SBJ/March 19-25, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLB FanPass to make paperless ticketing push

Major League Baseball is launching a new brand called MLB FanPass that will be used by all 30 clubs to promote paperless ticketing.

It’s the first big push to come out of the Commissioner’s Ticket Review Committee and reflects the fact that going paperless is now one of the league’s top priorities. While several other leagues and individual teams have also invested significant time and money into digital ticketing, MLB is believed to be the first major sports league to create a prominent, unified brand around the concept.

Levels of activation around the MLB FanPass brand will differ in each market. But the new moniker seeks to showcase more prominently features within paperless ticketing, such as electronic seat transfers and upgrades, and online inventory management.

“From an industry perspective, it’s now safe to say baseball is among the most aggressive of anybody in terms of promoting digital ticketing,” said Derek Schiller, Atlanta Braves executive vice president of
sales and marketing. Schiller is a member of the Commissioner’s Ticket Review Committee, and the Braves in 2012 will sell roughly a quarter of their projected Turner Field attendance through the localized Braves FanPass.

“We’re pushing this very heavily, and believe we’re now at the right time and right place for this,” Schiller said.
Clubs have begun to integrate FanPass to varying degrees into their ticket sales efforts, with FanPass delivery extending to full and partial-season sales, groups, and single-game tickets.

FanPass is being offered as a free option. Beyond that, though, several MLB teams are offering discounts, giveaways or other incentives to encourage ticket buyers to go paperless and boost adoption. And MLB FanPass will be integrated with MLB Advanced Media’s new At The Ballpark venue-oriented mobile application for seat upgrades and other amenities.

Like systems in other sports, purchasers of paperless baseball tickets will enter ballparks using their credit card, which is swiped at the gate. Fans upon arrival then get a locator stub, created using a portable printer, to help find their seats. For fans, the most immediate change will be the elimination of a stack of paper tickets that need to be stored, managed and distributed. And MLB FanPass has been integrated into the primary ticketing systems of outside vendors such as Ticketmaster and the MLBAM-owned Tickets.com.

“This is all a pretty drastic departure from how ticketing has traditionally been done,” said Vic Gregovits, Cleveland Indians senior vice president of sales and marketing.

The MLB FanPass effort likely will influence the sport’s future in secondary ticketing. MLB Advanced Media is in the final year of a five-year deal designating StubHub the sport’s official ticket reseller. MLBAM, the ticket review committee, and the sport at large are evaluating how they want to participate in a secondary market that is now far larger and more established than when the StubHub deal was first signed in 2007. And digital ticketing, featuring easy electronic transfer of ticket barcodes, factors significantly into that discussion.

Baseball, and nearly every other major sports property, is keenly interested in digital ticketing. In addition to helping eliminate fraud and waste and quicken fan entry into stadiums, paperless systems offer the potential of lower costs of delivery. But, most importantly, digital ticketing creates a wealth of data on consumer behavior and preferences. And for baseball, which sells more tickets than any other professional sport, the volume of potentially available data is immense.

“Baseball, the industry, is really going through a ticketing revolution right now,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president for business, earlier this month at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “And the piece that we’re really focused on is this bridge between who bought the ticket, who ended up with the ticket, and who entered the ballpark with the ticket. And once we bridge that gap, once we know who entered the ballpark with the ticket, then the activity that’s going to occur electronically between us and our customers is going to increase exponentially.”

For now, teams are not implementing user controls within the MLB FanPass program. Fans retain a wide degree of latitude to transfer or resell their unwanted paperless tickets. Some options, such as reselling through StubHub, are easier and come with a higher degree of integration than others. But there are currently no impediments or closed markets for resale within MLB FanPass.

Over time and once MLB FanPass is more established, it is possible baseball will exercise some control over how paperless tickets are redistributed, industry sources said.

The MLB FanPass brand is among the initial tangible products to arrive out of the ticket review committee, which has been operational for about 18 months. The effort is led by MLB Chief Marketing Officer Jacqueline Parkes, and involves senior executives from six clubs and several league departments.

Beyond MLB FanPass, the panel has been involved in a wide range of efforts, including best practices sharing among clubs, dynamic pricing (see related story), discussions around StubHub and secondary ticketing, and an ongoing research study of baseball’s ticket marketplace with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
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