it's Friday, lets put some food on people's plates. For every dollar you donate to the Houston Food Bank it helps provide three meals, you can even make your donation a regular monthly event. Let's get those kids fed, then we can get drunk and get happy!

WHO ME?

So on Fridays I'll try and give you a peek into my life and let you know what I got planned this weekend. Today I plan on getting the weekend "chores" done, grocery shopping and whatnot, then I want to catch the rest of the first round of the Overwatch playoffs somewhere, especially after the #2 New York Excelsior were stomped out of the first round in a crazy upset (shout out to #7 Seoul Dynasty)! Saturday, friends of the show The Adventure Begins Comics, Games and More in Conroe are having Hellboy day, so I'll be swinging by and seeing what all of that's about and Sunday is pleasantly unplanned as of right now, I might hit up a certain Tacopalooza.

THIS WEEKEND IN STREAMING

Now that I've ruined you plans for kicking back and watching The Dirt, if you are struggling to find something to watch this weekend, I have a fun recommendation. If the kids are around and you're looking for a fun thing for everybody to watch, Oscar winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse is out for purchase and I really can't recommend this movie enough. Great soundtrack, crazy visual style, it's the kind of movie you should want your kids to watch because it makes them think a little and still has a great fun ride. If no one's around, go see Us. It's going to be one of those things people are talking about for weeks, just like Peele's last movie Get Out, Jordan Peele is rapidly proving he's one of these guys who when he makes it, we go see it. I'm not mad about that.

WHILE YOU'RE OUT

So this weekend as you're running around, if you're looking for something fun to do that you might not have done here lately, hop into your local comic shop. Comic books actually come out every Wednesday, but only the die-hard guys get out there then, most people wait for the weekend. Swing in and take a look around there's lots of cool things going on, Batman next week is releasing his #1,000 issue most stores are doing something to celebrate that. Go in and ask but there's all kinds of comic books for all kinds of people these days and I think there's something for everyone and that includes you. Justice League is in the middle of a great story, The Avengers mini-series features Conan the Barbarian helping out some Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy are in the middle of a crazy storyline involving the Death of Thanos, and there are tons of great independent books too. Companies like Image, Valiant and Aftershock are putting out comic books that are different and worth looking at if you're curious. There are science fiction, fantasy, super heroes, dramas all kinds of madness, it's well worth your time and still a great way to enjoy art.

A WEEK UNDER A SMOKE CLOUD

I don't live in Deer Park, so let me first start off by saying that I feel for those guys and hate that this has happened to them. They basically spent an entire week without knowing what's going on, what will go on, are they in danger? Are they being exposed to harmful chemicals? Was it even safe for them to stay there at all? They did it by trusting the system and the city and the plan in place, but it's starting to sound like overall there were numerous breakdowns in this system. I've heard people express a ton of disappointment in the young, inexperienced county judge. That's probably fair, but she didn't start the fire, she didn't run a company that still a week later can't tell anyone how many gallons of chemical are still onsite. ITC has had very few answers and it doesn't seem like they're going to expedite the answer-getting process anytime soon. The reality is from a corporate standpoint it's in their best interests to say as little as possible, a workplace incident will determine a lot of who bears responsibility for all of this. If it was poorly handled by the company and they knowingly failed in some way that led to this incident then they're at fault. For the sake of their bottom line, they want to solve this as quickly and as quietly as possible without admitting any fault and having to payout as little as possible. I hope local government and the regulating bodies get involved and the people who really were hurt by this, the people of Deer Park, I hope whatever they need to have done, gets done.

EVEN THOUGH NOBODY ASKED ME

I think it's awesome that Harlem Heat are going into the WWE Hall of Fame, but I'm not thrilled overall by this class. I mean it's exciting to have DX get together again, but it's the large version including The New Age Outlaws and X-Pac and not the Shawn Micheals and Triple H version that made the Monday Night Wars so interesting. Honky Tonk Man is a questionable choice also, while he was the longtime holder of the record for longest intercontinental title run, he was overshadowed by the guy he dropped it to, The Ultimate Warrior. It's just not a great class and overall that's my complaint not anything to slight Stevie Ray and Booker T just an observation about the overall class. All of that being said, sincere congrats to everyone!

I'm going to jump out and wish you guys a great weekend and remind everyone to be kind to each other and try a little harder to have a great day! I'm coming back Monday and we'll be bringing more good times your way. Feel free to check out my digital short story The Wilson House, or buy a shirt from Side Hustle Ts where every shirt is now under $20, or listen to Nerd Thug Radio. Thoughts, complaints, events and comments can be sent to corydlg@gmail.com.

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