SBJ/April 15-21, 2013/In Depth

Slow start aside, some still bullish on Passbook

There is little industry debate that mobile ticketing will soon be a major industry force, with mass rates of adoption perhaps arriving within five years. What is less clear, however, is the precise role that Apple’s Passbook will have in this forthcoming change.

Apple announced Passbook last fall to great fanfare, with the feature within its iOS 6 mobile operating system offering a new digital wallet to store tickets, airline boarding passes, consumer loyalty programs and other similar materials.

Passbook has an additional feature of automatically uploading documents to device lock screens at the appropriate time and place. For example, as you approach the airport terminal, your boarding pass would become the lock screen for easy retrieval. If you arrive at the ballpark, your ticket to the baseball game would come up. Tickets stored on Passbook can then be scanned directly from the mobile device.

Nearly seven months after Passbook launched, just 29 apps on iTunes are fully optimized for Passbook, and only entries in that group from MLB Advanced Media and Ticketmaster are significantly focused on live sports events. Mainstream consumer adoption for Passbook thus far remains much smaller and slower to grow than many other hardware or software products Apple has released in the past decade.

Still, long-term optimism surrounding Passbook remains high in many corners, in part due to the growing importance that mobile ticketing carries, growing awareness of the general concept around digital wallets, and the major role Apple plays in the smartphone industry. Competition will also likely spur greater development efforts into Passbook over the coming years, given that Android and other mobile platforms have and will continue to create rival products.

“Right now, Passbook is not yet as intuitive and fluid as it probably needs to be. It takes a fairly tech-savvy person to fully understand it, and there’s still room to get better,” said Glenn Lehrman, StubHub head of communications. “But it is going to get better. And for us, it represents a huge long-term opportunity to capture more last-minute demand.”

StubHub has enabled Passbook with seven team partners, with that number to grow to at least 33 by the end of year. The number includes baseball teams through its MLBAM partnership and college athletic programs via its alliance with Paciolan. Adoption rates for Passbook on StubHub have hovered around 7 percent of eligible orders, but that figure has arrived without significant marketing or full integration yet into StubHub’s mobile app. The company plans over the coming months to more overtly market the availability of Passbook as a delivery option.

MLBAM, similarly, is betting big on Passbook, not surprising given the company’s long relationship with Apple and
eagerness to be a trailblazer on iOS devices. Baseball’s digital arm last September ran a two-week trial with the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox, with 1,500 ticket deliveries for the four clubs during that span occurring through Passbook, a number that surpassed even bullish internal corporate projections. The Passbook deliveries represented 12 percent of the online ticket sales at MLB.com for the four clubs.

This season, that quartet of Passbook-enabled clubs has grown to 13, with many of the teams that have their primary ticketing serviced by MLBAM-owned Tickets.com now involved and beginning to trumpet the availability of Passbook functionality, and incorporate it into the company’s At The Ballpark app. MLBAM also used Passbook as a means of entry for its second annual Fan Upfront in February in New York in which it gave fans an early look at its 2013 suite of products. The All-Star Game FanFest at New York’s Javits Center in July will also be Passbook-enabled.

“We’ll continue to see a lot more integration and more growth going forward,” said Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive. “Beyond just Passbook, we’re going to see a lot more avenues placing mobile, the general notion of a digital wallet, as a significant place to conduct commerce. We think it’s a lead-pipe cinch where the world is going.”

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