Volta Charging is pioneering free electric vehicle (EV) charging in the U.S. Their business model is to sell video advertising atop charging stations to brands that want to reach high value audiences in high foot-traffic locations. Sports venues, not surprisingly, figure prominently in the San Francisco-based startup’s growth strategy. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Ted Fagenson, Volta Charging’s senior vice president of business development, to gain a deeper understanding of the company’s plans for the sports sector.
For Ted Fagenson, the beauty of Volta Charging’s business model is found in its simplicity.
“We make charging simple for EV drivers and host venues,” said the telecom and EV business veteran who now serves as the startup’s VP of business development. “Drivers don’t need to carry a card with an RFID chip. They just pull up, park, plug in and go. It’s convenient and it’s free, for both drivers and hosts! That’s all there is to it.”
Ted Fagenson, Volta Charging’s VP of business development (Photo credit: Volta Charging)
Getting to this level of simplicity required Volta to do something that’s far from, well, simple: Disrupt the still-emerging public EV charging market.
“Right now, public EV charging companies mainly operate under one of two business models, neither of which are sustainable,” shared Fagenson. “One is to sell the charging stations to parking lot owners, shopping mall managers, retail establishments, sports venues, etc. The drivers then pay the host venues. But do those folks really want to own charging stations? No! Model two is to install the charging stations for free, charge the driver for the electricity and then split the revenue with the host venue. That’s too complicated for all concerned and in the long run, unprofitable.”
It’s not only too complicated; it’s also too costly for the driver.
According to Fagenson, drivers pay between 20-39¢ per kilowatt hour (kWh) at non-Volta public charging venues. That’s about 4 to 5 times as much as the 6-10¢/kWh it costs EV drivers to charge at home overnight.
The result is not surprising: Most EV drivers avoid using public charging stations unless they’re desperate. Per Fagenson, “They charge at home. But many would like the convenience of simple, low cost, daytime charging.”
FREE, MEDIA-SUPPORTED PUBLIC EV CHARGING
Future-focused tech entrepreneur, car-lover, and vintage automotive restoration business owner Scott Mercer saw a significant market need — a public EV charging model that makes financial sense for drivers and venues. His idea was to make public EV charging free to drivers by selling video ad units that would run atop the chargers. Host venues get free installation, free chargers, free maintenance, free customer support. Increased dwell time — shoppers staying longer to get a better charge — also benefits malls and other retailers.
Scott Mercer, founder and CEO of Volta Charging (Photo credit: Volta Charging)
So Mercer, who ran a vintage automotive restoration business, sold a restored 1967 Jaguar XKE to fund the beginning of what would become Volta Charging.
The media-supported, charge-EVs-for-free business model quickly attracted the attention of mall and grocery chain executives in states where the EV market is well developed (California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, etc.).
SPORTS VENUES CHARGED UP
Sports stadiums and arenas are a high priority for Volta Charging.
“Stadiums make perfect partners to drive exposure, engagement, and inspiration for fans by showing that EVs are here, and their community is ready to make this change,” Mercer said at last June’s Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta. “Teams benefit from new fan engagement opportunities using the digital screens on the stations, where we dedicate one of the rotating digital sponsorships to their use. This is so much bigger than providing a few plugs for EV driving fans. It is about leveraging the power of stadiums as iconic cultural centerpieces to show the world that clean mobility is here, and it’s for everyone.”
Management at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, home of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, agreed with Mercer and now has two Volta chargers. Even though the team is moving to San Francisco and the new Chase Center next season, the Volta chargers will remain for fans of the Oakland A’s who play at the adjacent Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. That is expected to be the case until the A’s move to their proposed new stadium in 2023 at the earliest.
Chicago’s United Center, home to the NBA’s Bulls and NHL’s Blackhawks, sports four Volta chargers next to the arena’s entrance.
“Our model works really well for sports venues,” Fagenson said. “Volta chargers are situated close to the stadium or arena entrance so that guarantees high fan foot traffic on game days.”
Two Volta Charging units outside an entrance to Chicago’s United Center (Photo credit: Volta Charging)
VOLTA’S MEDIA—SPONSORSHIP BUSINESS MODEL
The Volta stations on site provide exposure for brands looking to reach fans attending sporting events, concerts, and more. The two sided digital hybrid stations offer 6′ tall LED backlit static ads on one side, and a digital screen on the other. The screens are formatted with a 64 second repeating ad loop, including multiple flips (or images), each of which run for eight seconds. Six of the eight ad placements are reserved for sponsors, Volta uses one for promotional purposes and the eighth is earmarked for the venue host.
Pricing for Volta’s media takes into consideration a number of factors including market, target audience (size, composition, etc.), length of run, and size of the network purchased. Since the company’s revenues are derived from media sales, those buying media on Volta Charging get the halo effect of making EV charging free. Host venues also reap the benefit of providing a value-added, green service to fans on site.
Not surprisingly, EV automakers, including Nissan and Jaguar, have become Volta sponsors. Other categories buying in include Consumer Packaged Goods, Entertainment, Finance, and Technology, among others.
EXPANSION IN 2019
As of now Volta Charging’s biggest markets are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Chicago. Boston, Houston, Portland, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Oahu, are also up and charging.
The venture capital-funded company is poised for significant growth in 2019. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Dallas and Miami are on deck, with Atlanta, Denver, and Detroit making up the next batch of expansion markets.
“Sports venues are key targets in all of our markets, current and future,” Fagenson said. “There is some complexity to stadiums and arenas as the city owns the parking lot in some cases. So we need to negotiate with multiple parties. In other situations, we work directly with the host venue.”
GSB’S Take: Volta Charging’s business model looks like the rare sustainable business win-win-win-win. WIN #1: Free, away-from-home EV charging. WIN #2: Host venues, including stadiums and arenas, receive free EV chargers for their customers/fans, and free advertising. WIN #3: Sponsors get access to their target audiences in a new, exciting medium. WIN #4: Free EV charging means more EV miles driven. While the odds of success for any startup are long, Volta Charging’s “quadruple-win” business model gives it a leg up. Watch this space.