Eating at the ballpark isn't getting any cheaper, but it is getting easier.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a pioneer in accepting credit cards for concessions, is expanding the system that eventually will have 70 percent of the concession stands equipped for charge cards.
MasterCard and VISA have been accepted at the stadium's novelty stands since Opening Day. In recent weeks, customers at the Pastimes cafeteria and club-level seating areas have been able to use them.
Selected registers on the upper and lower deck are being outfitted to accept credit cards. Eventually, the busiest 70 percent of the stadium's 33 stands will accept them.
ARA Services, concessionaire at the park, installed and paid for the system. A satellite dish on the roof of the warehouse will receive reports each night of bad credit card numbers. When a customer presents a card, it will be run through an electric verification box next to the cash register to be checked against the list of cards reported stolen or canceled, said Jay Boyle, ARA manager at the park.
Planners hope the system overcomes the chief problem with credit cards at ballparks: slowness. Waiting for traditional credit authorizations, which require a telephone call, could tie up lines, frustrating fans. At Oriole Park, cards still will be called in for purchases over $25, a slower process, Boyle said.
Workers have undergone training to speed the system, which should be completely installed during the next two months, Boyle said.
Novelty stands will continue to limit credit card sales to 'u purchases of $25 or more. But food and beverage sales will be free of any limit. Receipts will be available, but sales can also be conducted simply by running the card through the box without any signature, Boyle said.
"If we get attacked with $3 purchases, we may have to go with a minimum, but we're going to try to do it without one," Boyle said.
Chris Bigelow, with Bigelow Companies, a food service consulting firm in Kansas City, Mo., said: "Baltimore is probably the first one to go full swing into this, and I predict it will be a trend."
As the cost of stadium food has risen, so has the need for credit cards, he said. And advances in technology have made card verification faster and easier, he said.