In 2019, many nations have fully embraced digital payments. Yet Japan, one of the world’s top innovators in developing the technologies that underpin digital payments, has been reluctant to say goodbye to physical cash. However, Rakuten’s recently announced plan to convert the stadiums of its professional sports teams to completely cashless spaces may suggest Japan is finally ready to make digital payments the default.

Cashless stadiums to debut at dual home-openers

In what may be one of the world’s first implementations for a major professional league sports team, Rakuten’s cashless stadium vision debuted at NOEVIR Stadium Kobe as the backdrop to the star-studded Vissel Kobe soccer squad in their March 2 home opener against Sagan Tosu. One month later, on April 2, fans of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles baseball team will see Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi similarly transformed to cashless. Both stadiums will offer visitors a bevy of cashless ways to pay, including the Rakuten Pay smartphone payment app, Rakuten Edy e-money, Rakuten Point Card, Rakuten Card and other credit cards, Rakuten Bank Debit Card and other branded debit cards. Cash will only be used in special machines to charge Edy e-money cards.

Continually redefining the fan experience

Rakuten has been redefining “a day at the ball park” for years. A simple glance at a photo of Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi is enough to show that Rakuten’s approach is a bit different. A giant Ferris wheel sitting just beyond the left field wall is the centerpiece of Smile Glico Park, an entertainment facility adjacent to the stadium that includes a terrace cafe, attractions for children and a grass seating area for up to 7,000 spectators. Other innovations at the stadium include a natural turf playing field (a rarity in Japan) and interactive games developed by Rakuten Institute of Technology that utilize the massive full-screen LED video scoreboards. A recent trial of a “smart stadium” concept used drones and robots to demonstrate the extensive applications of 5G network technologies and offer a glimpse of what the future might look like.

Paying a roving refreshment vendor with the Rakuten Pay smartphone app.

Paying a roving refreshment vendor with the Rakuten Pay smartphone app.

Cashless payments offer a number of benefits to consumers. In addition to the enhanced security of not carrying cash, cashless payments provide faster checkouts and can easily be tied in to the Rakuten Super Points loyalty program and the Rakuten ecosystem. For Rakuten sports fans, many of whom are already Rakuten members and enjoying multiple services within the ecosystem, going cashless is a natural and convenient addition to the stadium experience.

Rakuten Edy charging terminals are installed in various locations around Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.

Rakuten Edy charging terminals have been installed in various locations around Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.

Stadiums as the showcase for innovation

From the iconic arches of the Colosseum in Rome to the stunning retractable roof of the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, host of this year’s NFL Super Bowl, stadiums around the world have long been focal points for design and technological innovation.

As Rakuten leads the way with its cashless vision based on a robust ecosystem of commerce and fintech services, cashless stadiums might also be on the verge of breaking through in other geographies. Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays recently announced a cashless initiative at their home stadium Tropicana Field and companies like Starbucks and Apple have already proven that many Americans are comfortable paying without cash.