Dec 10, 2019

The death of the paper ticket for sporting events

Kendall Baker, author of Sports

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the last decade, tickets have transitioned out of the physical realm and, like so many other aspects of our lives, gone digital. Most are now purchased on and delivered to a mobile device, then scanned at the stadium.

Why it matters: Tickets were once mementos, collected like photographs and saved in scrapbooks. They are now barcodes on our phones — convenient as heck and impossible to lose yet, sadly, often forgotten about the moment they're scanned.

By the numbers: The percentage of transactions on mobile vs. desktop on ticket marketplace SeatGeek since 2012, per the company:

  • 2012: 7% mobile, 93% desktop
  • 2013: 27% mobile, 73% desktop
  • 2014: 43% mobile, 57% desktop
  • 2015: 52% mobile, 42% desktop
  • 2016: 58% mobile, 42% desktop
  • 2017: 62% mobile, 38% desktop
  • 2018: 65% mobile, 35% desktop
  • 2019: 68% mobile, 32% desktop

The impact: Mobile tickets are far more secure than paper tickets, since fraudsters could easily make copies of the same paper tickets and sell them. They are also more convenient.

"There is no more Guy in Charge of the Tickets, stuffing envelopes in his dining room, because fans now share tickets with one another on their phones rather than rendezvous at the giant bat outside old Yankee Stadium."
Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated

The players: Ticketmaster, which runs the NFL Ticket Exchange, has long been the market leader in the initial sale of tickets. Meanwhile, Stubhub, SeatGeek, Vivid Seats, Gametime, Tickpick and others operate in the secondary market, where they connect sellers and buyers (some offer primary tickets, too).

  • To gain customer loyalty, some of those companies have focused on having the most inventory, while others have prioritized things like customer service, pricing transparency, mobile app design and partnerships with teams to become exclusive distributors.

The big picture: Now that fans don't have to print their tickets or get them in the mail, buying behavior has changed, leading to more week-of or even day-of purchases. In fact, Gametime built its whole business around this "last-minute fan."

  • Meanwhile, subscription ticketing is on the rise, as teams try to appeal to younger fans who yearn for flexibility. This Netflix-like approach has proven most successful for baseball, with more than two-thirds of MLB's 30 teams offering it.

What's next: With so many professional and college sports teams going fully digital, the in-stadium experience could eventually revolve around the digital ticket.

  • Armed with seat numbers and real-time data like digital wallet transactions and geolocation, teams are already creating personalized experiences and promotions for individual fans.

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