The idea to use a phone to order food and have it delivered to your seat at a sporting event came not at a football or basketball game, but during a mechanical engineering lecture on pulp and papermaking.
Collin Wallace, then a student at Georgia Tech, was hungry as his class began and asked his friend, who was running late, whether he could pick up a Firehouse sub for him. Unfortunately, his friend didn't want to be even more late, so Wallace stayed hungry but thought to himself how convenient it would be to order food to his seat.
Now that idea is FanGo, which is making it easier for Wildcats fans to get their nosh on at basketball games.
Wallace ventured to Kentucky in 2007 for a job at Lexmark International after graduating with his degree in mechanical engineering. Within a year, he was laid off as part of a restructuring and turned his full-time attention to FanGo.
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By 2008, the company had finished its development of the software, which allows game attendees to select concessions or merchandise to buy on their phones, enter their seat numbers and then have the goods delivered to their seats.
"They are making it much easier for me to sit down and enjoy a game of UK basketball rather than have to wait in line," said University of Kentucky season ticket holder Phil Bernard. "The service charge is really reasonable, and they do it with a smile.
"I think we really are quite lucky."
The company approached Rupp Arena in 2008 and received approval to pilot its software in the student section of the arena.
"From a facility standpoint, there's a lot of money being lost because customers don't want to stand in the line" for concessions, said Wallace, founder and vice president of business development.
After six games, they were called in by Rupp management with a problem: The season ticket holders nearby wanted to know why they couldn't get food delivered to their seats, Wallace recalled.
During the next two games, FanGo expanded to cover half of Rupp and then the entire arena. The software worked initially just on BlackBerry smart phones, but it has since expanded to the iPhone and phones using the Microsoft Windows operating systems. Next up is compatibility with Google's Android operating system, Wallace said.
Customers can choose to pick up their food and merchandise, too, joining an express line at the concession stand instead of the long lines that await the Wildcats faithful. That's the only option for those in Rupp's upper-arena seats, where the bleachers are so long that it makes delivering food to the folks in the middle difficult, Wallace said.
Orders started slowly but have started to pick up, with FanGo doing 100 to 150 per game, Wallace said.
The convenience makes people willing to buy more than they might otherwise have the ability to carry, Wallace said. He noted the average Rupp Arena order in 2008 was $8.10, and FanGo's average order was $12.30.
Brian McMillin, concession manager for Lexington Center, which oversees Rupp Arena, said the partnership with FanGo helped alleviate an ongoing problem with fewer sales points for food. He said the industry's goal is to have one point-of-sale for every 200 people in attendance. And while Rupp added 24 during its renovation a few years back, "we're still woefully short of that magic number."
"This gives us the ability to create a kind of mobile point-of-sale," he said of FanGo.
FanGo makes its money by charging a 99-cent service fee per transaction, as well as with advertising sponsorships from food and beverage companies and others.
And what started out at Rupp Arena is now in expansion mode. The company is working with Madison Square Garden and M&T Bank Stadium, where the NFL's Baltimore Ravens play, Wallace said.
The company is interested in expanding to UK's Commonwealth Stadium, where the football team plays, but discussions have stalled, he said.
Venues pay an up-front fee, and then the companies negotiate a proportion of the service fee, which can vary by arena.
Locally, FanGo oversees those who deliver the food — members of the Tates Creek High School lacrosse team, Wallace said. At other facilities, it's up to the arena staff.
FanGo — with five full-timers and seven part-timers — has also struck a deal with Micros Systems, a company that develops point-of-sale systems for arenas. Through the partnership, FanGo will be able to expand to any venue using Micros products by just having the facility use a CD to interface the software with its systems.
Wallace said the company is also working with Moe's Southwest Grill and McDonald's to establish a way the software could help customers order their meals before entering and just pick items up in an express line.
That would have made it easier on his friend years ago to deliver that food during engineering class, one that Wallace said was supposed to be an "easy A."
"But I wound up spending the rest of the semester working on FanGo," he said, "and got a B."